School Papers

Sex to the public. However, with controversial topics

Sex scandals have not always dominated the headlines as they do today. This contemporary crime issue has been slowly gaining more attention in the recent years. The main reason these historical sex scandals have come to the surface is due to deviancy amplification. Deviancy amplification refers to a particular exaggerated reporting in the media of a crime (Cohen, 1972). This is due to the fact that the media decide on the news that is important enough to report to the public. However, with controversial topics becoming more socially acceptable within society, it is now seen as a duty to the public for the media to report these issues. An example of a sex scandal that has recently made headlines within the news is the case of famous film producer and executive Harvey Weinstein. More than fifty women have come forward, accusing Weinstein of allegations ranging from sexual harassment to rape (Bbccouk, 2017). This has caused a moral panic within the media and the public as it is suggested that there may be more women that are yet to come forward. The news of Harvey Weinstein led to an outcry of support from the public and celebrities whom have come forward to share their experiences of sexual assault along with the hashtag #METOO. Arguments have been raised that question why this has happened, in a culture where women (typically more than men) are regularly sexually objectified, both in society and in their work. Does this behaviour somehow excuse the abusers and justify their actions? The recent Golden Globe awards saw celebrities and activists who attended all dressed in black, to stand in solidarity against sexual abuse.   The main scope of this essay is how through the media, a contemporary crime issue such as sex scandals can then become a moral panic, as there may be national and even worldwide coverage of the issue. The term moral panic was first used by Cohen (1972), in which he states that moral panic occurs when ‘a condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests’. Cohen suggests that the media plays a massive role in enforcing moral panic- even if it is simply reporting the news. A moral panic sends society into a mass hysteria over a particular issue or event that occurs. The public believe that whatever is being reported on is occurring everywhere. When Cohen came up with the term ‘moral panic’, it was widely unheard of in the media, however, by the time his book was reprinted less than ten years later, the term began to be seen in broadsheet newspapers and was starting to be treated as commonplace within the media (Hunt, 1997). It is suggested by Hunt (1997, p.638) that it ‘may take up to ten years for new developments in sociology and criminology to filter through to the media’. Suggesting that there is usually a delay from when theorists come up with any new developments to when the media feel like it is an issue enough to begin reporting about it. Moral panics occur in a cycle of seven stages. The first of these being the deviant act itself. An initial act of deviance ‘is defined as being worthy of attention and is responded to punitively’ (Cohen, 1972). In this case that would be the historical sexual assault charges that have been brought to the surface in which Harvey Weinstein stands accused. It is suggested that because of Weinstein’s routine contact with the victims, it created an opportunity for the crime to occur. This is also known as the routine activity theory (Felson, 2017). According to the theory, a crime occurs when there is an accessible target, there is an absence of a capable guardian that could intervene and there is a presence of a motivated offender (Nswgovau, 2018). In the case of Harvey Weinstein, all of these factors would be in effect as in an audition for example, there is no ‘human element’ other than the victim and the perpetrator there to prevent the crime occurring. There is also a motivated offender if they think that the target is suitable and, in this case, the rewards outweigh the risks. It is suggested by Durkheim (1893) that a successful society needs deviance, as it is a necessary part. He believed that deviance works so well within society because it challenges peoples present views. A controversial subject such as sexual assault works well in society as stated by Durkheim as it prompts society to show support and protest for change. The next stage is the crime itself, as defined by crime control agencies (Cohen, 1972). A crime to most people is simply ‘a form of activity that violates the criminal law’ (Hopkins Burke, 2014, p.167). The definition of sexual assault is ‘any type of sexual contact or behaviour that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient’ (Justicegov, 2018), however, this does not encompass all of the accusations made against Harvey Weinstein from sexual harassment to rape, as previously stated. According to Cornish and Clarke (1985), committing a crime is bound up with a sequence of choices. Crimes don’t tend to be thought through in detail, for the most part they tend to be a moment of passion or anger etc. Although this may be the case in some examples of sexual assault, with regards to the majority of sexual assault, they tend to be more well thought out crimes as there is a lot of use of manipulation of the victim in order for the perpetrator to get their own way. This may be more so the case if the assaulter is a celebrity, due to the fact that the victim may want to do anything to please them, particularly if they are working on building a career themselves.  