Youth crime: Is it a moral panic or a justified concern


In 1971, Cohen undertook the investigation of moral panics. According to him, moral panic characterizes how the media and public along with the agents of social control react to the disturbances or criminal acts caused by the youth. Further research work on the same lines suggested that media amplifies youth deviance. The notion of panic itself suggests irrational fear without control. Through this research, an attempt is made to trace how the mass media, which acts as the main source of information for the people around deviant acts of the youth, exercises its control over the minds of people and gives rise to moral panic. For this research a qualitative research methodology has been adopted wherein the focus is placed more on discourse analysis, plays a vital role in sociology dissertation help. Since moral panic is inter-disciplinary there is no particular standard theoretical method of study. A discourse analysis will help inn unfolding the underlying meanings and structures through an in-depth study. The results of the thesis show that there is an undeniable influence of the mass media in influencing the opinion of people and creating moral panic. In the conclusion, the inference is drawn on how mass media gives rise to moral panic by exaggerating stories of youth crime and how it is invested with the hegemonic power to influence the decision of people.


Moral panic has been witnessed by history around the areas of youth crime long before the term ‘teenager’ was invented. Over the years, things have remained the same. Guardians, in the recent years have focused more on preserving the innocence of teenagers and young adults and it is beyond the comprehension of any guardian or parents alike that the young adults can pose moral threat and cause a hindrance to the fabric of the civilized society. The recent past has witnessed an overall drop in overall prevalence of crime. However, concerns about delinquency are legitimate and are indicative of the fact that in the society the statistical updates cannot be full proof and sound, in providing a general idea about crime. For young people, the notion of crime and deviance, are mainly restricted to bullying and theft. This is mainly driven by the desire of producing something horrific, titillating and atypical crime. What is therefore required is a stricter approach of social control as well as punitive punishments. In the US, the crime policies are following an approach where the juveniles are treated as adults. Although many young adults are brought up in settings where there is a scarcity of resources, supports and opportunities which are deemed as essential to provide a healthy development chalking out ways for a productive adulthood (National Research Council, 1993). Increased rate of maternal employment, supportive parents, are the structural changes which are required at this point in the society to provide adequate resources for supervising the free time of young adults and juveniles. There is a need for struggle in government policies on juvenile delinquency about the balance of concern over the healthy development of young adults who are deviant and the desire of the masses to punish such criminals. The traditional sociological ideas surrounding youth crime have tried to assess the behavior by investigating the young adults which gave rise to casual theories about issues of social disorganization, disconnection with their society and inability of the young adults to adapt to the prevalent societal norms. There are some ideas which are linked to the display of delinquency by some youth groups to the notions of resistance and strain, which often force the young adults to adopt a shortcut delinquent pathway to success. There is a certain amount of excitement, the buzz of emotion triggered by the risk-taking activities, and thrill experienced by the perpetrators of crime which further propels such behavior. The current body of knowledge on youth deviance is formulated on how media projects and constructs the image, leading to a dichotomy of moral panic. The aim of this research is to gather an understanding of the standpoint of the society at this juncture regarding youth crime, whether it is a justified concern, or a mere moral panic triggered by the media.

1.2 Aim

The aim of this research is to contribute to the existing corpus of literature on moral panic. This study seeks to understand the roots of moral panic regarding youth crime and how it manifests in the society. Furthermore, the research is aimed at analyzing how mass media has the hegemonic power to influence the people of the society and create mass anxiety and panic among the people.

1.3 Objectives

The main objectives of this research are as follows:

To gain an in depth understanding of whether at all the panic and anxiety around youth crime is justified or is it just due to the influence of mass media

To trace the ways in which mass media influences the opinion of people

To understand how the moral panic can give rise to laws intended to protect the citizens.

To highlight the importance of cross checking of facts before blindly trusting headlines.

1.4 Research Questions:

The main questions that have been addressed through this research work is as follows:

What is the current perception of the society regarding youth crime?

How has media been influential in shaping the perception of people regarding youth crime?

What legal measures have been taken by the criminal justice system to enact on the concerns of the people?

How has moral panic affected the behavior of people?

