There are also several important limitations when comparing the data set in this analysis to national crime data.
First, these data sets essentially measure separate things: the sample data look at media framing, which we should expect to be substantively different than actual crime rates. Second, the sample data set covers a range of 25 years, but there are not enough observations in any single year to break down my data into a yearly unit of analysis for comparison. Finally, although I do my best to match all variables to national data, the strongest comparison for this analysis would be a uniform, consistent data set.
This simply does not exist. Regardless, the comparisons I include provide a way in which to conceptualize generally how media representation of crime, victims, and offenders compares with actual recorded incidences of violence, victimization, and crime perpetration, providing a useful starting point for analysis.
In the following section I examine how Los Angeles Times articles represent sexual predator victims, crimes, and offenders. In the first section, I introduce overall statistics on the type of coverage included in articles using the term sexual predator , showing that they most often encompass violent, sexual crimes committed by repeat offenders, containing multiple victims, and committed by strangers.
In the second section, I show that articles overemphasize crimes against children younger children in particular , relative to crimes against adults. They sexualize crimes against child victims, using graphic depictions of violence to do so. Narratives present adult victims the majority of whom are women as responsible for their victimization, yet discuss the protection of children as a collective national responsibility.
The final section shows that articles use these same child victim narratives as a rhetorical tool to justify violence against sexual offenders. The cumulative effect of these results illustrates how media construct and reinforce hierarchized victimhood using child victims, and use child victim narratives to dehumanize and generalize all offenders as pedophilic. Figure 1 shows trends in the number of overall mentions of the term sexual predator over the sample time period.
The number of mentions peaks in , followed closely by and Table 1 provides overall statistics on all major relevant variables from the sample, which give an overall idea of major trends regarding age and gender of victims and offenders, as well as the distribution of crimes covered in the sample. Figure 1. Table 1. Table 1 shows that articles in the sample focus on four major categories of violent crime: 83 percent discuss sexual assault, 67 percent discuss murder, 48 percent discuss kidnapping, and 30 percent discuss physical abuse of some kind.
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Seventy-two percent of articles discuss repeat offenders, 79 percent of which mention sexual assault as a corresponding crime. However, as shown in Figure 2 , when broken down by crime, repeat offenders showed up relatively evenly within each category, in fact appearing most 87 percent of the time within articles about physical abuse.
Similarly, while 69 percent of articles mention multiple victims, 79 percent of which mention sexual assault as a corresponding crime, Figure 3 shows that the distribution of articles discussing multiple victims was almost identical within the four most frequent crime categories that appeared in the analysis. National crime statistics from provide some perspective with which to view these results. In , murder and forcible rape, which appear most in the sample data, accounted for less than 1 percent of the offenses that made up the UCR Federal Bureau of Investigation Aggravated assault, which does not include child abuse, made up 7.
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Figure 2. Repeat offender percentage within crime category, Los Angeles Times reports on sexual predators, to Figure 3. Single versus multiple victims within crime category, Los Angeles Times reports on sexual predators, to Although previous research suggests that predator discourse may be racialized in that it might focus on black offenders , 67 percent of articles discuss white offenders.
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This closely mirrors Bureau of Justice Statistics BJS data from to on the perceived race of offenders, both in terms of cumulative crimes of violence and in terms of rape and sexual assault specifically. On average, in both these categories, white offenders make up between 60 percent and 65 percent of total offenders reported.
Black offenders make up about 20 percent to 25 percent, while other and unknown make up the rest Bureau of Justice Statistics — Victim race was rarely identified in the sample data. Within the total number of articles that identify the relationship between offender and victim, 60 percent discuss offenses by strangers or those unknown to victims, while 40 percent identify family members, friends, or acquaintances as offenders—a distortion of reality.
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National statistics on victimization show that offenders known to victims on average actually commit about 67 percent of murders Federal Bureau of Investigation and committed between 70 percent to 80 percent of sexual assaults each year between and Bureau of Justice Statistics — , indicating a potentially exaggerated focus on attacks by strangers relative to their actual occurrence. Figure 4 shows the percentage breakdown of victim-offender relationship within each crime category. When broken down by crime, the percentage of articles featuring stranger offenders increases even more, to 86 percent and 82 percent, respectively, within kidnapping and murder stories, and to 63 percent within stories of sexual and physical abuse.