When the accusations are made by an individual, the media then decide on how much prominence it is given, as well as the attention that is gained from the audience- this is known as ‘news values’ (Harcup & O’Neill, 2016). Although there is a difference between tabloid and broadsheet newspapers, one thing that unites them is a story that can be shared worldwide. There are some newspapers that will report on topics whether they are significant or not. Papers like this would usually choose sex scandals over political issues as they cause more controversy and bigger reactions from the public (Fuller, 1996). When someone decides to commit a crime, they then focus on the rewards rather than the risks. According to Cornish and Clarke (1985), an individual is bound by choice, meaning that their choices are often hasty and the perpetrators are rarely in possession of all of the facts. In this case, the individuals focus on the sexual gratification rather than the consequences of getting caught or accused of a crime. To the perpetrator, the rewards outweigh the risks as they know that unless they are arrested, there is no loss they can suffer at the hands of criminal enforcement (Viscusi, 1986). One of the major problems with issues such as sexual assault being brought forward by the media is that there is usually a selective portrayal of crime (Cohen, 1972). This typically biased view of celebrities in the media is amplified when these well-known faces are paired with controversial situations. Thus, this creates a different image of the celebrity in the eyes of the public and leads them to being stuck with a label that they can not get rid of. This is known as the labelling theory (Becker, 1963). It is suggested by Hopkins-Burke (2014, p.167) that ‘certain people and groups are more likely to attract deviant, criminal and stigmatizing labels than others’. This can be very apparent in the case of ‘celebrities’ as once they have been related to a negative connotation, there is a large backlash from the public as well as other celebrities within the same field. The media portrays a biased opinion on the behaviour of sexual assault (particularly in the case of celebrities) because it is seen as a challenge to existing social norms, as it is society and how they react that determines whether something is a crime or not. However, one of the benefits of these behaviours being portrayed this way in the media is that the response and representation ‘helps to define it, communicate it and portrays it as a model for outsiders’ (Cohen, 1972). It is seen that when one case of historical sexual assault/abuse comes to the surface, a number of other cases can also appear. This is usually referred to as deviancy amplification (Cohen, 1972). It is a case of the media exaggerating the seriousness and extent of the deviant behaviour (Thoughtcocom, 2018), which then creates a greater awareness and interest in the deviant act (sexual assault). The process of deviancy amplification will cause more negative reactions on the part of the public against the deviant, thus resulting in social alienation and marginalization (Hopkins-Burke, 2014).This then transfers into a decrease in tolerance of deviants by conforming groups. As the awareness of the subject increases, it uncovers other cases, as stated earlier, thus showing that the initial exaggeration was in fact a true representation in the first place. It can often be seen that in cases such as this, many people accuse individuals falsely, when there is in fact no evidence that a crime such as this ever occurred. The deviancy amplification of historical sexual assault can lead to the authorities over-reaching their expertise and giving credit to false accusations of victimization (Victor, 1998). It can also be suggested that as Weinstein is in a position of power, he can use the legal system in his favour to remain at the top of society whilst the powerless remain at the bottom. Moral panic itself is created by society and the representation in the media then ‘further fuels socially unacceptable behaviour’ (Cohen, 1972).  Linked to what was previously stated, a moral panic worries about contemporary issues happening in waves. With a prediction of worse to come, the media and the public argue that ‘something must be done’ (Cohen, 1972). Moral panic is seen as a response from society who believe that there has been a threat from moral deviants (Victor, 1998). Socially unacceptable behaviour is further fuelled by the society that is represented in the media (Cohen, 1972). On the contrary, left realists believe that the fear of crime and crime itself should be taken seriously rather than just an exaggerated reaction of panic from the media (Hopkins-Burke, 2014). Supporters of the moral panic theory finally push for harsher sentences and a ‘crack down’ approach to be enforced on people who commit the particular crime of sexual assault, whether they be celebrities or not. When a moral panic occurs, it often gives rise to social change within society which aim at eliminating the deviant behaviour, in this case sexual assaults, and try to change the law and politics in order to supress the dangerous deviants completely (Victor, 1998). The result is usually a change in the law and/or its enforcement (Critcher, 2008). Durkheim (1893) believes that punishment of the deviant behaviour reaffirms currently held societal norms. According to Garland (2008): ‘The recurring sex offender panics of the last 10 years have led to an intrusive apparatus of supervision, restraint, and con?nement which civil liberties concerns have done little to prevent’.  However, the recent reaction has been to emphasise the understandings of the decisions made to commit certain crimes so we can then reduce the opportunities to commit these crimes and further deter the criminal. Moral panics about sexual assault that includes celebrities is a highly controversial contemporary issue within the media at the moment. The issue at the forefront of this topic is how the media is one of the main problems as to why these situations get out of hand with regards to the public and what they deem to be socially acceptable and what they deem a ‘crime’.