2.0 Literature Review

The research over the phenomenon of moral panic was initiated by Stanley Cohen in 1972. Cohen’s (1972) work has been analysed multiple times and updated with the passage of time. The definition of moral panic gives rise to a theoretical framework which helps in understanding the processes through which a crime can give rise to threat and fear within societies regarding a behavioural change. In essence, moral panic refers to a particular situation where a person or a group of people are identified as threats to the prevalent structure of the civilized society- its values and norms (Cohen, 2002; Ungar, 2001). In a situation like this the perceived threat is often blown out of proportion by the media through distorted information, and exaggeration (Waddington, 1986). The main problem is that often these events fail to capture the attention of public (Cohen and Young, 1973) and this can result in the media highlighting a specific case and sensationalizing it. Though already a lot of studies have been conducted on moral panic, this research intends to add to the existing literature on how moral panic creates a stir among people and how mass media has an important role to play in it. With reference of individual cases, an attempt is made to understand how the media, to heighten the dramatic effect of news, took recourse of exaggerating any given news on youth deviance.

This thesis undertakes to understand whether at all youth crime is a genuine threat to people in the society these days or whether it is the moral panic that results in stereotyping the youth and sometimes viewing the accused in negative light. This research includes a qualitative data analysis whereby secondary research materials are thoroughly reviewed to arrive at the conclusion. BREO, discover Peer reviewed journals: magazine articles are thoroughly analysed to understand how youth crime affects the society at this juncture.

The modus operandi of the mainstream media at this juncture has led to moral panics being feature news for the entire day, harping on the prevalent threat and dangers caused by the youth to the society, time and again. Cohen argued that it is the news, which provides people with the basic idea of what is right and what is wrong through its depiction of heroes and anti-heroes. In maximum cases, the ‘folk devils’ are presented by the media as people who should be cast out of the society since their deviant acts can lead to numerous other manifestations. The gross labelling like ‘heroes’ and ‘devils’ grants the media with power to influence the opinion of people as well as grants access to the presuppositions that people harbour both on the individual and the societal level. There are various factors which act as catalysts to moral panic. One of the major factors among it is the presence of a clear signal of danger to the individual self or the near ones (Ungar, 2001), such as the threats of terrorism or gangs, theft, paedophilia, rape, among others. Events like this trigger moral panic.

shows a statistical record that there has been a significant drop in the offences

Figure 1.1 shows a statistical record that there has been a significant drop in the offences committed by the youth from 2000 to 2014. Even though it is evident from this chart that the youth crime offences underwent a serious drop, the concern about juvenile delinquency did not stop. The public continues to feel threatened about criminal acts being committed by the youth, and more often than not, their fears are completely irrational and triggered by the mass media reportage. However, what is notable is that most of the youth who were provided with a custodial remand, did not receive a custodial outcome. It is the fear and the threat lurking in the minds of people that triggers action like this from the police. The call of the day is for rational thinking, cross checking of facts before blindly trusting media headlines which cause moral panic.

3.0 Research Methodology

This research uses a qualitative research methodology wherein the secondary data sources like BREO and Discover alongside google scholar peer reviewed journals, magazine and newspaper articles are extensively and critically reviewed to understand how youth crime is perceived in the society. The hidden meanings behind newspaper headlines, advertisements, expressions and messages that are conveyed through media are thoroughly analysed (Carrington et al. 2018). Though it appears like common sense the changes of the perceptions or presuppositions or opinions of the people on the basis of the inference drawn from these media outlets is often not taken into cognizance. Through a social discourse analysis an attempt is made to find an explanation regarding the attitudinal changes both at the individual and societal level with respect to actions, representations or hidden symbols. Any discourse is able to shape the views of individuals on multiple levels and it is an impossible task to tune out the influence of it.

Discourse analysis is important for this study because an attempt is made to discover the meaning of underlying structures, meanings and representation through an in-depth analysis. The messages that are communicated to the public by the media will be identified through this method. Mere content analysis in this case would not be able to provide a detailed analysis of the selected data. Discourse analysis helps in the development of themes since no predetermined code is selected to analyse the data. In 2011, Fairclough, Mulderrig and Wodak developed critical discourse analysis where interpretation was given prominence over description for understanding the social context in which the text has been written. The social context plays a pertinent role because the information is channelled by the media between the social controllers and the broad public views. This helps the media in putting pressure on any of the aforementioned groups since it has the ability to disseminate information. Therefore, to determine the ways in which media reacts to certain groups within the society, it is important to understand the social context.

