Application: perceptions of crime and the victim in the media


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John and Patsy Ramsey lived for years with a cloud of suspicion hanging over their heads, fueled largely by the media. Their six-year-old daughter JonBenet was found murdered at home in 1996, having been strangled. While the Ramseys’ suffered the loss of their child, the murder investigation focused on the family—John, Patsy, and their son Burke—who were the primary suspects. The media repeatedly cast doubt on the Ramseys’ claims of innocence (Montaldo, 2011). 


The sensational portrayal of real-world criminal cases in the media can have a negative impact on victims or their families at a time when they are already vulnerable. Social scientists refer to this as “secondary victimization” (National Center for Victims of Crime, 2004). Imagine the effect on a victim when the crime becomes the subject of a popular talk show and is debated openly in the media for years while the courts sort things out. If the media blames a victim or her family, can they ever return to normal or be exonerated of the implied fault?


In the Ramsey case, the Boulder District Attorney Mary Lacy wrote a public letter of apology to the Ramsey family two years after Patsy’s death. In the letter, Lacy acknowledged that DNA testing had proven that an unidentified male killed JonBenet. This letter came too late for Patsy. The media frenzy after JonBenet’s death destroyed her reputation, and she lived the rest of her life as the subject of public scrutiny and suspicion (Celizic, 2008).


For this Assignment, review the case in this week’s Interactive Community. Consider why the crime received media attention and how the media portrayed the victim. Finally, think of ways the negative impacts from media coverage could be reduced.


The Assignment (2–3 pages):


  • Visit the Interactive Community and follow the instructions to access this week’s media.
  • Explain possible reasons why the crime portrayed in this week’s media received media attention.
  • Explain how the media portrayed the victim.
  • Explain how the victim was impacted by the media coverage (negative and/or positive impacts).
  • Explain how the victim might address any negative impacts from media coverage.


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