Posts Tagged 'criminology'

Social media homicide confessions – stories of killing in digital culture

Criminologist Professor Elizabeth Yardley discusses the relationship between violent crime and social media use, ahead of her new research being published later this month. Originally published by Birmingham City University on 15th September 2017.

Elizabeth Yardley

On Easter Sunday earlier this year, 74-year-old Robert Godwin Senior went out for a walk in east Cleveland in the US state of Ohio.

It was a sunny day and he was making the most of the pleasant weather as he waited for his Easter dinner. It was during this walk that he would be ruthlessly shot dead in the street.

Most homicide victims know their killers but not this time – this was a chance encounter with a man who intended to do fatal harm. His killer had been making videos of himself as he drove around the streets of Cleveland that day.

In one of these videos the man is heard to say “I found somebody I’m about to kill”. He then pulled his car over to the side of the road, commenting on his plans. “I’m about to kill this guy right here. He’s an old dude,” he said as he walked towards Mr Godwin, who was on his own and walking along on the path. “Can you do me a favour?”, the man asked Mr Godwin before asking him to say the name of a woman. “She’s the reason this is about to happen to you”. He then shot Mr Godwin dead. This video, and several others, were uploaded to the social networking site Facebook.

This is one of many cases in recent years in which a perpetrator has posted about a homicide they’ve committed on social media. The killing of television news reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward in August 2015 was accompanied by similar behaviour by the perpetrator.

Why do people do this? What is this all about? Are these people extreme narcissists, desperate for attention and notoriety or is there more to it than this? These are just some of the questions I set out to explore in the research covered in my new book – Social Media Homicide Confessions: Stories of killers and their victims.

I examine the case of Jennifer Alfonso, murdered by her husband following a relationship characterised by coercively controlling and abusive behaviour. After shooting her in the kitchen of their Miami home, her killer posted a picture of her body on Facebook, accompanied by a statement claiming that she had been abusing him. In this statement, the killer also referenced his ‘fans’ and said they would see him in the news.

I also consider the familicide in which Shelly Janzen was killed by her brother, who then went on to kill his wife Laurel and daughter Emily. Before taking his own life, their killer posted on Facebook, confessing to killing Shelly, Laurel and Emily and explaining that Emily’s chronic migraines were the reason for the familicide.

The murder of Charles Taylor is the third case I explore. Charles was killed by the former wife of his late son Rex. After the murder, she posted images and statements on a variety of social media platforms. This included a photograph taken by her male accomplice, in which she can be seen holding a knife and Charles’ dead body is in the background. This image was uploaded to her Tumblr blog and sent to a friend who ran a website about serial killers. She made several Facebook and Instagram posts whilst she was on the run, many of them blaming Charles for Rex’s death.

I spent several months exploring not only the homicide-related posts, but also how the perpetrators had used social media more generally in the years preceding the killings. Social media was a platform to tell stories about their lives and the social roles and identities they occupied. It was a space in which they revealed their expectations about other people and how they should behave.

They also performed their membership of social groups and institutions via social media. These performances were aspirational ones – presenting their lives in highly idealistic ways, concealing the realities that contradicted these idyllic imaginaries. Visibility was a weapon that they used to tackle the struggles and challenges of everyday life. It was also a tool they used to manage their transgressions as killers. They used social media to protect them from the consequences of accepting their realities and maintaining their fantasy idealistic identities and practices.

This fetishistic disavowal (Žižek, 2009) served to conceal the negative aspects of their identities and amplify the valued roles and behaviours that gave them status. Whether they embraced the identity of the killer, tried to claim victim status for themselves or accepted responsibility for their actions, social media enabled them to position themselves as particular characters in their stories of homicide for others to consume.

Several gatekeepers stood between the killers of the past and those who consumed their stories. Mainstream media organisations decided which cases were newsworthy and as such, which cases would enter the public consciousness. Whether the killers of the twentieth century would be seen or unseen depended on the judgements and decisions of other people. If these stories did emerge, they did so second-hand, mediated and edited, the perpetrator’s control of the story diminishing with every filter it passed through.

However, the tables have now turned, today’s killers can share their stories of homicide in their own words at the tap of a touchscreen. This has enabled them a degree of control over the narrative that they have not previously experienced. Social media enables these killers to show themselves and their victims in ways they want to be seen. Perpetrators both create and represent the homicides they commit. They go from consumers to producers, their content particularly marketable in ‘wound culture’ of public fascination with violent crime (Seltzer, 1998, 2007).

The confessions I explored were not bizarre, one off aberrations but patterns of entrenched behaviour. Just as individuals don’t suddenly snap or change when they kill, neither does what they do with networked media. In a world where to be is to be seen, this is not going to change.

As criminologist Steve Hall notes, ‘the terror of insignificance, of remaining unrecognised by others, might now reign supreme as the most potent and extractable source of human energy’ (2012: 172). Criminologists, social media companies and law enforcement all need to realise that the online and the offline are not separate. We now live in a world where real, embodied, visceral violence is performed and consumed on social media. We need to start making better sense of how people live within these seamless spaces if we are to tackle homicide in digital culture.