A combination of grounded theory along with the articles from internet will match well with the discourse analysis since the important themes within phases from each timeline will be identified. The transitions that occur with each phase are important in the understanding of how moral panic is generated and how media portrayal regarding the same events of youth crime changed with each passing phase. Majority of the data that has been used for this research has been collected from the newspaper articles and peer reviewed journal articles on the internet, using key search terms like ‘youth crime’; ‘moral panic and media’; ‘anti-smacking bill’. These terms have been refined further by elimination of certain search tags. Only the articles that contain significant knowledge base with reference to the context of the events of youth crime have been taken into consideration. Editorials and opinions of researchers on moral panic have also been taken into account since they are reflective of the views of the journalists as well as the expert opinions of academicians.

Case studies have been thoroughly analysed in this research work since they provide an in-depth and rigorous investigation into the phenomenon of moral panic. Case studies will also help in providing an explanation to the organisational behaviour like the legal structure which undergoes shifts and transitions from time to time. These case studies depict the social context and have been influenced by it. The analysis of statistics and data gathered from case studies have undergone different methods, in an attempt to understand whether or not similar results have been produced. This will help to minimize the issue concerning validity of data. The information provided in this thesis are the words of the researcher and the ethical concerns of plagiarism have been carefully taken into consideration. Furthermore, it has been looked into with specific importance that through this research work no particular community or media channel has been pinpointed at or commented on. The views are strictly restricted to the researcher and inferences have been drawn through the analysis of multiple articles.

4.1 Introduction: Causes of Youth Crime

No single cause can be identified due to which young adults are prone to commit criminal acts. Multiple causes can be outlined like adverse social, economic or familial conditions. The causes of crime vary from country to country since different countries have different social, cultural and economic characteristics. The major economic factors which lead to crime initiation at a young age are poverty, socio-political situation and unemployment. Socio-political uncertainties can give rise to a sense of insecurity about future of the young adults. In a quest to secure a financial benefit, the youth often give themselves up to criminal acts. Poverty, which gives rise to financial crisis often propels the youth to indulge in criminal activities. Another major cause of criminal activities among young adults is unemployment. When the youth need to fend for their family, they often choose shortcut methods to feed the family if they face lack of employment (Witmer, 2020).

Previous research work has indicated that there is an immense influence of media projections of violence which can often lead the youth to take aggressive actions. It has also been suggested that violent video games also have an impact on young adults and can increase their aggressive thoughts or behavior. However, it is difficult to determine whether there is any direct influence of media in churning aggressive behavioral patterns in young adults. As for the violent video games, studies have shown that they tend to decrease empathetic feelings and helping attitudes among young adults. Reports have also suggested that they can give rise to anger and increase the heart rate and blood pressure of participants. Maximum attention of violence in media is relegated to video games. However, violence in media cannot be restricted to video games alone. It can also include the internet, crime series on the television, advertising and social media (Witmer,2020). In addition to this, there are many social factors which contribute to an increased amount of youth crime. The societal structures are responsible for creating value sets among people as well as determining priorities of people living in the society. Among the main social causes of crime fall inequality, lack of familial and neighborhood support, lack of community leadership as well as low value placed on children. The study of social environment needs to be in alliance with the different social scenarios (Andreson et al., 2002). Many studies have shown that violence among youth can be a form of ‘street justice’ carried out in response of the lack of police protection in certain neighborhoods. Many teenagers and young adults try to secure the neighborhood areas by using violence as a means of bringing order and discipline to the area. As a result of this, the youth often involve themselves in gang violence, turf wars, gun wars or other kinds of violence (Bushman BJ, Newman K, Calvert SL, et al. ). Other causes like alcohol and drug abuse have also been associated with increased risk of youth violence. It has been observed that alcohol and drug abuse can increase aggression among youth. There is also a decrease in fear associated with risks. Generally, teenagers engage themselves in drug abuse as a recreational activity, having the feel-good factor associated with it. However, prolonged alcohol and drug abuse can give rise to depressive feelings, anger and frustration.

PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) has been associated with increased violent outbursts among the youth. This violent behavior often remains unaddressed. If they are left untreated and unaddressed for a long time, it can give rise to criminal activities among youth. Anger can be generated from grief. However, the anger must not be directed as a means of violence towards another person.

4.2Youth Crime: Whose responsibility, is it?

Within the political and academic debates surrounding youth justice, responsibility forms an important concept. The idea of restorative justice has contributed to the debate and has been viewed as an alternative approach to youth crime. Responsibility can give rise to a forward-looking perspective through which the youth are helped to gather an understanding of the consequences of their behavior on others. By means of addressing their emotional, social, educational, or behavioral needs the idea of taking responsibility can enable young people to become more responsible towards their actions in the future, thereby bringing about a truly restorative approach. However, the New Labor’s emphasis on criminal justice system somehow misses out the point behind restorative justice and how it offers wide opportunities for a proactively restorative society.

4.3Youth Crime: Whether it is a justified concern or just a moral panic?

The late 1980’s witnessed a sort of epidemic of gun homicides by juveniles and the youth. This gave rise to cautionary signs, in the mid 1990’s surrounding a group of ‘super-predators’ who were emerging and predictions about an upcoming wave of juvenile violence. Data reveals that the availability of guns increased during this epidemic: within homicidal categories, in addition to other violent crimes, there had been an increase in the usage of guns. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has divided the major crimes known to police, in the categories of serious violent crimes like rape, robbery, criminal homicide or aggravated assault. The violence proportion of FBI’s Crime Index is made up by these four categories and they serve as a sort of social indicator. The total count of these four categories of violent crimes is basically dominated by robbery and aggravated assault, whereas homicide and rape accounted for less than 10%, among the youth. The Uniform Crime Recording data have maintained a compilation from tabulations that have been provided by law enforcement agencies, which shows that the primary crimes committed by the youth broadly fell into the aforementioned categories. The mainstream media tends to represent youth crime as wrecking havoc in the society so as to create moral panic among the people, a method to increase TRP. Often media has used youth offences as a catalyst to create moral panic and stir among the people of the society. Moral panic can be viewed as the intensity in which a particular feeling has been communicated among the population regarding a certain issue which is seemingly likely to threaten the social order. Juvenile delinquency refers to the criminal acts committed by children, generally under the age of 18 years. Many legal systems put forward specific action to deal with such youth, like, detention centers. In the UK, youth crime has been generally summarized as young people who have some sort of involvement in antisocial behavior. One of the major panics created from the youth crime was in the Jamie Bulger case in 1993, which led to a massive stir in the society, giving rise to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act,1994.

  1. Some agencies do not submit crime data or do so, only sporadically. Over the years FBI has changed its procedure for including agency reports.

Stanley Cohen coined the term moral panic in 1972 to describe the media coverage of Mod’s and Rockers in the UK, during 1960’s. Moral panic has been described as a condition or an episode where a person or group of people emerge to become defined to be a threat to the societal values and interests. Cohen also described that the ones who create a moral panic identifying the threat in the prevailing cultural and social values are known as ‘moral entrepreneurs’, whereas the ones who are deemed as causing the threat to the existing social order are known as ‘folk devils. Moral panic usually involves argument ad stirs up tension in the society. This is the reason why disagreement becomes hard since the problem is viewed as a taboo. Media represents ‘moral indignation’ even though they are not completely immersed in controversies; the reportage is as such that it causes tension, panic and anxiety.

