CMN 3105: Reading #6 Slippery Slope
Crime and Perception
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
“It is our responsibility, in law enforcement and as adults, to find the predators first. To bring them to justice
before they catch their prey: our kids… At this training program, you will learn how to best pursue them, to
interrupt their sadistic hunt. Together, we can make theses hunters feel like they are the hunted. Because
we all pray for, and work for, a day when children in this country are safe from the leering eyes, the insidious
stalking and the unthinkable cruelty that pedophiles inflict upon them”
“monster, pervert, paedo”
sex offenders= predators
Case of 2 Missouri Boys:
Ben Ownby and Shawn Hornbeck
Both boys were kidnapped by Michael Delvin
Saying something “could” happen is close to meaningless▯ what matters is how likely something is to
Gut will definitely have a strong opinion having just seen a string of horrifying examples, Gut will use the
Example Rule to conclude that the chances of this crime happening are high.
What’s more, these crimes are so hideous that anyone watching the show will feel intense sorrow and
revulsion which will also lead Gut to concluce, using the Good Bad Rule, the the likelihood of this sort of
attack is high.
It is even likely that the emotions will so intense that they will drive out any thought of probability: This is so
horrible! I have to protect my kids!
As for Head, it has no reason to step in and adjust Gut’s conclusion because it has been given no
information that would allow it to rationally assess the risk.
Or rather no information. As these sorts of television shows often do, a few statistics appeared on the
screen briefly as the show faded to commercial break.
The numbers given to the audience added up to more than 100 percent wasn’t explained and neither was
the term stereotypical kidnapping
With just 115 cases of kids under 18 being stolen by strangers, the risk to any one American minor is about
0.00016 % or 1 in 608,696. For kids 14 and under there are roughly 59 million Americans aged 14 and under so the risk is 0.00015%
that’s about 1 in 655,555
Thus the chance of a child drowning in a swimming pool is 1 in 245,614 or more than 2.5 times greater
than the chance of child being abducted by a stranger.
One critical fact not mentioned in the show is that 9/10 stranger abductions are resolved within 24 hrs.
Risk regulators use a term called de minimis to describe a risk so small it can be treated as if it were
What qualifies as a de minimis risk varies, with the threshold sometimes as big as one in 10,000, but one
in a million risk is definitede minimis
1. the overwhelming majority of minors are not abducted.
2. the overwhelming majority of minors who are abducted are not taken by strangers.
3. the overwhelming majority of minors abducted by stangers are not taken in circumstances resembling the
stereotypical kidnapping that so terrifies parents.
4. the number of stereotypical kidnappings is so small that the chance of that happening to a child is almost
5. in the incredibly unlikely event that a child is snatched by a lurking pedophile there is a good chance the
child will survive and return home in less than a day.
A child not abducted is NOT news. And parental abductions are generally ignored unless there’s a strange
twist, such as a particularly violent ending.
With concern for abductions high, the media gave greater prominence to reports that even vaguely
resembled the Smart case, which inevitably created the appearance of a rise in such incidents a classic
feedback loop. On Fox News, Bill O’Reilly declared 2002 “ a summer of hell for America’s kids”
Politicians, newspapers, the evening news, novels, movies: They are all portraying the fantastically rare as
typical, while what is truly typical goes all but unmentioned and that’s not true only of child abductions. It
applies to all crime.
Crime makes up about 1030% of newspaper content, with quality newspapers at the low end of that range
and tabloids at the top. National television news tends to carry more crime and local TV more still. Media focus heavily on individual acts.
But falling crime means fewer crimes are being committed, a trend that cannot be captured by stories of
individual crimes because a crime that is not committed is not a stor. And so simply because the meda
focus heavly on crimes while ignoring crime, rising crime will always get far more attention than falling
Still the violence kept ebbing, by the end of 2006, gun murders had declined 46% ▯ this went almost
unmentioned in the media.
The media’s skewed picture of crime also extends to which crimes get ink and airtime.
Violence that isn’t as dramatic as murder gets less attention. Still less is given to property crime. The more
heinous the crime the more attention the media will give it.
Hence in the media murder is king.
So the media tells stories of one atrocity after another a pedophile abducts and kills a boy, a disgruntled
employee kills five that eventually come together to create an image of crime that bears little resemblance
Or to put is differently, violent crime accounted for just 12% of all crime.
In the pyramid of crime, murder is only the tip of the point on top.
So the media image of crime is upside down. The crimes that are by far the most common are ignored,
while the rarest crimes get by far the most attention.
The misrepresentation of crime victims is universal.
“The most common victims of violence according to the official crime statistics and victim surveys are poor,
young, black males,” Notes Robert Reiner. “However, they figure in news reporting predominantly as
If the news media turn the reality of crime upside down, the entertainment media turn it upside down and
shake it till coins drops from its pockets. These murders are the products of the creative genius of writers. Primetime television is an endless
Darwinian contest to create novel scenarios of human life abused and extinguished, with each killing a little
more exotic, explicit and divorced from reality.
The big question is whether the excessively grim and frightening image of crime so many people have
courtesy of the media translates into fear of crime.
But social science can be tricky stuff. The simple fact that people who read and watch more fear does not
prove that reading and watching it cause fear.
This has the potential to create a spiral of anxiety. And the effect of fearsaturated media may not be limited
to our feelings about crime.
Nor is it a coincidence that People’s magazine has endless stories about celebrities are interspersed with
stories about crimes. Celebrities and murders go together not because movie stars are especially likely to
kill or be killed but because our interest in celebrity tattle and bloody crimes are both manifestations of the
same human instinct to observe people and think about why they do what they do.
Crimes are particularly intriguing for us because, from the perspective of survival, they’re especially
What’s particularly intriguing about our interest in crime stories is how most such stories are obviously
lacking in any objective important, and how little that matters to those who follow them.
It is anger that distinguishes our feelings about crime. The burning sense that someone who hurts someone
else must be punished and order restored is, remember hardwired by evolution. It doesn’t matter if the
offender will be a danger in the future or not. He must be punished and the scales balanced. Its not about
safety, its about justice.
The researchers expected and they confirmed in questions during the experiment that deer
overpopulation is not something that has a lot of emotional meaning for people. But crime is another matter.
The media are often accused of “man bites dog” coverage always seeking the novel and bizarre, and there
is so much to that charge, of course. Humans are wired to notice the unusual and reporters are human.
Sensation and sale also play a role. But the scale of emotion is a more critical factor in the media’s distorted
portrait of crime.
We feel more in response to the murder of a little girl than a young man. And truth be told, we feel more for those we can personally relate to than those on the far side of racial and
class lines. The media’s image of crime may turn reality upside down but it is a very accurate reflection of
The basic technique of the politics of crime is little different than that used by security companies selling
home alarms or pharmaceutical companies peddling cholesterol pills: raise fear in the public, or amplify
existing fears, then offer to protect the public against that which they fear.
Levitt discovered that American police officers tend to be disproportionately hired in years when there is a
campaign for the major’s office.
But politicians focus on the 12 % not the 88% because winning the votes of parents requires a threat “out
there” which the politician can promise to fend off.
Press conferences in which politicians are flanked by grieving parents are a standard feature in this brand
of political marketing. And legislation named for children who died under circumstances that are both
exceptionally rare something that would have been considered unspeakably distasteful in another era has
The politicization of crime and the “get tough” spirit that goes along with it, is far more advanced in the
United States that elsewhere but as British sociologist, David Garland and others have shown, it is showing
up elsewhere in the Western world.
Many of the new American crime policies three strikes laws, mandatory minimum sentences, supermax
prisons, sex offender registries have been introduced or d