References

Hall, S. (2012) Theorizing crime and deviance, London: Sage.

Seltzer, M. (1998) Serial killers: Death and life in America’s wound culture, New York, NY: Routledge.

Seltzer, M. (2007) True crime: Observations on violence and modernity, New York: Routledge.

Žižek, S. (2009) Violence, London: Profile Books.

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Partners in crime? Understanding coercion and choice in co-offending

 

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Charlotte Barlow

High-profile male and female co-offenders provide fascinating, yet disturbing, images of crime and deviancy; the likes of Myra Hindley and Ian Brady and Rose and Fred West being some of the most infamous offenders in UK history.

It is often questioned how two people can be as ‘evil’ as each other, but this approach is usually overly simplistic. Here, Charlotte Barlow, author of Coercion and women co-offenders examines the complexities inherent in such relationships.

Although many female co-offenders are ‘equal’ partners and make an autonomous decision to offend, other women may have a less autonomous offending role. There have been a number of high-profile cases in recent years involving women who co-offended with a male partner who suggested that their relationship, at least to some extent, influenced their motivations to offend. This raises interesting questions about the possibility of coercion.

What is coercion?

Coercion means persuading or encouraging someone to do something by using force, threats, abuse (including physical, psychological, economic and/ or emotional), manipulation (including love or obsession) and/or control. The possibility of being coerced or forced into crime, with a male partner/ co-offender influencing motivations to offend, is a lived reality for some co-offending women, particularly if this relationship is characterised by violence, abuse or control.

Shauna Hoare and Nathan Matthews

Continue reading ‘Partners in crime? Understanding coercion and choice in co-offending’

A missed opportunity: Why the Law Commission got it wrong on hate crime

Jon Garland, Department of Sociology, University of Surrey

Jon GaJG picrland and Neil Chakraborti are co-editors of Responding to hate crime: The case for connecting policy and research, published by Policy Press last month.

 

Recently the Law Commission published the results of its year-long investigation into the efficacy and scope of hate crime laws. The consultation, a reference from the Ministry of Justice, had the specific remit of examining the ‘aggravated’ offences and incitement to hatred legislation in order to see if these should be extended to include groups that were not previously protected.

That the Law Commission was asked to undertake this review at all was a reflection of the increased social significance of hate crime and also (and relatedly, of course) the heightened importance of hate crime legislation. Supporters of this legislation argue that it has a specific, symbolic importance in that it reflects society’s condemnation of the victimisation of marginalised and disadvantaged groups. However, one of the issues examined in this process was the inequality that exists in the provision for different victim groups within the mish-mash of hate crime legislation. The criminal justice system currently recognises just a handful of different identity communities as hate crime victim groups – the so-called ‘five strands’ of race, religion/faith, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity – about which the police are required to collect hate crime statistics. Surprisingly, though, some of these ‘five strands’ receive more protection from the law than others. For example, the aggravated offences provision within the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 currently covers race and faith groups, but not those relating to disability, sexual orientation or gender identity. Similarly, in the case of the incitement to hatred legislation, race, faith and sexual orientation groups are included, but not disability or gender identity.

So how has this rather odd situation come about? Well, the explanation is, in some ways, quite simple: there is no single all-encompassing ‘Hate Crime Act’ that covers different types of offences and all identity groups, but instead there exists a number of different pieces of legislation that have been drawn up over time which have, gradually, included one group after another in a rather piecemeal fashion. This has resulted in the disparities of provision that the Law Commission was asked to investigate.

Under a degree of expectation, the Law Commission therefore published the findings from its extensive investigations at the end of May. The Commission concluded, perhaps rather disappointingly, that a further, Government-sponsored review into a wider set of questions surrounding the aggravated provisions was necessary. It also, rather frustratingly for some disability campaigning groups such as the Disability Hate Crime Network, declined to recommend that the incitement legislation be broadened to include the strands of gender identity and disability. The Commission’s reasoning for this was that it had not been persuaded of the ‘practical need to do so’, that prosecutions might in any case be rare and that new incitement legislation might ‘inhibit discussion of disability and transgender issues’.

This verdict means that disabled and transgender communities still find themselves ‘out in the cold’ regarding the incitement laws. It also means that some groups appear to be accorded a more ‘privileged’ position than others within the five strands, which is an unfortunate outcome of the Commission’s work. Although the justification provided by the Commission for declining to make this recommendation  has some logic, it does seem a shame that it failed take the opportunity, in the words of the Disability Hate Crime Network, to extend the law’s coverage to ‘capture a unique, specific and grave type of wrong’.

 

 

 

 

How do values, ethics, morals and ‘sides’ function in the criminal justice system?

Marian Duggan

Marian Duggan

by Marian Duggan, co-author of Values in criminology and community justice, which published in September.

