Representations of sexual offending: the British press, public attitudes and desistance from crime

Harper, Craig (2013) Representations of sexual offending: the British press, public attitudes and desistance from crime. Masters thesis, University of Lincoln.

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Abstract

The relationships between the media, public attitudes and crime are complex. There is some evidence to suggest that public interaction with press reports about sexual crime may have some effect on wider societal attitudes. With this in mind, 543 articles from eight of the ten most-read British national newspapers were examined in terms of (a) their representativeness about crime rates, and (b) their linguistic properties. A control sample of articles about immigrant groups was included in this analysis in order to establish how offender populations were described in comparison to another negatively-stereotyped population.

Key results include a nine- and two-and-a-half-times over-representation of sexual and violent crime, respectively, and a four-and-a-half-times under-representation of acquisitive crime within press articles compared to official crime statistics. Linguistically, sexual crime articles comprised angrier and more emotionally negative tones than stories on violent crime, acquisitive crime, and immigrant groups, respectively, and this trend was observed in both tabloid and broadsheet newspapers. An analysis of the headlines of sexual crime articles found clear differences between tabloids and broadsheets with regard to the descriptors of those perpetrating sexual crimes.

These findings are analysed within the social, political, and legal contexts of news reporting, with cognitive dissonance theory being offered as one social psychological framework for understanding the purpose of sexual crime reporting. The implications of such misrepresentative news reporting on sex offender reintegration and desistance from crime are discussed, and possible avenues for future research are suggested.

Keywords:sex offending, public attitudes, Cognitive dissonance, newspapers
Subjects:C Biological Sciences > C800 Psychology
C Biological Sciences > C880 Social Psychology
C Biological Sciences > C810 Applied Psychology
C Biological Sciences > C890 Psychology not elsewhere classified
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Psychology
ID Code:13866
Deposited On:30 Apr 2014 16:16

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