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Sex Crime and the Media: Press Representations in Northern Ireland

Greer, C. ORCID: 0000-0002-8623-702X (2003). Sex Crime and the Media: Press Representations in Northern Ireland. In: Mason, P. (Ed.), Criminal Visions: Media Representations of Crime and Justice. (pp. 90-116). Devon, UK: Willan Pub.


The relationship between media images and popular consciousness is complex and notoriously difficult to unpack (Reiner et al., 2000a; Livingstone, 1996; Sparks, 1992; Cumberbatch, 1989; Young, 1981). Yet, as Miller and Philo (1999) point out, it would be absurd to suggest that there is no relationship at all. Indeed, it has become trite to suggest that the media do more than merely ‘reflect’ social reality. They can be instrumental in the orchestration of moral panics (Wilczynski, 1999; Thompson, 1998; Maguire, 1997; Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 1994; Jenkins, 1992; Cohen, 1980), they can be important symbolic mechanisms used in the construction of ideology (Schudson, 2000; Rolston and Miller, 1996; Herman and Chomsky, 1994; Fishman, 1978; Cohen and Young, 1973) and they can inform the political processes aimed at dealing with social crises (Beckett, 1994; Miller, 1993; Hall et al., 1978). In short, how media represent social phenomena is central to how we, as media consumers with limited first hand experience (Young, 1981), make sense of them and their ‘place’ in our everyday lives (Philo, 1999; Gamson et al., 1992; Sparks, 1992; Ericson et al., 1991; Entman, 1989). In recent decades, sex crime, in all its myriad forms, has become a staple of media discourse (Thomas, 2000; Kitzinger, 1996; Marsh, 1991; Soothill and Walby, 1991; Smith, 1984; Ditton and Duffy, 1983). At the same time, the problem of sex crime – and 2 especially the sexual abuse of children – has become a major source of fear and anxiety (Wilson and Silverman, 2002; West, 2000, 1996; Grubin, 1998; Hebenton and Thomas, 1997). Media representations of sex crime give important indicators of the nature and extent of the problem, of how we should think and feel about it, of how we should respond to it, and of preventive measures that might be taken to reduce the risk of victimisation. Yet without exception, research exploring the representation of sex crime in popular discourses has evidenced high levels of sensationalism, stereotyping and inaccuracy (see, inter alia, Kitzinger, 1999a, 1999b; Howe, 1998; Meyers, 1997; Lees, 1995; Soothill, 1995; Skidmore, 1995; Benedict, 1992; Franklin and Parton, 1991; Soothill and Walby, 1991; Caputi, 1987; Nelson, 1984). In this chapter I want to present an overview of the research literature and then elaborate on some of the key findings of my own research, which explored the construction of sex crime in the Northern Ireland press.

Publication Type: Book Section
Additional Information: This is an Accepted Manuscript of a book chapter published by Routledge in Criminal Visions on 1 Sep 2003, available online:
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
Departments: School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
Text - Accepted Version
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