Home / Prurience, the Media and the Soham Murders

Prurience, the Media and the Soham Murders

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London Metropolitan Police Commissioner ‘Sir’ Ian Blair has been taking some flack for his comments on the Soham murders (the murder by Ian Huntley of ten-year-old Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in Soham, a small town in Cambridgeshire, England, on August 4, 2002.).

He was quickly forced to apologise for saying that “almost nobody” could understand why the Soham murders became “the biggest story in Britain”. His assertion was that the media is institutionally racist, and generally gives far greater coverage to murders involving white victims.

Excluding a couple of celebrated cases, he was absolutely correct. But I think the coverage of the Soham murders was based in something a little different.

I understand exactly why the story gained the profile it did. There is a dark and well-fed hunger for stories of sexual violence and sex crimes, especially involving minors or young girls, in the UK (as I’d imagine, in most other places). It dresses itself as well-meaning concern and outrage, but it’s based in a prurience which is unhealthily voyeuristic.

It’s quite clear that one question runs through many minds – what would it be like to do that, if they were less conventianal, less scared of consequences. So they dress up in an anger and outrage which is commonly fed by the very same pages that give them near-naked teenage girls to ogle, and it all blends and festers in the darker corners of their being.

Sometimes it bursts out into acts violence, not usually the acts they secretly and furtively turn over in their minds – sometimes in acts of violence against family, sometimes against outsiders. And sometimes in the very lynch mobs invoked by the media, where they find an opportunity to demonstrate publicly their moral rectitude. And sometimes merely in the assertion of violent opinions (castrate them, hang them etc) on the subject.

Occasionally it erupts into the act itself. I know police professionals are well aware of this transitional moment. Which is why I find Blair’s professed puzzlement unbelievable, and don’t understand his reluctance to continue the argument.

So he’s left the field open to the most appalling examples of what I’m talking about – these people demonstrating their moral rectitude and outrage. But underneath, something dark slithers.

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About Chromatius

"You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent." Thomas Merton. The Unspeakable.
  • I’m missing something here.
    Are you saying that media coverage of violent crime encourages more violent crime? Or that
    the media is complicit in crime?

    If I read you right the media should not news if it involves crime?

  • I flatter myself that my argument’s a little more nuanced than that characterisation. But yes.

    But it’s not the fact of the coverage, but the nature of it. And the context of most of it – soft porn, titillation and extremely young-looking ‘Page 3’ girls.

  • It is more nuanced but maybe it’s the percocet i’m on but it was so nuannced I couldn’t be sure of what you were saying.

    So what would you have the media do instead? Not cover the crimes?
    Not have page 3 girls?
    Just run pages of sports scores?

  • Really I’m just making a couple of observations about human behaviour and motivations. It interests me because of the political use made of the emotions generated.

    But the fact is, the two things are related, the Page 3 girls and the hunger for tales of sexual violation of minors. Which is a little unpleasant, and will have to be examined eventually.

    I’m not suggesting boys and men can’t look at pictures of girls, even ‘legally-aged’ ones who appear underage. But I’m suggesting the way that desire is exploited politically in the media is worthy of attention.

  • I think those are interesting points. I’ve always thought it odd that British newspapers even have page 3 girls. I’m not aware of other countries’ newspapers running them.

  • I think the use of Page 3 girls in your arguments is confusing the issue by dint of it being such a bizarre thing to have in a newspaper anyway. The likes of the Daily Mail, despite being somewhat superficially puritanical, have a much more confused stance on the issue.

    I think, though, that Soham isn’t really the best case to highlight the strange and conflicted paedo-obsession of the popular British press. That story ran and ran because of a number of factors, not least because of the manhunt for the missing girls and the strange way the press and public were led a merry dance by Huntley and co during the whole thing.

    Sir Ian Blair is quick to forget the string of police balls-ups that led not only to a man with previous complaints of a sexual nature being inadvertently cleared to work in such close quarters with children but also to completely miss the link when the kids disappeared.

  • allan jones

    Chromatius, if you agree with Blair about the British media being “institutionally racist”, it must be along time , if at all, you have taken notice of it This sounds strange when you compare the coverage of the murders of Richard Whelan, Kriss Donald, Gavin Hopley and Sean Whyte to that of Stephen Lawrence. The circumstances of Anthony Walker’s murder were very similar to that of Christopher Yates but the media attention was vastly different.

    In all these cases, the aggressors were black or Asian and the victims white. This indicates that the ethnicity of the attacker may be as much a factor in the reporting of a murder as that of the victim. Laban has an interesting take on this issue. He argues that there is even less media interest when both the killers and the victims from ethnic minorities. As he says, “Them Killing Them” is less of a story.

    See http://www.pubphilosopher.blogs.com

    Near the bottom of the first page, a section called “Murder mystery”

  • allan jones

    Sir Ian is way off the mark here. He is right that all murders are not reported equally but his analysis is simplistic and looks like a weak attempt to win some politically correct brownie points. I don’t know which gallery he thought he was playing to when he made his remarks. Maybe he just wanted the chance to throw the “institutional racism” charge at someone else. Whatever his reasons, his outburst was ill-considered and has left him looking very silly. In future, Sir Ian should recall his crime detection training and try looking beyond the bleedin’ obvious.

  • I am not convinced there is a connection between page 3 girls and violent crimes.

  • Scott Butki

    Iain, you going to come back to explain how you are sure a link exists?