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Victims: Construction of high social status

As mentioned above, crimes which involve children, mainly as victims, draw a considerable amount of attention from media and are considered newsworthy for the wider public. The victims in all ten cases are either very young children (from two months to four years old) killed by one of the parents (i.e. filicide), or teenagers up to the age of 16 killed by strangers. The victims are portrayed as individuals who did nothing wrong to deserve to die at such a young age and whose lives were terminated unjustly, violently and too early. It is a logical assumption that the reader will sympathise and empathise with such victims, who naturally possess a positive social status due to their age. With very young children and babies the range of information that can be used to enhance the positive status is rather limited since these children are too young to have developed any interests or ambitions. Thus their positive status is mainly constructed by the mention of their age, lively nature and helplessness, for example, his little boy, her infant son, her baby son, chirpy 11-year-old Joe, etc. (Examples 1-3).

  • (1) A dad who murdered his little boy in revenge for his wife’s affair was jailed for life yesterday. (DM1)
  • (2) Chirpy 11 -year old Joe Geeling was brutally murdered ... (S7)
  • (3) ... he killed the fun-loving little lad with shocking violence ... (S7)

With older children and teenagers, who have developed some interests, the range of positive information that can be mentioned to contribute to the positive status of the victim is much wider. The victims are described as having had a bright future ahead of them or as obedient children from good families that adhere to traditional values (Examples 4-6).

  • (4) Jimmy, one of nine children of a devout Catholic family, ... (G8)
  • (5) 6ft 2in former altar boy Jimmy ... (DM8)
  • (6) his victim, three years below him at the school, was a trusting boy with an obedient nature ... (S7)

It is not only positive information of the kind mentioned above that generates sympathy in the reader; in some cases some weakness or handicap of the victim are mentioned to reinforce the status of the victim (Examples 7 and 8).

  • (7) The gang selected the slightly-builtKriss because he was white ... (DT9)
  • (8) Joe, a pale, slight boy who suffered from cystic fibrosis, bled to death ... (DT7)

The depiction of the victims is often further boosted by phrases and descriptions taken from quotations by the distraught parents (Examples 9 and 10). The serious papers consistently use quotation marks for such reference in order to clearly distinguish other voices and state openly to the reader that the evaluation is not made by the paper but by another party. The tabloids, on the other hand, use direct quotations but also “take over” the descriptions of the victims and incorporate them in the text of the report, as can be seen in Example 11. The description of the victim as a gentle giant given by the boy’s mother is used by the paper without quotation marks in the second paragraph of the body copy and precedes the quotation itself mentioned later in the report (Example 10).

  • (9) “Toni-Ann was a bright, lovely, respectable and talkative girl. She had such a bright future and seemed to take the setbacks in her stride. Her love for life could not be dampened until she crossed paths with Joel Smith.” (DT6)
  • (10) “He was the loveliest, gentlest giant. He was loved by everyone, by the school, the church and his family.” (DM8)
  • (11) Jake Fahri, 19 was found guilty of killing gentle giant Jimmy, 16, ... (DM8)
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