Fear Of Crime Outstrip During The Nineteenth Century Criminology Essay

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In considering to what extent the fear of crime outstripped the reality during the second half of the nineteenth century, this essay will consider how attitudes to crime changed during the second half of the nineteenth century in particular and as to how this reflects the reality of the situation in view of peoples fear at this time. It will be argued that, as is reflected by the literature produced at this time, there was a significant concern about the level of juvenile crime that had arisen during this period like Charles Dickens in relation to the problems within society during the Victorian period. Therefore, this essay will consider the laws enacted to deal with the problems experienced in society at this time, whilst also evaluating the views of academics. This is because it will then be shown how the realities of the situation during this period of the nineteenth century served to move beyond the concerns of people within society at the time as the reality is - as now - that most crime was perpetrated by men with acts of violence being particularly prominent. Finally, this essay will conclude with a summary of the key points derived from this discussion regarding the extent the 'fear' of crime outstripped the 'reality' during the second half of the nineteenth.

During the Victorian period in the UK attitudes to crimes being perpetrated at this time shifted from a tolerance of aggression towards a much greater desire for self-discipline (particularly amongst men) along with a greater appreciation of civility as society at this time was looked upon as being somewhat lawless in view of the general impoverished state of Victorian society. [1] Such a view of developments in dealing with crime during the second part of the nineteenth century recognised that Charles Dickens' 'Oliver Twist' [2] serves as a very early example of the social novel that served to comment on the state of affairs within the UK at the time of Dickens' writing. [3] Dickens effectively served to call British society's attention and sensibilities towards dealing with various contemporary evils. Particular reference was made to the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 that recognised poor people were required to work in workhouses/poorhouses where Dickens' book was originally set and Oliver and his fellow children were put to work. [4] This is because during the nineteenth century the UK saw a significant increase in its population so that with vast numbers of workers at all levels of society being forced to work for wages barely matching levels of subsistence and housing proving somewhat scarce problems of poverty and degradation were only exacerbated. [5] Academics including Kellow Chesney recognised "Hideous slums, some of them acres wide, some no more than crannies of obscure misery, make up a substantial part of the metropolis . . . In big, once handsome houses, thirty or more people . . . may inhabit a single room" to emphasise the impoverished state of affairs already prevailing. [6] 

Problems during this period were then only further emphasised by Arthur Morrison's work in his novel 'The Child of the Jago" that also provided a very realistic view of the state of Victorian society. [7] To this end, much like Dickens recognised in 'Oliver Twist', [8] there was no work to earn money and feed women and children. Morrison recognised small children would usually hang around in front of shops or railway stations and try to carry bags to earn some copper coins until they grew older leading to high rates of theft, robbery and other crimes. [9] For example, Morrison recognised during the Victorian period children would commonly start to pick pockets as soon as they were big enough to reach and/or steal goods from horse drawn carriages. [10] As a result, Morrison's boy hero Dicky Perrott may arguably offer the best account of life for children during the Victorian era when he says "children were born and reared in circumstances which gave them no reasonable chance of living decent lives: where they were born fore-damned to a criminal or semi-criminal career" to survive. [11] Therefore, Victorians within society were clearly extremely concerned about crime and its causes as a result of works of literature and the media serving to play on people's inner most fears at this time. [12] With this in mind, reformers sought to vary the way in which children were to be treated - although they still believed in the implementation of strict punishments with a view to then providing for sufficient redress. [13] For example, in 1854 Reformatory Schools were established in the UK for dealing with offenders under the age of 16 with discipline enforced by frequent beatings over long sentences and brief spells in adult prisons. [14] 

