'I talked to other senior managers who were in the same hot seat I was in. The general feeling was: this is difficult, this is new. I don't know why that is. I'm quite sure abusers were being released from prison ten years ago and going and living places. But no one was taking any notice. This was something that happened new, different, over the last two years'.
(Deputy Director of Housing in a London Authority, interviewed in 1998)
What happens once convicted sex abusers are released from prison? Where do they live? How are they monitored? Do neighbours have a right to know who is living in their street? These questions gained a dramatic media prominence and public profile during the second half of the 1990s. In 1996 the government unveiled plans to establish an official register of sex offenders which triggered media and public demands for community notification. People began to agitate for 'the right to know' when convicted sex abusers were housed in their communities: the government and 'the professionals' rapidly lost control of the news agenda and information distribution. The names and photographs of offenders were publicised in the press and passed on to neighbours. In some cases direct action was taken to drive these men out of their homes. Monitoring, supervision, 'treatment' and housing of offenders was disrupted and policy makers had to reconsider legislation, policy and practice.
This chapter examines the role of the media in shaping and responding to this crisis. It illustrates how particular events, combined with coverage in the local and national media, fuel debate and examines how media coverage tapped into existing community fears and frustrations. The chapter concludes by exploring how the 'paedophile crisis' built on pre-existing discourses about 'the paedophile' as a particular type of threat. The concept of 'the paedophile', I argue, locates dangerousness in a few aberrant individuals who can be metaphorically (if not literally) excluded from society and it focuses attention on stranger danger in ways which ignore the scale and nature of sexual violence throughout society and, especially, within families.