4.4 Theories confirming Moral Panic:

Theories have put forward the idea that moral panic has five main characteristics. The primary one is that there is a certain concern about the behavior of a group, for example, youth crime can have a negative impact on the overall societal structure. The second characteristic mentions that if the hostility towards the youth increases, then the group will eventually become ‘folk devils’, thereby creating a division. The third characteristic is a form of consensus even though the concern is not applicable to the entire nation; the fact that the youth can pose a threat to the society must be accepted globally. The fourth characteristic mentions that the actions which are taken can be disproportionate to the action taken by the group which has been accused. The final characteristic consists of volatility, it puts forward the idea that moral panics can be volatile and it ebbs away quickly if there is a lack of public interest or other stirring news reports. Research data has revealed that in 2002, almost 75% of the British population believed that there was an increase in the criminal acts committed by the youth, though statistics provided details of an overall decrease in criminal behavior. One main reason for this can be that negative news concerning the youth is more believable. The content of print media and the general demand of the public about newsworthiness have a mutual influence. This is caused by the overlapping relationship among participant discourses and media. A hegemonic power is relegated to the media to control what the people want to read or talk about. Dahlgren’s discourse analytic study around a focus group who were discussing about everyday life news-media and politics, demonstrates the same. This cites that a parallel can be drawn between the participant and media discourses. There has been ample research work looking specifically at media discourses, analysis of content spread by media and interviews regarding the perception of people on youth and crime. However, to understand whether youth crime is a justified concern or a mere moral panic it is important to understand the bi-directional relationship between media and the ‘youth’ constructions. It is also important to gather an understanding about the ideological role of media in constructing how the youth are viewed in everyday life.

In this case, the rational choice theory can be applied which provides an explanation of how people are motivated by their self-interests in case of making choices which are likely to provide them with certain benefits (Mccarthy, Bill & Chaudhary, Ali. (2014). People tend to ponder on their options to choose what will serve them best. In a society where moral panic persists, it is most likely that people will use this panic to demand legislative punitive measures to be taken against the youth offenders. In the context of youth offences, the social labelling theory is applicable, which posits that societal labelling has an immense influence on how individual members in a society behave (Bernburg, Jón. (2009).If a minor is accused of youth crime, then immediately the society starts to view that person in negative light even before the judgement. This is because labels dictate how an individual will be treated in the society. In case of youth offenders, they are treated as social outcasts. The strain theory is applicable for the deviant youths. The theory posits that several socio-economic factors may propel individuals to commit crime. Factors like poverty, lack of education, history of child abuse, often drives juveniles to commit heinous acts (Saxby, Geoffrey. (2020). These underlying reasons are negated by the society.

4.5 The role of Media

This theory depicts that media focuses on certain issue and place them in a frame in such a way that the continuous presentation of the issue changes the perception of audience (Scheufele, 2011). This theory is related to the concept of agenda-setting tradition. The media influence can be explained by the framing theory which suggests that an individual perception is based on how some news is presented to the audience. The highlighted overdramatized incidents of youth crime propels the individuals to go in a state of total panic as they feel that the threat is lurking behind them. The theory was first presented by Schefele in 2011.


The main point of this theory is the power of media. This theory displays how the portrayal of media could impact the mind of people and make them believe a message working like a magic bullet (Jones, 2019). This leads to stereotyping of an issue. The communication of media to the people of society can be explained by Hypodermic needle theory which suggests that the messages propagated by the media are directly injected into the brains of the audience and the response to the messages by media by the audience are in exact sync to the messages that the media propagates.

The media has been one of the main tools for a drastic change in the opinions and views of people in general. With the help of a catchy headline, the newspapers are able to grab the attention of people often triggering controversies. The murder case of the teenager Ben Kinsella provides adequate proof of this where Daily Mail quoted in their headlines “T.V stars brother stabbed to death as he begged for help”. These words were enough to trigger off a controversy where people were instantaneously dragged to sympathise with someone killed while ‘begging' for help. These news headlines illustrate episodes, conditions, or people who have been identified as creating a threat to the societal structure, interests as well as values- which has been described by Cohen as the ‘Moral Panic’. (Cohen, 1972)

The question of why media will deliberately mislead people lies in the fact that there are certain media influence theories which and premeditated motives behind the selling of newspapers or news media. Public opinion is formed based on the biases introduced and propagated by media and therefore public opinions and views on most things including crimes are on the basis on the information/misinformation propagated by media. The views of the society are often skewed because of certain biasness in the reportage. People often tend to alienate and ostracise the ones who are projected in a negative light in the media. Even certain sections of the community like the youth group can be accused without proper justified causes, in the name of youth crime which instantaneously throws a negative light on them. In the society newspapers and the news provided by other media outlets are taken for granted and people rarely look into the inside details or cross check facts that make the headlines. Though print media are often viewed as benign, however, data points out that print media can also have immense influence in shaping the thoughts and opinions of people (Welch, 2007).

