5. Youth crime, behavioural norms
& the media 15 slides
Social constructions of crime & young people
Demonisation & distortion
Ratboy et al.
Stephen’s case study
Propensity for violence
Sexual offending - power
“According to our daily press, a
typical adolescent is a sporting
youngster, criminally inclined and
likely to be injured or murdered”
Porteous & Colston in Muncie p. 10 1980
Such a menu is likely to be both
factually incorrect, socially divisive
and also leads to:
Young people being routinely
parodied as victims, demons,
cute, brilliant, brave or adult
accessories (dependant on age,
class, gender & ethnicity).
John Clark 2010
The Daily Mail song
Social construction of official statistics
Press headline reaction to official H.O. crime
stats (Jan 2008) ranked by circulation
30 gun crimes committed a day (the Sun)
Drug offences soar 21% in a single year (Daily Mail)
Home Secretary says crime figures are excellent (Mirror)
Gun crime up as Smith says UK safer than ever (Telegraph)
Government accused over crime rises (Daily Express & Star)
Fewer robberies, assaults & burglaries , but crime at gunpoint is
on the rise (The Times)
Crime falling ever faster, but drug & gun offences increase
Risk of becoming victim of crime at 27 year low (Independent)
Research findings show:
Distortion of the nature and incidence of
crimes against the person
Youth Crime reported by a deviance
Atypical crimes heavily reported
Reality not reflected. Emphasis on crime
waves rather than incident
Moral panic produces fear of crime
Crime is newsworthy.
‘ONE BOY CRIME WAVE’ (Daily Mail 10th
‘RAT BOY: A 14 YEAR OLD
BECOMES A BYWORD FOR
TROUBLE’ (Independent, 9th
Alleged to have committed 55 offences by the time he was 14, one boy in north-
east England first came to the notice of Police when he was 10, for burglary. After
two Cautions his parents volunteered him for local authority care, from which he
absconded 37 times. In February 1993 he was found hiding in a ventilation duct.
A local newspaper could not print his name so invented the nickname Ratboy. Next
day he was front-page national news. With the construction of images of sewers,
of a hidden underworld and of secret tunnels running underneath the urban
landscape, the boy became a symbol of all juvenile crime against which the police
and courts were ‘impotent’ to act (despite the existence of local authority secure
But in many other respects did not live up to the prevailing stereotypes of
dangerous and outcast youth.
He did not come from a broken home; he was not violent; he did not grow up in
some ‘urban wasteland’; he became a ‘symbol surrounded by ‘clichés’
Again, in 1993 an 11 year old crashed a car through a fence. When he appeared on
national television in a black ski mask, he became Balaclava boy. Spider boy,
Homing pigeon boy, Boomerang boy and the Terror Triplets all followed until it was
decided that in certain circumstances young offenders could be publicly named.
Source: Muncie 2004, p.28.
Violence in children & young people
Violence, where does it come from?
Do we learn how to use violence-
Or do we learn how to curb it
What would we be capable of given
War torn childhoods, harsh or abusive
childhoods, an infancy with no boundaries
Being subject by adults to harsh and
Offence: Breach of ASBO.
12yr old Stephen lives with his mother and 14 yr old brother in local authority housing on a
There is a Leisure Centre near by which is also a One Stop Shop containing offices for the
area Youth Offending Service team and Housing & Social Care services.
The centre also contains swimming and sports facilities and serves as a local community
centre .Youth service provision is provided from the same centre.
When Stephen was 10 he was identified as a nuisance at the centre and banned from
attendance, by the time he was 11 yrs old he was made subject to an Anti-Social Behaviour
Order as a result of displaying threatening and abusive & violent behaviour toward security
staff at the Centre.
Stephen is subject to a statement of Special Educational Needs on behavioural and learning
grounds and attends a school for children with special educational needs (although he is
currently excluded for disruptive behaviour). His mother indulges in periodic binge drinking
and is finding it hard to cope with Stephen because of the ASBO and the problems at
school. Stephen is also described as being loving and affectionate and devotes a great deal
of care on his cat and dog.
Stephen lives across the road from the Centre and his ASBO prohibits him from any contact
with the Centre at all. He breached the order by entering the Centre through a window and
running around being abusive & threatening, shouting & generally causing mayhem.
Stephen’s case – task (20 minutes)
Your task is to work in small groups and:
1. As a group, put together a headline and a short
article (a two or three paragraphs) on Stephen in
the style of a national newspaper of your choice.
2. Nominate one member of the group (who is willing)
to read out your article to the wider group.
Guardian, Independent, Times, Telegraph, Mail, Mirror,
Star, Sun etc.
Progressive moral panics
• 2011 Summer riots
• 2010 Student unrest
• 2000’s Anti-social thugs & yobs
• 1990’s Joyriding, Girl Gangs
• 1980’s Riots and Social Disorder
• 1970’s Black Youth, Punks – Violence and
• 1960’s Student Unrest- Drug use and
• 1950’s Post war moral decline, Teddy
boys-Violent, Depraved & sex crazed
Moral panics ctd
2012+ – what groups today?
Do the media reflect public opinion or form
and lead it ?
Do politicians react to media headlines or
Moral panics & authoritarianism
Identification of a problem (e.g. football hooliganism)
Identification of a subversive minority
(e.g. the ‘few who spoil the enjoyment of millions; identification by styles – punks,
skinheads, traveller & immigrant communities etc)
Simplification of a cause
(e.g. Decline in moral standards, lack of discipline etc)
Stigmatisation of those involved
(Media use of emotive & disparaging significations
e.g. Morons, animals, savages etc)
Stirring of public indignation
(e.g. Media campaigns calling for ‘action’; criticism of ‘soft’ sentences; evocation of
‘national image’, etc)
Stamping down hard
(e.g. Gov’t responds to ‘public demand’ as presented by the media. Stiffer sentences;
more ‘anti hooligan’ legislation, bans of spectators, etc)
More authoritarian forms of control
Muncie (2006 edition . p.128.)
The law & order myth, looking back to the
golden age (thinking of ourselves as a
naturally law abiding nation)
“We need to consider why the peaceful people of
England are changing……………..Over the 200 years up
to 1945 Britain became so settled in internal peace that
many came to believe that respect for the person &
property of fellow citizens was something that existed
Daily Telegraph, 11th
Was it ever so? Explore social history from 1745
A social comment on the lawlessness that prevailed in 1856
Sexual offending by children
Needs distinguishing from
Is not a common offence but-
Many adult sex offenders begin their
offending as adolescents
The behaviours are usually about power
Unlike other types of offending young
people grow into it rather than out of it.