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Spin doctors and moral crusaders: the moral panic behind child safety legislation

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Issues of child abduction and molestation have risen so high on social agendas that they have all but eclipsed similarly offensive crimes. Media broadcasts of a rash of child abductions, molestations and homicides have led to a nationwide moral panic concerning the safety of children. The media frenzy surrounding these publicized cases has created a 'fear factor' among parents and caregivers, begging the question as to whether the incidence of child abduction and molestation has increased or whether the nation's heightened sensitivity is a result of increased media reporting. This article explores the present climate of fear by way of five moral panic criteria developed by Goode & Ben-Yehuda. This link between the child predation moral panic and child safety legislation is explored in the context of the recently enacted Amber Alert. Similarities are demonstrated in the origin and empathy of both the Amber Alert and its predecessor, Megan's Law.
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Keywords: Amber Alert; Child abductions; Child molestation; Megan's Law; Social constructionism

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2004-12-01

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