People, in general, have a strong negative opinion formulated with relation to crime. The shaping of this opinion has a lot to do with what has been heard, read or seen, based on what the media propagates and their own beliefs and values solidifies their stance on the same. People with vested interest, who portray crime as being out of control, gives backing to the already existing prejudices formed in the mind of people regarding youth crime. While academicians often use tough measures to prevent crime (which can help to shape the righteous ideology that they swear by, among the people), academics make use of databases and statistics to help channelize the thoughts of the public into the right direction. It is the fear of crime that propels people to act in a certain way when they hear about any kind of crime. The abstract concept of fear of crime is very subjective and can differ from person to person and in different situations (Enders, Jennett and Tulloch in Lee and Farrell 2009). This abstract concept of fear poses a challenge to the police as well as the legislators. To make laws that deal with crime offenders and enforce them is an easy task; however, what is not as easy is to provide people with the assurance that they are safe. Research has found that building a sense of community can help to address the fear of crime to a large extent.

An unbalanced or sensationalized reportage on crime increases the fright among people and has a harmful impact on their quality of life. If media was taken as a mere source of entertainment which does not have any further consequence on the minds of people, then a sensational coverage of crime by the media would not have mattered that much. However, it is the media which has been invested with the power to influence policy level changes since it can play with the minds of people. Moral panic can be indicated by a high level of concern over the behaviour displayed by others. Sociologists have been insistent upon the verification of this kind of concern through a manifestation that is both observable and measurable. While the criminal justice and the media are engaged in activities making a claim, these institutions heightened public anxiety over the concerns of youth crime.

4.6 The role of law

Another key element of moral panic is proposed legislation. The manifestation of moral panic occurs in a way that it influences the design of a law that is meant to keep putative crimes at bay. The nature of the crime becomes increasingly politicized and criminalized at the legislative level. This often helps in reaping benefits for the people who campaign for public offices. In his response to the attack on Central Park, Manhattan, David Dinkins, who was then a mayoral candidate proposed new ‘anti-wilding laws’ to increase the penalties for people who commit crime as a part of a group. Though the exact definition is still obscure, this word was used as a sound bite to describe the youth violence, denoting something dangerous. Journalists, during the attack on Central Park, used the term ‘wilding’ to sensationalize the news regarding juvenile delinquency. There is a certain amount of consensus required among the societal members for moral panic to become a recognizable phenomenon. Though this consensus does not represent the majority often, however, a widespread recognition of the problem being serious and real needs to be there. Oftentimes, the members of the society demand punitive actions to keep these problems at bay. Social institutions like media have an enormous role to play in the formation of moral panic. By bringing up the term ‘wilding’ time and again to create a dramatic effect during the Central Park attack, the media contributed to create a consensus that the threat of youth crime is always lurking behind. Thereby the media set into motion the idea that youth crime was on the rise, through their reportage, triggering public fear and politicians took advantage of this public fear to manipulate the minds of people for mere political gains (Welch, 2007). Moral panic also gives rise to intense hostility towards the people towards the people who are vilified and recognised as social outcasts. The mass outrage is propelled by a process of dichotomization through which folk devils can be discerned from folk heroes, in the moral interplay of good versus evil (Katz, 1988). Stereotypes gain prominence when moral panic is formed since the hostility is towards the social outcasts, who are already disliked or mistrusted. A parallel may be drawn between the process of stereotyping and the processing of youth criminal suspects. As it has been noted that the police are usually responsive to characteristics which are deeply rooted in stereotypes, like age, ethnicity, physical appearance and location, among others.

The incident of the Central Park witnessed racial criminal stereotypes which had an adverse impact on how the suspects were processed (in the initial stages) by the police. In most of the cases the police of New York City, do not display the names of accused minors, however, it has been found out that in the Central Park incident, the gravity of the crime led the police to publicize the names of the accused youths (Welch, 2007).


