The manner in which news about sexual offenses is reported by the media affects public opinion and perception of “sex offenders”. Registrants seldom receive good press and it seems too often that “as the media goes, so goes the law.”
While re-offense rates for registrants are on the decline compared to other types of offenses, news media ignores and fails to report these facts. Positive facts about registrants just don’t make for eye-catching headlines, they don’t create the hype and moral panic that media relies on to sustain its self. As long as there’s news about “sex offenders” that keeps the public on high alert, fearful that predators of children lurk behind every tree and doorway, then media is doing its job, providing entertainment.
Unfortunately for registrants, the real facts about the registry and the side effects for those labeled by it, just aren’t all that entertaining to the public.
When it comes to sexual offenses, the media constructs stories that elicit public sympathy for those they deem victims and inflame the public against those perceived as offenders. The more sensational the story, the further outside of social norms, the more graphic the details, the more newsworthy the story is. Lurid stories create moral panic and the public reacts by reaching for pitchforks and torches. Legislators are bombarded with constituent calls for tougher sex offender laws which leads to extreme political reactionism and bills passed based on nothing more than myths, stigmas and stereo-types.
All this before the accused even has their day in court.
All too often news articles interchangeably use terms like “sex offender”, child molester, predator, registrant and pedophile. Upon hearing those terms, subliminally, readers use their own imagination, their own frames of reference in calling to mind images of monsters, bogeymen and stranger-dangers. Media keeps communities fearful regardless of whether or not there’s anything to fear.
The media’s role in stigmatizing those accused of sex offenses has led the public to demand ever increasing laws, registries, community notification systems, school and playground boundaries and travel and housing restrictions. It has influenced where registrants can find employment and who they can live or socialize with. The media’s representation of who and what a “sex offender” is influences public opinion and that public includes law enforcement, judges, P.O.’s, “sex offender” treatment professionals and state & government representatives. Everyone holding power over registrants is subject to influence by the media. And if the media only portrays registrants in a negative light, that’s the only way the public views registrants.
The media feeds the notion that registrants are untreatable. How often have they written about successful rehabilitation? They’ve written about the Second Chance Act, and giving felons a “hand-up” in reintegrating into society, but registrants are more often than not, left out of that equation, labeled as unredeemable, not rehabilitatable. This has never been more evident than in recent weeks when chemical castration laws and laws prohibiting registrant’s from residing with their own children have been at the forefront of the news. Where were the stories of registrants that have been successful?
It seems that when it comes to “sex offenders” and the media, a lot of it is, dare I say it, Fake News.