Research Proposal. Public perception of child sex offenders: has the media influenced our perceptions to the extent that it has made us paranoid in this obsessed society?

Authors Avatar

Kersty Martin


Criminology and Criminal Justice

Word Count



Proposed research question

Public perception of child sex offenders: has the media influenced our perceptions to the extent that it has made us paranoid in this obsessed society?


Paedophilia is not recognised in the Sage Dictionary of Criminology (Silverman and Wilson, 2002) but other academics have given their version of a ‘paedophile’. In 1979 Paul Bebbington gave an explanation, using quotes such as ‘pre-pubertal children’, ‘mainly married’, ‘child participation’, ‘incest’ and so forth (Bebbington, 1979 as cited in Silverman and Wilson 2002:29-30) but as Silverman and Wilson suggest, Bebbington does not give a clear indication as to what age range ‘pre-pubertal’ is. Therefore in 1987 Donald West redefined paedophilia as a ‘significant erotic arousal on the part of a physically mature adult to pre-pubertal children or to a child in the early stages of pubertal development’ (West, 1987 as cited in Silverman and Wilson 2002:31). Given this clear definition, Silverman and Wilson declare that ‘West does at least help us better to define what we mean when we use the label ‘paedophile’’ (2002:31).

For many years there have been child sex offenders or ‘The Paedophile’ (Casher, 2007: 200) roaming our areas, whether it be within the family, in care environments or a ‘predatory stranger’ (Greer, 2003:2). All aspects of paedophilia are reviewed on a daily basis by journalists and newsmen who ‘decide routinely which stories are major lead stories‘(Hall et al, 1978 as cited in Greer 2003:43) and which are not. It has been said that the media ‘distinguishes the good from the bad and, in doing so, promotes social solidarity’ (2003:39). Is this really the case? This literature review focuses on the issue of whether or not the public perception of child sex offenders is influenced by the media and whether or not it makes us paranoid in civilianised society.

One very common area of this proposal is to analyse academics views on this topic and whether or not they agree with such suggestions. Casher (2007) has stated that there are many ways in which the media have influenced the public perception of paedophiles as they have been used across many sources which includes ‘newspaper coverage, television news, drama, comedy, magazine articles and films’ (2007:200). When looking at this it seems that media is dominating our lives as the above list consists of everything we read, watch or even listen to. Casher (2007) goes on to say that the terms used by the media have influenced us on our everyday lives as we too label child sex offenders with words used by the media such as ‘evil’, ‘monster’, ‘sicko’ and ‘weirdo’ (2007:200). Hodgetts and Rua (2008) tend  to agree with this theory stating that ‘in countries such as the USA, UK and New Zealand tensions surrounding relationships between men and children in public life are worked through, in part, via media reports’ (2008:528). With Thompson (1995, as cited in Hodgetts and Rua 2008:530) stating that ‘citizens often explore the wider social world through media, our personal biographies are structured with reference to the shared experiences media provide. Illustrating that media reporting is a social way of connecting with the community and the outside world given the impression that the media do in fact dominate our lives.

Join now!

Silverman and Williams (2002) declare that we as a society are more ‘concerned’ with paedophilia than we where ‘twenty or even ten years ago’ (2002:21-22). It has been said that the public’s main concern of paedophilia has been ‘cultivated via sensationalist media reports’ (Hodgetts and Rua, 2008: 528) declaring  that over the past 30 years the ‘news media’ have created this profile of a ‘shadowy stranger or outsider who infiltrates public spaces and stalks children’ (Collier, 2001 as cited in Hodgetts and Rua 2008: 528). Although it seemed to have hit the headlines during the 1990s with Keith Soothill carrying out ...

This is a preview of the whole essay