Child Killers – Are we responsible?


As soon as I heard the name ‘Jamie Bulger’, my attention was caught. You see, I have been studying criminal law for the past year and I find the correlation made between the media and childhood violence truly fascinating.

In this particular instance the perpetrators were not adolescents, rather two boys aged just ten years old. Jamie was led away from a shopping centre to be tortured and sexually assaulted. He  was then murdered. The boys then proceed to position his body on the train tracks to make it look as though they had not been involved. Although ultimately unsuccessful as they were caught, it does raise some questions, such as how they came up with the idea and more importantly, why?


When I first heard about this case I immediately wondered what those two boys had been exposed to, after all they were only ten years old. It was later revealed unsurprisingly that both boys had come from families that were dysfunctional and decorated with the usual attributes of poverty, neglect, and other forms of abuse.

The judge in his ruling, made the rather weak connection between their exposure to violent video games and the manner in which they had carried out their crime.  This raises the question, does the media play a role in shaping childhood perceptions and interpretations of violence. The ‘media effects’ model would argue yes, and so would I, but only to an extent.

I wish to make it clear from the outset that I am not suggesting the media is to be blamed for the criminal actions of children. However, it is my belief that exposure to violence in childhood via the media is a contributing factor. David Gauntlett argues against the ‘media effects’ model by stating that children are more than capable of distinguishing between reality and sensationalised violence, and I certainly agree that most have the skill-set to do so. However, there are children who are in abusive environments and may not have the ability to distinguish fiction from their reality. By watching violence for entertainment purposes on a regular basis, the media is inadvertently reinforcing these kids distorted understanding of behaviour and people, which has been shaped by their own environment and life experiences.

Do I believe it is justified that the media has been blamed for this? No, I do not. I believe it is the parent’s responsibility to censor what their children are exposed to. Once published it is virtually out of the hands of the media.

If you want more information about the relationship between children, violence and the media:

Note: I wish to make it clear that I actually agree with many of the other arguments asserted by Gauntlett against the ‘effects model‘. However, to simply state the media is either wholly responsible or not for something is too simplistic of an approach that lacks critical analysis. Like most things in life, it is a little bit more complicated than that.

Random Fact: When I was nine and still chasing my dream of becoming an actress I was actually in a documentary that appeared on the History Channel about ‘Child Killers’ and yes my role was one of the killers.  


Images courtesy of BBC and Wikimedia 

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