Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Loss of Innocence in America's Childhood: The Adam Walsh Murder and the Media's Impact on the Culture and Legislation
by Albritton, Casey D., M.S., University of Louisiana at Lafayette, 2016, 58; 10163265
Abstract (Summary)

After the kidnapping and murder of his son Adam in 1981, John Walsh dedicated his life to advocating for missing children. He became the forerunner of a movement to change the laws of the country so that no parent or child would have to suffer through the same events his family endured. The media frenzy surrounding the case, as well as John Walsh’s efforts to make child endangerment and missing children a national issue, helped influence and alter the way the public views the issues of child safety, child kidnapping, and the offenders that harm these children. This research analyzed newspaper articles involving the Adam Walsh murder, and examined rhetorical patterns based on ideas of the social construction of reality, folk devils and moral panics. This research revealed five rhetorical themes the media used when discussing the Adam Walsh case: vulnerability of the victim, description of the offender and crime, transformation of John Walsh, America’s lost childhood innocence and the evolution of the criminal justice system. Results showed repeated pattern of descriptive language emphasizing Adam’s age for innocence and vulnerability, a distinct evolution of John Walsh as a moral entrepreneur and an overall loss of innocence and safety felt amongst parents and children.

This research revealed that the legislation developed and passed has been influenced by fear pervasive in society, rather than criminal data. The findings suggests that federal legislation needs to be modified so that there is less invasion into the lives of nonviolent offenders that are less likely to recidivate.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Stearns, Ami
Commitee: Holmes, Patricia A., Khey, David
School: University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Department: Criminal Justice
School Location: United States -- Louisiana
Source: MAI 56/01M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Criminology, Public policy
Keywords: Folk devils, Moral entrepreneurs, Moral panics, Sex offenders, Walsh, Adam, Walsh, John
Publication Number: 10163265
ISBN: 978-1-369-17957-6
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