The media as the voice of the people, from time to time reports on criminal activity. The conversation of whether the media reports news as they are or as they can sell has been going on for so long. It has also been there in criminology, many question the role of it in exaggerating crime rates and exacerbating the public’s fear of crime. From the likes of Stanley Cohen’s moral panics and folk devils to the now conversations of media’s target on minorities, the conversation is still being had. This paper aims to critically examine the role the media plays in the existence of victims in the criminal justice system.
Specific attention will be on parallel media. These are forms of media that differ from the already established or state run mainstream media, whether it be by content, format, or distribution, (Downing, 2001.) It can be print,audio,video,or the internet, for example blogs, youtube chanells and private websites. In a nutshell, social media.
Cohen, (2002) starts by paying attention to how media’s attention of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1900s led to chills of fear running through spines of black people and Jews as they got the picture that white supremacy is at its peak in America. If the media did not pay much attention to it, many Jews would have not felt at risk of victimisation or let alone expose themselves to victimisation by trying to avoid members of the Klan but exposing themselves in that attempt. It is also through this obsession of parallel media on white supremacy that they gained momentum and thus burnt more black people, burnt ore crosses and assaulted more non-whites, this led to many victims of racism.
On moral panics Cohen, (2002) shows how the media can create waves of fear of crimes which might exacerbate victimisation. Trueman, (2019) defines moral panic as a term used to describe media presentation of something that has happened that the public will react to in a panicky manner. Moral panics have a tendency to exaggerate statistics and to create a bogey-man, known as a folk-devil in sociological terms. This is what usually leads to media induced victims that end up showing up in the system and increasing the plight of crime.
Let’s focus on the criminal justice system. The system enrols many victims because of many reasons, one of the most influential ones being pushed by parallel media. In the status quo where the likes of call out culture populate parallel media, many victims of related offences are seen in the system (Bliss, 2017). The likes of women who have been subjected to sexual assaults by influential people are seen to be populating the system as movements such as hashtagMeToo that have been trending on social media outlets. Thus, parallel media serves as a tool of exposure of criminality therefore leading to more victims coming in the criminal justice.
In addition, due to popular culture and aired out standpoints of prominent civil society activists on boiling issues such as police brutality, drug wars, gender based violence, sexism, homophobia, etc as displayed by social media outlets, majority of people that fall under minority members of the society are victimised and fill up the criminal justice system (Downing, 2001). The likes of the ‘When they see us’ series and the movie ‘the hate you give’ leads to discourse being had about racial minorities and how the system has been subjecting them to disadvantageous situations. This either leads to many minorities that have not been reporting the mistreatments they have been subjected to reporting more or the assumed superior races being confronted by minorities thus having them victimised. Either way, the system has a plight of victimisation as because of the portrayal of issues some side of the society feels victimised while some part gets victimised.
Note how crime becomes newsworthy when it can be presented as serious, random and unpredictable enough so that a moral panic occurs in the sense that we all get scared of becoming a victim ourselves (Courtauld, 2014). For example, the ‘war on terror’ meant that initially many people felt that every person in the US was at a risk. Courtauld, (2014) also stresses that Selection of crime news stories, depending on their newsworthiness, and the over-representation and exaggeration of certain crimes, which can increase the risk of some individuals believing that they are more likely to be a victim. As these newsworthy stories appear on a wide range of parallel media outlets that have large buy in from members of the society, research evidence shows that there is a link between media use and fear of crime. It is this fear of crime that will make one more likely to be victimised.
Parallel media does not only report on crime, it can also be a cause or hub for crime, especially among millennials. McGovern, (2016) highlights that the popularity of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat have transformed the way we understand and experience crime and victimisation. Among that transformation, the good; access to the public. The bad; Also, the ability for criminals to use social media platforms to track potential victims (and their possessions) as highlighted in the recent Kim Kardashian robbery. In addition, crimes such as harassment and threats, as well as fraud and identity theft, have been conducted in new ways through social media.
McGovern, (2016) continues to say that social media is also changing the nature of post-crime behaviour. So-called performance crimes – where offenders boast about their criminal behaviour to their friends and followers online – are increasingly common. Social media can be further be used as a weapon through which the friends and families of victims of crime are exposed to secondary victimisation. In extension Academy, (1999) adds that the media often results in painful re-victimization of the victims involved. This leads many members of the society being victimised and the criminal justice system having more victims.
Furthermore, Tandon, (2007) asserts that children, who are the most sensitive and vulnerable section of society provide for best human-interest stories and alternative media tends to capitalize on this. Often stories pertaining to children involved in crime are hyped and sensationalised by parallel media outlets resulting in their re-victimisation. This shows that the role of parallel media in victimisation is to a greater extent that even children feel it.
Furthermore, there exists peer victimisation. Hawker, (2000) describes this the experience among children of being a target of the aggressive behaviour of other children. Under this occurrence a majority of children are subjected to violent responses and engagements from their peers, which makes them victims of such.
Geer, (2007) brings in a point of a hierarchy of victimisation. The author says not all crime victims receive equal attention in the broadcasts of parallel media. Rather, alternative media resources are most often allocated to the representation of those victims who can be portrayed as ‘ideal’, the ‘ideal victim’ is described as ‘a person or category of individuals who – when hit by crime – most readily are given the complete and legitimate status of being a victim’. This group includes those who are perceived as vulnerable, defenceless, innocent and worthy of sympathy and compassion. Elderly women and young children, it is suggested, are typical ‘ideal victims’, whereas young men, the homeless, those with drug problems, and others existing on the margins of society may find it much more difficult to achieve legitimate victim status, still less, secure a conviction in court, (Geer, 2007). In this sense, there exists a ‘hierarchy of victimization’, both reflected and reinforced in social media and official discourse. Under this hierarchy, those who are perceived as ideal are most likely to report and be recorded by the system as victims while those who are perceived as not ideal either don’t report or when they do might suffer from re-victimisation from the system.
Benson, (2015) talks about the predicament of cybercrime. The vast majority of people who consume parallel media stand a risk of cyber victimisation. To add on to that Bliss, (2017) speaks on how anyone can become a victim of abuse online. This adds onto categories of victims that have been discussed , subsequently, increasing victimisation.
It is apparent though, that certain behaviours are gender specific. For instance, women are more likely to have comments aimed at them threatening rape and other forms of sexual violence. This is particularly the case for women in the public eye. For example, Gina Miller (the claimant in R (Miller) v The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union  EWHC 2768) has found herself at the centre of a campaign of online abuse. Abusive comments of sexual violence have been aimed at her. Finkerlhor, (2007) speaks on how there is a pattern wherein the victim of abuse and/or crime has a statistically higher tendency to be victimised again due to parallel media.
Summing up this paper, the media generally impacts people’s perceptions of crime, crime rates and how much they are exposed to victimisation. Parallel media as a form of media that has a wide coverage in the 21st century reaches more people and has a greater influence on the plight of victimisation. This manifests through people’s reactions, in relation to their fear of crime and their assumption of victimisation. It also relates to the up rise of new victims that have been hidden but since parallel media called out their assaulters they are now in the forefront. It also brings about victims of the platform itself as they are new victims that stem out of subscription to parallel media outlets, the likes of victims of cyber bullying. This serves to say that the media, specifically parallel media has a greater role in promoting the plight of crime victims in the criminal justice system and society at large.
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