The UK criminal justice system is rapidly changing in light of the ongoing neoliberal turn, advancing towards a focus on expansion, results and privatisation. It is perhaps unsurprising therefore, that criminology as a discipline remains as popular as ever with students and scholars, practitioners and policy makers. These shifts and their wider social impact prompted us to ponder upon contemporary ‘values’ in criminological research, theory, policy and practice.

Taking Howard Becker’s 1967 article ‘Whose Side Are We On?’ as a starting point, we set out to investigate how values, ethics, morals and ‘sides’ function in and around the criminal justice system. Two and a half years later these earlier ponderings resulted in the publication of Values in criminology and community justice.

In the book we analyse a range of issues, often evidencing the multiple and, at times, contradictory discourses concerning victims and offenders, punishment and protection, rights and responsibilities. We cover traditional ground such as values and ‘sides’ when working with offenders, victims, the police or wider communities, and also address issues pertaining to prisons, the changing probation service and desistance.

More nascent areas of study such as ‘green criminology’ are also covered alongside new and fresh approaches to existing areas, for example how feminism, racism and identity impact on criminological theorising. Critiques of neoliberalism and its impacts are also present with issues such as the ‘big society’, economics of justice, desistance and contract research being tackled by contributions from experienced and eminent scholars in the fields of criminal and community justice.

The timeliness of this publication is not only evident in light of the changing nature of the criminal justice system, but also links to the theme of the 2013 British Society of Criminology conference, where the discipline was quite literally ‘put on trial’ and charged with failing to deliver. Criminology’s strengths and limitations were laid bare in the compelling prosecution and defence statements which ensued, but (thankfully!) in the end Criminology was acquitted of all charges.

However, during the trial, what became evident was the broadness and malleability this area of scholarship affords researchers seeking to improve, enhance or enrich the lives of others. No one discipline – Criminology included – will ever have all the answers to questions concerning how to address offending, victimisation, deviancy and harm. Nonetheless, the thoughtful arguments put forth in the Values book clearly illustrate the importance of continually querying responses to crime, criminality and criminalisation in light of developments in social, political, legal and moral values.

A launch is being organised at Hallam View, Sheffield Hallam’s premier conference suite, on Wednesday 11th December 2013, 5–8pm. Please contact Elena Portaluri on 0114 225 6280 or e.portaluri@shu.ac.uk for further details.

Values in criminology and community justice is available with 20% discount from www.policypress.co.uk.

Margaret Thatcher and her legacy on criminology

Emma Wincup

Emma Wincup

by Emma Wincup, author of Understanding crime and social policy, publishing this month.

I have been reflecting since the death of Thatcher last month why there has been so little discussion of crime issues given the enormous amount of media coverage devoted to analysis of the impact of the policies she pursued. The run-up to her entry into Downing Street is widely cited by criminologists as one of the first General Elections in which law and order issues featured prominently alongside the usual suspects of health, education and the economy. Looking back, 1979 has become a watershed year; one in which the main political parties started to develop their distinctive crime agenda, which has too frequently ended up in a game of leapfrog with parties competing for who can be the toughest on crime.

We can easily look back and identify policies which might have contributed to rising crime rates throughout the 1980s, alongside increasing inequality: unemployment, and it’s devastating effects on communities; restrictions on eligibility for welfare, especially among young people; and reduced access to social housing. There is ample evidence to suggest that reduced welfare spending and unemployment are linked to crime, even though this has always been fiercely contested by the Conservative Party. There are always multiple explanations for rising crime rates, and increased expenditure on policing might be one of them, alongside actual increases in crime. Whilst reduced public expenditure was actively pursued across many areas of public policy throughout the 1980s, state investment in the police increased in the Thatcher years, and was coupled with the granting of greater police powers, most infamously and controversially demonstrated during the Miners’ Strike.

The real impact of her crime control policies were witnessed after she had left office. Widespread privatisation is the most obvious: criminal justice functions were put out to tender after the use of private sector companies had been tested elsewhere, most notably in health. If we take, for example, the current proposals to contract out probation supervision for all but the most risky offenders, or the widespread introduction of payment-by-results schemes through criminal justice, we can attribute much of this to the legacy of Thatcher. Radical changes in the financing and delivery of public services are, of course, not peculiar to the crime control functions of the state.

I still haven’t come up with an explanation for the neglect of crime issues in the media. It might be because much of the media coverage has been anti-Thatcher, and, whilst many of Margaret Thatcher’s policies are deeply troubling for those with academic interests in crime or who work within criminal justice, there were occasional glimpses of an alternative vision of criminal justice which many academics and professionals would support. Part of her legacy was to pave the way for the introduction of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, reserving custody for only the most serious offenders. The agenda which drove this was probably a desire to reduce state expenditure rather than a commitment to reduce the use of imprisonment in itself, but, had it been allowed time to bed down, we might not see almost 84,000 people locked up in custody in 2013.

Understanding crime and social policy is available with 20% discount from www.policypress.co.uk


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