The term 'moral panic' refers to a condition that our society is subjected to in situations that supposedly believed to be a violation of the norm. This assignment intends to establish how 'moral panic' increases fear of crime within society. In considering various studies and statistics, it will examine the differences of crime committed and reported from the post-war onwards to present day and our likelihood of being victims. By identifying the causes, characteristics and cycle of moral panic, it will illustrate the influences it has on our society, followed by a conclusion.
There have been many debates about the level of crime existence in the past with comparison to recent years. Claims that in the post-war era crime hardly existed were based on the structure of society, which was characterized by stronger family values; communality and civility, where people had more respect for the authorities and fear of crime was less of an issue. Furthermore, it is common practice for middle-aged in every generation to believe their early years were much safer then today's and the young generation who are responsible for the decline of morality and increase of crime (Pearson, 1983).
However, a letter written by Daniel Defoe in 1730 to the Mayor of London, not only proves that our society has always been characterized by a culture of fear and fascination about crime, but also suggest that panic over crime has existed in the past when he wrote: "The whole city... is alarm'd and uneasy... the citizens are no longer secure within their own walls or safe... in passing their streets... The citizens are oppressed by Rapin and Violence" (Defoe, 1730, quoted in Reiner, 1996, p. 2)
In counting the crime problem, quantitative evidence by the police shows that there has been an increase in reported crime, where by the year 2000 more then four million crimes recorded each year compared with 1945. (Introductory chapter 3. 1 p. 18) However, other factors had to be considered, such as, changes in technology, where identity theft or downloading child pornography through computers created more opportunities for criminal acts. On the other hand, qualitative evidence suggests that not all crimes are reported.
The British Crime Survey found that 16,437,000 crimes have been committed in 1998 but for reasons, such as, insignificant seriousness of the incident felt by the victim, only 4,595,300 have been reported. (Introductory chapter 3. 1 p. 19, 20) Therefore, counting the crime problem produced inconclusive results. Furthermore, both studies have found that older people, 60 plus, feel most at risk, yet the younger generation who are more victimise by crime. However, anxiety about crime and the likelihood of being a victim has many factors, such as, gender, ethnic groups, and social class. (Social Trends 2002)
Evidently, the structure of British society has changed dramatically, which brought diversity and uncertainty that perceived as lack of confidence and control, leading to new anxieties and panics in our lives. (DVD introductory block - Audio 1B) One concept that helped understand social reaction to crimes is 'moral Panic'. This was explored by Stanley Cohen in the early 1970s when he defined the term as, "A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented... by the mass media" (Cohen, 1973, p. )
In his research, he found that the media take minor incidents and blow them out of proportion and even distort them, only to create a good news story, which Cohen describes this as "deviancy amplification spiral". By doing so, a cycle begins, where not only it awakens a wider public concern about morality breakdown but forces powerful figures, such as, police and politicians to intervene in order to justify the initial concern, which create more anxiety. For example, a moral panic generated and prolonged by the media, following the death of Leah Betts from the drug Ecstasy.
With the parent's cooperation, the media published powerful images showing Leah in intensive care under the title, "Sorted. Just one Ecstasy tablet killed Leah Betts". However, it was revealed that Leah's death caused by drinking too much water. Nevertheless, due to the publicity generated by the Betts' and the media, the public perception of the drug and the true facts regarding the dangers of the Ecstasy have been exaggerated and distorted, which created panic and fear in our society with drug taking by our youth and considered a threat to the norm.
But as Eugene McLaughlin commented, "... quite clearly Leah was 'the normal'" (DVD, TV 07 The Agony and the Ecstasy: Moral Panics and youth Culture) In conclusion, throughout time there have been a number of panics over crime, each considered a threat to the moral idea of society, which seams to ignite at times when society is unable to control or adapt to dramatic changes within our structure.
Although, there has been a significant increase with the level of reported crime in recent years, counting the crime problem from the past to present day produced inconclusive evidence. It seams that our fascination with crime, our perception and reaction to crime shaped by the mass media coverage, stimulating and prolonging moral panics with exaggerated and distorted stories and facts, which fuels our fear of crime. Nevertheless, perhaps moral panics and media coverage are necessary step in order to face up and adapt to reality of crimes in the UK