Moral panic also hinges on disproportionality. This means that the danger is perceived to be more than the proportional harm. Moral panic means that there is a common consensus among many people of the society that the risk, threat, danger or damage caused by the people who are engaged in certain behaviour is more substantial than what can be sustained by a realistic appraisal (Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 1994). Regarding the wilding issue the mass anxiety touched its zenith. By bringing up the Central Park wilding incident again and again and comparing it with other wilding incidents, the media continued to contribute to the moral panic that had already been created, keeping the fear of threat regarding youth crime alive in the minds of the people. Repeated news and media coverage added fuel to the fire of the existing fear.( Ref) Even though there are various incidents of lawlessness in a year, in New York City, and therefore the chances of being a victim of youth crime by people were almost negligible, however the fear always lurked behind the minds of the people. Any claim that is blown out of proportion or is false has its own contribution to increase anxiety among people about the problem at hand, and more often than not, it is done by the dissemination of statistics and figures. When scrutinized closely, the authenticity of such information will be highly questionable. The use of hyperbole to pinpoint the group that has been blamed for issues also makes its contribution to moral panic. Cohen (1972), talks about the excessive reliance of the media on hyperbole to stylize the image of the accused group thereby adding to the already scarred reputation. The media by using metaphors, to depict youth crime suspects as sub-humans or even worse, harped on it time and again that youth crime suspects were like urban terrorists. By using terms like ‘gang’ or ‘pack’, the media heightened the dramatic effect as well as instilled within the minds of the people that there is a serious threat posed to the society by the suspect groups. Instead of using terms like ‘group’ which are neutral, they chose to use heavily loaded words like ‘gang’ which are able to conjure up images of street gangs creating menace in the society. The term ‘gang’ implies that the associated members form an organized group of lawbreakers, therefore more committed to violence.

Claims which make a problem appear much more threatening than it already is can be evoked by moral panic. In case of youth crime, the moral panic makes people think that the lawbreakers will disrupt the existing social order and societal structure. For many people, the term ‘wilding’ symbolizes a moral decline that has deep roots within a civilized society. Many moral panic researchers have referred to it as a ‘disaster mentality’,( Cohen, 1972; Goode & Ben-Yehuda, 1994; Welch, 2000). Surveys regarding offenders and victims bring into light crimes that have not been included in the statistical records. The estimated records of crimes that have been associated with younger people are burglary, theft and rare cases of sexual assault. Mid 1991 witnessed youth crimes emerging in Cardiff, Oxford and in Newcastle, specifically on the Meadowell Estate where a police chase led to the death of two young car thieves (Newburn 2007). The disturbances witnessed with crimes related to car theft led to a conflict between the male youth and the police which resulted in many people being arrested (Brown, 2005). Participation in activities like domestic burglary was also noted by younger children, who were then identified by pseudonyms. Researchers have argued that poverty, substance abuse or dearth of opportunities, witnessed specifically by people belonging to the lower socio-economic class was not brought into limelight by the media.

The society’s perception may have been shaped by how information is distorted and communicated by media. Gross labelling and stereotyping, claims like ‘hardcore child duper crooks’ being responsible for over 90% of the crimes and being one of the major crime problem, triggers anxiety and panic among the people of the society (Doran, 2008). More often than not, they are based on the ambiguous and often incorrect or misinformation provided by the media and the police. Pseudonyms like Rat boy, Spider boy, and Terror triplets were used as markers of identification for youth deviants, due to reporting restrictions. Frequent use of terms like ‘joyride’ ‘riot’ ‘hotting’, displayed moral panic by means of distorted references. Moral gate-keeping became more apparent when the youth were depicted swaggering free from the court which resulted in calls for further action to be taken against them. The deviant youth were represented as the macho urban male youth involved in stunt driving (Brown, 2005). A moral panic concerning a serious youth offender, which has been termed as ‘bail bandits’ (Brown, 2005), failed to take into consideration the fact that persistent offenders usually participate in petty offences. Many of these youth offenders have a neglect or abuse with mental health issues and education issues creeping in. Notions of youth deviance which appear to be vague and distorted, were brought into focus by the media and the police, whereby a lack of contrast between both contributed to social anxiety with relation to the level and type of youth crime that takes place (Anderson et al. 2002). The criminal justice system was unable to deal with the youth crime and this also triggered a source of concern regarding juvenile delinquency. In spite of the diversion reducing ‘known juvenile offending’ that took place during the 1980’s, there was prevalence of the belief that the penal liberalism had stretched itself too much. Rational information, on the basis of facts and statistics were replaced by fiction which conjured up images of youth deviants as monsters lurking behind ‘the gloss and glitter of everyday life’. Therefore, moral panic resulted in total panic concerning the lives of majority of the youth. Childhood was regarded to be a crisis period and with Cohen’s prophecy of the idea of doom, an expectation of further youth deviance grew.


