VIEWS: 120 PAGES: 9 POSTED ON: 4/10/2010
Youth “Crime Waves” and Moral Panic Is There a Youth “Crime Wave”? • Perceptions of a youth “crime wave” are based on evidence but also on biased perceptions. “Youth violent crime rates increased almost 100% from 1987 to 1997.” • BUT the youth violent crime rate peaked in 1991 and has decreased every year since then, AND violent crimes account for only 20% of youth charges- less than the 30% for adult offenders. “Violent crime rates among female youths have increased nearly twice as much as those among male youths.” • BUT violent crime by females (youth and adult) is still extremely rare. Female youths still commit violent crimes at a rate less than one-third that of male youths. 16-year-olds commit the greatest number of burglaries, proportionally, than do any other age group. • BUT, regardless of the age-crime curve for burglary, property offenses committed by youths have decreased even more, and more quickly, than have violent offense rates. You hear about youth crime all the time! • BUT media reports are faulty measures of crime rates and crime trends. Media reports of youth crime waves reflect a current “moral panic,” an exaggerated public perception of a social problem, surrounding youth crime. • Youth are, per Bernard Schissel, the contemporary “folk devil,” the scapegoat on whom all blame for society’s “ills” can be placed, even where those “ills” are rhetorical inventions of media and politicians. Moral Panics • Stanley Cohen’s definition: – Occur in times of change/“crisis” – Follow from highly publicized, though sometimes scant evidence (or rumour) – Reflect an exaggeration of threat (often spread by media) – Often target youth – Entail disproportionate responses that victimize the innocent – Serve social functions of “boundary maintenance” Recent and Non-recent Examples of Moral Panic • 9/11 • Genocide and attempted genocide in Central Europe, Rwanda, Cambodia, Ukraine, etc. • Panic surrounding “child abduction” • Panic surrounding Halloween candy tampering • Panic surrounding “gangs” • Witch hunts and witch trials Satanic Panic and the WM3 • Satanic Panic: The moral panic of the 1990s • The West Memphis 3 and Satanic Panic
"Youth “Crime Waves” and Moral Panic"