Purpose – The crime of child sex offending or child sexual abuse is a serious social problem. Since the 1990s, it has been popularly conceptualised as a ‘paedophile threat’ and has become one of the most high-profile crimes of our times. This chapter examines the social construction of paedophiles in UK newspapers and its impact on official regulation of child sex offenders.
Methodology/approach – Discourse analysis is used to establish how newspaper language produces common discourses around child sex offenders. Documentary research of government legislation and law enforcement helps analyse the ways in which official regulation is informed by media discourses.
Findings – Newspaper discourses around child sex offenders construct the paedophile as a distinct and dangerous category of person. This media figure informs government legislation and law enforcement in several ways. For example, discourses around paedophiles necessitate and legitimate punitive legal trends regarding child sex offenders and facilitate the conceptualisation of specific laws.
The conceptual shift towards understanding child sexual abuse through the figure of the paedophile has several detrimental consequences. This chapter offers a critique of contemporary media and governmental/legal discourses, pointing to misrepresentation, sensationalism, demonisation and insufficient child protection.
Value – This research indicates that discourses and conceptual shifts around child sex offenders are driven by the media but have come to be accepted and perpetuated by the government and the law. This dynamic not only illustrates the power of the media to set agendas but raises questions regarding the adequacy of official governance informed by media discourses.
Meyer, A. (2010), "Evil monsters and cunning perverts: Representing and regulating the dangerous paedophile", Deflem, M. (Ed.) Popular Culture, Crime and Social Control (Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance, Vol. 14), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 195-217. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1521-6136(2010)0000014012
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