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This essay will examine the process of labelling a person - in this case a paedophile - as deviant, the moral clampdown connected to such a person and the rise of public concern assisted by mass media, resulting in 'moral panic' and the consequences that follow. The example provided will focus on Western Society in which there are clearly defined ages of sexual consent.
The Australian Concise Oxford dictionary (1992) defines deviance as meaning, "the act or state of diverging from usual or accepted standards, especially in social or sexual behaviour". This definition doesn't illuminate the diversity of deviations within mainstream society, it doesn't mention good deviations (heroes) opposed to bad deviations (criminals), nor does it highlight consequences involved when a person is labelled 'deviant'. The simple act of labelling an outsider as 'deviant' implies that any person deviating from their cultural norms and values are, according to Goode and Nachman "engaging in misconduct, that their actions are harmful to society, they are selfish, evil and must be stopped" (1994: 29). Like beauty, labelling is in the eye of the beholder (Sagrin: 124), an act of deviance to one, may not be a deviant act to another (Keating 2010).
Sociologists use the term "deviance" not in an evaluative sense but to refer to departure from conventional norms and values (Nathanson, Paulhus and Williams: 2005). Sociologists have many theories regarding deviance; however this paper will examine the 'labelling theory' which focuses on deviance as a socially constructed phenomenon rather than being conducted inherently (Giddens 2009). The 'theory' is a sociological perspective that can be used to investigate deviant acts (Smith 2001). According to Giddens (2009:1123) labelling has become a dominant paradigm in explaining deviance, however many have criticised the theory, because it explores the process of deviance and not the cause.
The term 'labelling' originated in Lemert's writings during the 1950's and subsequently developed through Becker, during the 1960's (Smith 2001). Becker states that deviance is created by society and that the cultures in which you are socialised establish the rules to be adhered to. Consequently any deviations to those rules will attract disapproval (Sagrin 1975: 126) whereby the deviant may or may not be labelled, dependant on "public opinion" to the infraction of the rules (Becker 1973:11-12). This theory has been adapted by many Sociologists, who have various definitions of the concept (Sagrin: 3). The theory suggests that firstly actors become 'deviant' due to the acts they commit, secondly what follows is a gradual shift, where all acts committed by the deviant person is labelled as suspicious (Sagrin:123). Lemert refers to these two propositions constituting the theory as primary and secondary deviation. Deviation opposed to deviance, as all people deviate occasionally from norms within society (Sagrin: 124) and some are labelled, while others are not. According to Lemert two things happen when an act of deviation occurs, the first is the 'deviation' label that is imposed by others, this suggests that they are not normal, they are evil and should not be part of the community (Sagrin:124). Secondary deviation frequently causes more harm than the primary act itself, once labelled, the deviant actor becomes fearful and paranoid, characteristics develop such as low self-esteem and self-hate (Sagrin: 124), the consequence of this is the actor takes on the role of the label. "Labelling... shuns offenders and treats them as outcasts and may provoke a rebellious and criminal reaction from them" (Karp 1998: 283; Maxwell and Morris 1999). As Erikson suggests "a moment of deviation may become the measure of a person's position in society" (quoted in Rubington: 25).
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a 'paedophile' as "a person with paedophilia, that is, an abnormal sexual love of children". According to Bill Glaser it is not a love of children but a lust for them (in James: 6). Paedophilia is an extremely complex issue, characteristics are not easily defined; paedophiles do not fit into one sub-cultural group within society. They lack a set of symbols that divide them from the 'norm', they do not have a notable dress style, verbal or prominent body language to highlight that they are 'deviant' (Rubington: 5). Paedophiles are from any ilk; they may be well educated or not; rich or poor; married or unmarried; employed or unemployed, they are found in every suburb; they are family members and neighbours, guardians and social workers, child care workers and teachers, coaches and football heroes, church leaders and politicians, judges and doctors, anybody (James 1996:1). Becker states that the only thing deviants have in common is, "they share the label and the experience of being labelled as outsiders" (1963:11).
The mass media and other control agencies have status and power that is used to publicly label an offender, what is created sociologists call 'moral panic' (Giddens: 949). During the 1960's sociologist Stanley Cohen introduced 'Folk Devils' and 'Moral Panics', depicting the mass media's exaggerations regarding youth disturbances at a British seaside resort. Cohen acknowledged that 'private troubles' transformed into 'public troubles' through the stages of moral panic (Innes: 17). 'Folk Devils and Moral Panics', currently a term widely adopted by sociologists interested in the relationship between the public and the media. The paedophile depicts the 'Folk Devil', the outsider, the deviant that deserves "targets of self-righteous anger, hostility and punishment" (Goode, Nachman: 31). According to Critcher the paedophile is a classic 'Folk Devil'. The moral panic surrounding the paedophile isn't necessarily about what he is doing but the fears and anxieties that it represented (Marsh and Melville 2009: 61-65).
The mass media exposes 'the paedophile' as an external threat; this creates a 'moral panic' focusing attention on the dangers that paedophilic sex offenders pose outside the home, however statistics prove that it is often a trusted figure within society that is the perpetrator (Cowburn and Dominelli 2001: 2-3). The paedophile priest is an example of a socially constructed 'folk devil', he is respected within the community, he has status and power which is used to gain trust, this trust can be exploited. "It has long been theorised that strict religious teachings on sexuality are capable of causing abnormal behaviour... the Church's teachings on sexuality... lead[s] to a development of sexual dysfunction amongst its priests" (Crabtree 2009). According to Cohen if something triggers a threat and if conditions are right, a moral panic can suddenly appear and disappear just as quickly. Moral panics ensue when reaction to this development is amplified by agents of social control (Cohen 1972:9). Any panic caused by the paedophile priest is promptly concealed by the Church; the priest in concern is relocated, rehabilitated or placed on leave until the moral panic diminishes (Crabtree 2009).
