Pro Academia Help

Discuss how it meets the requirements of a moral panic.

CJ 240 Deviance and Social Control

Moral Panics Mary deYoung

What is a moral panic?

Term “moral panic” – coined by Stanley Cohen (1972)

Collective response,

generated by unsettling social strain

and incited and spread by interest groups,

towards ppl who are actively transformed into folk devils

and then treated as threats to dominant social interests and values

Features of a Moral Panic

use highly emotive claims and fear based appeals

Orchestrates cultural consent

“something must be done quickly”

This results in a call for increased social control

preserves and reasserts the values and interests that are being undermined by the folk devils

Moral panic – serves a distinct stabilizing function at a time of unsettling social strain

Deviancy Amplification Spiral

increasing cycle of media reporting on a category of antisocial behavior or other undesirable events

Deviance Amplification Spiral

Begins with deviant act

Mass media reports on this newsworthy act

New focus on the issue uncovers borderline instances that would not be newsworthy EXCEPT that they “prove” the pattern

Info (like stats) that would show the general public that the issue is less common or harmful tends to be ignored

Minor problems begin to look serious and rare events appear common

Public concern about the crime forces LE and CJS to devote more resources (than warranted) to the act

Judges and lawmakers pass stiffer sentences in response to public pressure

All of this tends to convince the public that any fear was justified

Media continue to profit by reporting on police and LE activity

Examples of Moral Panics


Dungeons and Dragons

Myspace and predators

Jelly Bracelets


Rainbow parties



80s – day care providers charged with satanic ritual abuse (SRA)

Abusing their young charges in satanic rituals

Blood drinking, cannibalism, human sacrifices

All the characteristics of a moral panic –

Widespread, reactive, hostile and largely irrational

The Satanic Day Care Moral Panic

Timing of the Moral Panic

80s – growing cultural anxiety about satanic menaces to children

Concerns about demonic influences in:

Heavy metal music

Fantasy role play games

Tarot cards and Ouija boards

Urban legends about mysterious Satanists abducting fair haired, blue eyed children from malls

Rumors of covert satanic cults filming child porn

Tales of child sex rings

Target and Triggers of the Moral Panic

Economic strains make participation in work forces necessary

Puts more women with children into the work force

1980 – record 45% of women with kids working outside the home

Many parents considered day care a worse alternative to the stay at home child care of their parents generation

Deep cuts in federal funding had closed many centers

Left remaining centers with high fees, too many kids and due to low wages – few providers and high turn over

Still a spark was needed to ignite the panic

1983 McMartin Preschool – 2 ½ yo made statements vaguely suggestive of sexual abuse

Eventually worked into an allegation of SRA by social workers who already had some experience as claims makers

Spread of the Moral Panic

News media emerged as a major interest group

Case was complex enough to warrant daily coverage

Intolerable horrors to evoke and sustain intense emotional responses

Enough familiarity in terms of location, key claims makers and even prime suspects to spark interest

Enough real folk devils in role of day care providers to demonize

Sufficient exigency to elicits feelings that “something must be done”

In national news – tempered considerably and quelled completely in a few investigative reports

Social workers, mental health professionals, attorneys, LEOs are chief moral entrepreneurs (eventually become a target themselves)

Burgeoning sexual abuse industry

Lecture circuit, addressed child protection conferences, conduct workshops, consulted professionals involved in other cases and testified as expert witnesses

SW who interviewed most of the kids testified before Congress of an organized operation of child predators using day care centers as a ruse for a large unthinkable network of crimes against children

Rhetoric like that may be enough to ignite a moral panic

Backed up with facts is more combustible

Professionals developed and disseminated a synthetic diabolism out of materials haphazardly borrowed from eclectic sources on Satanism, occult, mysticism, paganism and witchcraft

Indicator lists/ symptom lists

Little was the result of well designed and controlled studies

Parents of the allegedly abused victims were unabashed believers

CLOUT – legislative group – Child friendly testifying procedures:

Shield witnesses by allowing to testify on video, CCTV, behind screens or with their backs to the defendants

Denouement of the Moral Panic

Moral panic effectively ended in 1991

Several factors contributed to its demise:

Cultural anxiety had been largely debunked

Most vocal claims makers had retreated into silence

More women in work force – more use of day care – more mainstream

Tightened day care regulations

More teeth to enforce them

Significant day care reforms on state level

Day care providers took steps to protect themselves from allegations

Video cameras, opened up private spaces, kept PC to a minimum, open door policies, parents drop in

Schism within the claims making professional groups that widened over the years of the moral panics

Call to Action

Calculate Price

Price (USD)