Figure 4. Relationship of offender to victim within crime category, Los Angeles Times reports on sexual predators, — Further analysis of article text demonstrates that graphic verbal descriptions accompany media emphasis on violent crime. Another story lists the names and details of crimes committed by sexual predators in Minnesota:.
Richard Enebak committed at least 37 sexual assaults between and , many on young girls. In one rape, a year-old girl suffered internal injuries, severe cuts and broken vertebrae that left her paralyzed. Charles Stone, a pedophile, admitted molesting as many as young girls. Donald Martenies savagely raped a 7-year-old girl, then sewed up her wounds without anesthesia. Kuebelbeck Graphic depictions of violence against children in particular appear regularly throughout the sample Chu ; Louise Roug and Haldane Thus, from the start, articles that mention sexual predators emphasize violent content and narratives.
This is not necessarily surprising, but further analyses into how violent coverage intersects with age and gender of victims demonstrate important framing distinctions in these areas.
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Among coverage of violent crime, articles focus more frequently on child victims than on adult victims. Figure 5 shows that articles are more likely to cover child victims in comparison with adults within three of four violent crime categories.
Nonsexual physical assault or abuse is the only category for which the percentage of adult victims exceeds that of children. Articles discussing sexual assault, although still featuring more child than adult victims, also feature the highest percentage of adult victims among any crime category and are most likely to mention both adult and child victims in the same article. In addition, although national crime data on children under age 12 are limited, official BJS indicate that only 34 percent of child sexual assault victims in the United States are under age 12 Greenfeld , while representing 57 percent of the news sample Table 1.
Figure 5. Victim age percentage within crime category, Los Angeles Times reports on sexual predators, — In addition, media emphasize large age gaps between victims and offenders. Overall, the sample is evenly divided between offenders above age 40 and those below 40, with a slightly greater emphasis on the former Table 1. Aside from two years and , this focus on older offenders remains consistent throughout the study time period Figure 6.
When victim age is cross-referenced with offender age, articles are most likely to mention the youngest category of victims in conjunction with offenders above age 58 percent of articles about victims under age 12 mention offenders above age 40 Figure 7. Figure 6. Figure 7. Percentage of offender age category by victim age category, Los Angeles Times reports on sexual predators, to Results of an additional logit analysis also suggest a potential correlation between coverage of sex crimes, murder, and child victims.
Articles that mentioned child murder were 1. In contrast, articles that mentioned adult murder were not more likely to mention adult rape in fact, they were less likely to mention it.
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Yet in actual cases of child murder between and , only 3 percent of child murders occurred with or preceded a sex offense Jenkins Several articles also assume or imply, without supporting evidence, that child molestation precedes murder or abuse. In a story about a different child assault, a man attacks and beats a 5-year old and runs away.
follow link However, there was no evidence in the Klaas case that she was sexually assaulted. Regardless, the jury found Allen guilty of murder with special circumstances, including lewd acts against a child, and sentenced him to death. The emphasis on violence against children comes largely at the expense of adult women. The majority of adult victims in the sample are women Table 1 , which closely matches national data on victimization showing that from to , women made up 91 percent of reported sexual assault victimizations Barnett-Ryan et al.
Although the overall proportion of female to male victims remains relatively constant across crime categories in the sample data when both gender and crime category are mentioned Figure 8 , this relationship breaks down when age is introduced into the analysis. Figure 9 , which examines the gender division of victims within the three sample age categories, shows that female victims are most likely to be above age 18, making up 81 percent of the victims in that age category, while coverage of child victims in the sample is more evenly divided by gender.
Among victims under age 12, 49 percent were female and 40 percent male. This age category also had the highest percentage of articles that mentioned both male and female victims. When the child victim age categories are combined, female victims make up 54 percent of victims under age Figure 8. Victim gender percentage within crime category, Los Angeles Times reports on sexual predators, to Figure 9.
Victim gender percentage within age category, Los Angeles Times reports on sexual predators, to Relative to national statistics, the sample demonstrates a greater focus on male victims in every age category.