'Moral panic' relates to the overreaction of the mass media, police and local community authorities (Germov and Poole: 509) in hope that their agenda items acquire priority and implantation, and also to raise anxiety and risk levels in the public so criminal justice and political systems will be pressured to employ additional law and order policies. In America for example, Megan's law was passed three months after seven-year-old, Megan Kanta was sexually assaulted and murdered by a neighbouring paedophile (Hinds 1997). The Moral panic surrounding Megan's death therefore resulted in the implementation of new notification laws. Names and addresses of sex offenders are now placed on sex offender registries to notify families of any perpetrators that may live close by. Registers conversely raise problems of "labelling and secondary deviance or of deviance amplification; not to mention moral panic and scapegoating" (Ronken and Lincoln 2001: 13).
Recently in Hobart, The Collectors ABC high profile television presenter was charged during February this year with viewing child internet pornography and again in June for possession of such material (Larkins 2010). Although the content is not known and he has not yet been convicted of these offences, the label is applied and the actor is now an outsider, a 'Folk Devil', a sex offender. Australia currently does not have a sex offender register and many people oppose the idea. Publicly labelling on a registry, in many cases can do more harm than good (Fitch 2006). The continuums of sexual offences that are labelled 'Paedophile' and placed on the register are extensive. For instance a girl in Georgia was placed on the register following an act of consensual oral sex on a fellow student, merely weeks away from the legal age. She was convicted under Georgia's law of sodomy, her name sits alongside the most extreme of child sex offenders imaginable (Crabtree 2009). A paedophile that is on a registry is a labelled 'paedophile' for life. Following prison and reinstatement, life chances of the offender decrease through alienation (Crabtree 2009). Vigilante groups often take action forcing offenders out of the community. The following lyrics of the music track titled "When the fingers point" by The Christians, depicts the feelings of an outsider once labelled as deviant; "You're the man with no choice, yes it's been decided you've done wrong. And there's single voice that will stand up and say, 'oh just what has he done?'For they all read the news, and it's surely proof enough for them. And they flatly refuse to consider, oh, was he really to blame?" (Crabtree 2009).
The Media is responsible for deliberately and unnecessarily amplifying public fears about crime. The current social construction of 'the paedophile' creates a media-orchestrated 'moral panic' where imagery created by the media influences public awareness (Cowburn and Dominelli: 2). It constantly argues that paedophiles cannot be treated; because they are different they will reoffend (James). The media instils images through news headings such as; 'AFP crack Facebook paedophile porn ring' (SBS News 2010), 'Man jailed after pleading guilty to possessing more than 50,000 images of child pornography' (Herald Sun: 2010), 'Train club paedophiles' (Houlihan 2010) and 'Hundreds of children exposed to sex offenders in Victoria' (Adelaidenow 2010). These headings would make it difficult for anyone reading the latest news not to have come to the wrong conclusion that every paedophile is a homicidal maniac (Ryan 2003:2).
The media highlights the sex offender as a threatening stranger who the public needs protection from (Kitzinger 1999). 'Stranger danger', a prime example of misrepresentation by the media, who would like us to believe that paedophilia, is committed by complete strangers. Victims as mentioned above, are often children who already have an established social relationship with the perpetrator (James: 1). The Moral panic surrounding 'stranger danger' often results in parents undertaking risk management strategies such as acknowledging the sex offender registry and consuming necessary items to protect their children. For example mobile telephones, surveillance cameras, internet safety options and monitoring all help ease any fear of moral panic instilled by the media. Danish parents have gone to extremes by enrolling their children in day care centres that have webcams. Children can be viewed throughout the working day via the internet with a secure password. This strategy is intended to provide parents with peace of mind ensuring child safety (Jorgensen 2004). However, it is based on the unrealistic moral panic belief in the 'stranger danger' given friends and family pose a bigger threat to their children, and they may have access through the same webcam as they do.
This paper introduced the labelling theory and subsequent moral panics, associated with paedophilia deviations of Western Societies norms and values (Rubington: 3). Although there are many theories associated with deviance; labelling theory appears to provide a more useful analytical framework to apply when considering the process of deviation, than other current theories studying the cause. The theory suggests, decision makers and law enforcers, in short, manufacture deviance, "If society did not manufacture deviance it would not exist" (Sagrin: 129). The actor may or may not be labelled; this is determined if the rules are enforced. If the actor is publicly labelled, consequences ensue. Lifechances decrease; through public awareness and moral panics, fear of vigilante attacks cause anxiety. Isolation and loneliness increase due to friends, family and others reactions to the applied label. "It appears that some adherents of labelling see no acts as inherently evil; yet elsewhere this is contradicted" (Sagrin: 128). In Western society, the paedophile deviates from the rules that are sanctioned by those that enforce them, if found to be breaking the rules the actor is labelled through the court system. The publicly labelled paedophile becomes the social outcast, whose behaviour is seen as repulsive to society, he is a criminal and unredeemable. This process often amplifies the deviance. According to Cohen "More moral panics will be generated and other, as yet nameless, folk devils will be created...because our society as presently structured will continue to generate problems for some of its members" (1972: 204) opposed to others, dependant on the 'act', 'actor' and 'moral interpreter' (Becker 1963: 11-12).