Nevertheless, as has already been alluded to in both Dickens and Moore's works, the fact heinous crimes could be committed by young offenders shocked Victorian society. [15] But the reality is that the areas of criminal concern actually lay elsewhere within Victorian society at this time. This is because the nineteenth century saw some significant changes to the way in which crime is dealt with: first between 1800 and 1850 violent crime became a big problem before it began to decline from 1850 onwards due to a change in social attitudes. Noted academic Martin Wiener recognised that "the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century decline in recorded violence was part of a long-term social tendency for life-threatening violence to diminish, at least in public, under both the pressures of authority against such 'disorderliness' and the gradual rise in material standards of living and social standards of self-discipline and 'civility'". [16] In addition, "The Victorian era greatly developed its inheritance from previous eras, ratcheting up the pressures of authority and, along with improving material conditions, raising the social standards of self-discipline". [17] Moreover, Barry Godfrey and Paul Lawrence recognised the Victorian period saw a significant change in attitudes towards the matter of masculinity in crime because the reality is the overwhelming proportion of violence at this time was (and still is) committed by men since "masculine rituals of aggression were replaced with internal control of emotions such as anger". [18] 

The UK Parliament passed The Better Prevention & Punishment of Aggravated Assaults upon Women & Children Act 1853 that provided for the implementation of a fine and a period of up to six months imprisonment. [19] In his book, 'Crime & Society in England', that was published in 1996 Elmsley explained that The Better Prevention & Punishment of Aggravated Assaults upon Women & Children Act 1853 sort to specify and limit the amount of chastisement which a husband or father could command, and goes on to explain that despite this, 'aggravation' on the part of the wife tended to be accepted with just cause, or at least a mitigating circumstance, for chastisement, even when such chastisement resulted in death. The Act of Parliament that defines violence to the person is the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 but, although utilised to prosecute offenders of assault, this Act cannot be said to operate in direct relation to incidents of domestic violence. [20] It appears somewhat unthinkable that the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876 made it illegal to ill-treat any domestic animal, yet during this time is was quite acceptable to beat your partner using the 'rule of thumb', whereby husbands were not allowed to use a stick broader than a thumb. [21] Further enactments then followed, but the predominant themes within such Acts were the rights to divorce (Matrimonial Causes Act 1878), rights to property (Married Women's Property Act 1882) and rights to maintenance for child care (Maintenance of Wives Act 1886). [22] Godfrey and Lawrence observed in their writings these particular enactments were the beginning of the evolution of a more civilised vision of society. [23] However, on closer inspection, the picture is, perhaps not all that unexpectedly much more complex. Therefore, Godfrey and Lawrence have gone on to argue that, despite some significant progress, domination and authority over a wife by her husband continued to be routinely accepted and encouraged in the UK so police intervention in 'marital disputes' was unheard of. [24] 

As a result, this is considered to be reflective of the fact that a number of studies have explored (and decried) the catalogue of new restrictions that are associated with idealised notions of domesticity that have been perpetrated around Victorian women. [25] However, Martin Wiener has chosen to look at Victorianism from another perspective because increasingly strict notions of self-control were largely aimed at men reflected by the legislation enacted during the second half of the nineteenth century so as to then ultimately benefit women. [26] But, although the Victorian emphasis on chastity and domesticity clearly placed particular burdens on women regarding crimes including rape, "the new higher valuation of female character weakened class barriers, as well as enhancing the claims of women of all ages to protection against bodily assault". [27] On this basis, either as a victim or a perpetrator, women received more understanding and sympathy from a justice system that was still largely male dominated. But, with a view to balancing that argument with evidence of continuing hypocrisy and tendencies toward blaming the victim, this intricate study is far more convincing than the long-established image of cross-class male collusion to oppress women in understanding not only the victims but also perpetrators of violence. [28] 

To conclude, it is clearly arguable that people were right to be fearful of crime during the second half of the nineteenth century in Victorian time as the reality within society in the UK at this time would seem to reflect this. But what is interesting is the fact that concerns within society lay arguably in different areas to where the real problems actually were with crime and criminality. By way of illustration, whilst there can be no doubt that juvenile crime was a significant problem in the UK at this time, writers like Dickens and Morrison only served to exacerbate concerns in this area so as to make the problem appear much more significant than it actually was in reality. This is because, as is still the case today, violent crime is looked upon as the key problem during this period of the Victorian era so that there was a need to seek to take significant action in an effort to mitigate these problems through the implementation of legislative enactments with a view to then limiting instances of such crimes and helping to create a more civilised society.