Through the study and the analysis of the data it is clear that at this point the panic over youth crime is more of a moral panic that has been triggered by the media outlets which provide exaggerated information, sometimes misinformation and often mislead the audience. The advantage of this moral panic is further taken by the people who want to hold a place in the public office. Through this research a thorough investigation has been made as to how moral panic shapes the behaviour of people. Additionally, an attempt has been made to understand how this moral panic can be kept at bay. Often it is expected that a moral panic will conclude with the pass of a legislative order, though there is little practical truth to this assumption. The passing of a legislative order does not end moral panic. The moral panic has persisted beyond the policy level changes and legislative orders. Journalism plays its role as a hegemonic enforcer of normalcy when a moral panic takes place.

Since it is an interdisciplinary concept, there is no standard theoretical method of study regarding moral panic. However, the methods used in this research have been widely accepted as effective to the study of moral panic. The punitive policies of youth crime are based on the moral panic and anxiety of people. The intensive wealth of research conducted on youth crime demonstrates that the public, in general, have a tendency, to support measures of prevention and rehabilitation for the youth offenders more than for the adult offenders. The results of this research shows that though there is a lot of community concern around youth crime owing to the political discourse and dramatic headlines or news, however, there is not much clarity about this panic and anxiety being uniform or fixed or self evident.


An inference can be drawn through this thesis that the media sets the moral panic into motion. They do so by means of spreading misinformation, distorted information, and they are expressed in the form of vexation more than fear. Moral panic can lead to different manifestations like the passing of new legislative laws or disappointment. Though the moral panic created by the media can be beneficial for people to a certain extent, in the sense that it creates awareness among people as was seen in Ben Kinsella’s murder case. The case gained mass momentum as the public made use of his narrative to build charities, in an attempt to prevent knife crime and to help the teenagers to stay away from a world of crime. It has been noted that many of the moral panics follow the five characteristics provided by Goode and Ben-Yehuda, although there was a further addition of two characteristics along with Cohen that states that the two developments help in informing any individual that a society has control over moral panic and its creation of ‘folk devils’ and ‘disaster mentality’ that exists within the society. It is the media that holds the power of spreading information which leads to moral panic. However, in maximum cases the media creates an impression that youth crime is more widespread, though there is little practical evidence to this information.

Furthermore, there is under representation of certain issues that the deviant youth cope with on a day to day basis like the health issues that The Terror Triplets had. The media also fails to circulate general information like when it witnesses a fall in the peak offending age or the dark figure of crime for fraudulent activities. The exaggerated representation of the youth is also responsible for causing widespread anxiety and panic among people and giving rise to irrational fears. Explanations that are provided for youth deviant activities may give rise to an increased fear about certain factors which are totally unrelated, often resulting in total panic, as it happened in the 1990’s. Moral panic also has the potential to be entertaining. It is not always moralising. The very idea about a total panic regarding the youth blurred the boundaries which were seemingly invested with the power to spread anxiety by widening the debates or increasing the concern and informing state action as it happened in the Bulger case. There is a lot of evidence which supports the model which had been put out by Cohen. However, it has been suggested that the other perspectives which emphasize on the way in which there is an interaction between the media and the society with respect to the youth engaging themselves in deviant activities are more complicated. Concern, consensus, hostility, disproportionality and volatility are the interlocking components of moral panic. The study conducted proves that the phenomenon of youth deviance gives rise to the criteria of moral panic. It continues to portray the youth in a negative light causing a menace and often falls a prey to the machinery of criminal justice. As opined by Cohen these societal responses are fundamentally inappropriate. Though youth violence is a significant concern, however, the problem is further compounded due to the negligence of the underlying sources.

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