The amount and type of criminal activities committed in the society are often portrayed by the media differently depending on social, cultural and political affiliations of the suspects. One of the major dimensions that govern the portrayal of crime is the gender of the suspect. Several researchers have criticized the media on how it depicts female offenders given the rise in overrepresentation of crime coverage in news articles by leading media forums. The questioned need to be examined is whether there is fairness in the propensity of the media to report criminal activities of both the male and female gender. Another element is to evaluate whether women are naturally perceived as offenders in these crimes or the media depicts them as victims due to the empirical evidence in various researches claiming that women, unlike men, have a less likelihood of committing a crime (BOND-MAUPIN, 1998).
Evidently, in federal courts, the proportion of women convicted for committing crimes is considerably lower. However, it is perplexing to see the media sensationalised and vigorously publicizing female offenders on death row and violent female offenders. The race and ethnicity of the female offender are also a factor that influences the media on how to depict a female offender. Perhaps, there media portrayal of female offenders is biased towards showing that there is a significant difference in crimes committed by white and minority women (Chermak, 1994).
Examining the Vanessa George, who was a nursery worker accused of child sex abuse at a nursery in Plymouth, the media had a field day to pyscho-analyse George. The media depicts George as a lady who to the mother of the kids in the nursery was like a second mother or a harmless angel. However, George actions are depicted by the media as inherent latent paedophilic tendencies that consumed her leading her to commit the heinous crime on unsuspecting kids in the nursery. The media colourfully describes the events as a dramatic metamorphosis from an apparently a loving caregiver to a despicable deviant sex offender. The media in absolute exaggeration stressed on the fact that it appeared that George did an iota of remorse for her atrocious crimes, this had an effect of damaging Georges image that the public held and to escalate further the hatred for George by the public. Generally, the media seems to obey the supposition that the biological sex of a person will dictate their expected demeanour and for a woman, like George, who ostensibly seemed a goof wife and mother, with a nurturing tendency, emotional to the core and unlikely aggressive such depraved actions were unfathomable. Therefore, the media became the judge and jury vilifying and painting her in the worst imaginable moral grounds. If George were a man, one could argue that may be such focus would not have been trained on him because the society through arguments of the media have shown worse crimes that a man is capable of committing. Perhaps because George did not conform to the socially defined conduct of women, the media, therefore, perceived her more negatively (Sung, 2011).
Rose West was another female offender who received considerable airtime due to the gravity of the heinous crimes she committed. The media avidly reported the proceedings of her case until her conviction. She was incrassated after being found guilty of committing ten murders. Her husband, Fred West, was suspected to have aided and abetted her in the commission of this crimes. The media displayed enthusiastically West criminal history from when she was convicted a sexual assault charge and widely spread the lifestyle of West, describing her as a perennial sex worker. The media portrayed West as a depraved sex worker with monstrous tendencies who was irredeemably morally corrupt and certainly not what the society expected of a woman, especially a mother. Since West's actions defied the expectation of a woman, the society with the media tried to express that the West was not fully responsible for her actions and narratives and justified this sentiment by labelling her a mad or sad woman. The media tried to shift tentatively the burden of blame on her husband in an effort to portray her as a vulnerable woman who blindly followed her husband. It is this depiction of women offenders as mad or sad beings that offer a feeble excuse to the media to conjure perceptions that such external factors warrant qualifying women as mere victims of circumstance not capable of violence unless motivated to. These explanations are adopted by the media to initiate a sense of sympathy among the public for the accused female offenders and to make a silent unpronounced call for less punitive punishment for female offenders ("Race & Ethnicity | The Critical Media Project", 2016).
The gender of an offender relations to how the media depicts them has been a subject studied many scholars. Little attention in the academic spheres has been focused on the effect females offender race, or ethnicity will have on their media coverage. Often, race surpasses gender as a salient trait by which to distinguish and identify people. The media is an ardent believer and champion of the ideal that when racial stereotypes are attached to people, there is a predisposition to precipitate differences among groups since the overriding belief is that individuals who look different behave differently. Huckerby(2003) reached a conclusion purporting that stereotypes held for white female offenders have served to excuse their criminal deviances, but the extensive negative stereotypes held for minority female offenders increase their probability of being held accountable both in the corridors of justice and the court of public opinion championed by the media.
The media has a role on whether a female offender of a particular race is portrayed in the bad or good light. The race of an offender as argued will play an important role in how the media will depict the offender. It is necessary that the media embraces an impartial view when it is reporting on criminal offences, gender should not be given undue importance, but they should critically analyse the facts of the case to present a more realistic and unbiased report of the offender, despite their gender. Women can and are capable of committing crimes of heinous proportion just like men; gender should not be employed by the media as an excuse or defence for justifying their terrible actions. The media is challenged with the duty of impartial and correct dissemination of information to the public, sending misleading depictions of crimes committed by women is a failure by members of the fourth estate. Gender of an offender does lessen the gravity of an offence neither does it erase the impact of the offence, thus it should not be an excuse for being accountable for the offence.
BOND-MAUPIN, L. (1998). "That Wasn't Even Me They Showed": Women as Criminals on America's Most Wanted. Violence Against Women, 4(1), 30-44. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1077801298004001003
Chermak, S. (1994). Body count news: How crime is presented in the news media. Justice Quarterly, 11(4), 561-582. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07418829400092431
How are women who kill portrayed in newspaper media? Connections with social values and the legal system. (2016). Sciencedirect.com. Retrieved 11 March 2016, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0277539515000710
Race & Ethnicity | The Critical Media Project. (2016). Criticalmediaproject.org. Retrieved 11 March 2016, from http://criticalmediaproject.org/cml/topicbackground/race-ethnicity/
Sung, C. (2011). Doing gender and leadership: A discursive analysis of media representations in a reality TV show. English Text Construction, 4(1), 85-111. http://dx.doi.org/10.1075/etc.4.1.05sun
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