Tuesday, 21st October 2014

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Little Sri Lanka gripped with huge crime wave

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Critics point out overexposure of criminal acts in the media and little interest to show how criminals are bought to book and how they later suffer in prison as key contributing factors which add to the increase of such crimes 


Three members of the same family; mother, father and daughter, are found dead inside a house in Wellawatte. Police launch a manhunt for the son, who is suspected of having murdered all three. A seven year old girl is kidnapped, raped and murdered, before her body is dumped in a canal. The main suspect arrested is a relative of the victim. Several politicians are arrested for raping a number of schoolgirls. Meanwhile, terror grips the Kahawatta area in Ratnapura, where 14 women are murdered in a matter of months by different killers. Many of the perpetrators subsequently arrested are revealed to be those known to the victims and their families.

Such high profile crimes, shocking for their sheer brutality, have rung alarm bells in authorities and the public in general. There are increasing calls to activate the death penalty for those found guilty of such serious crimes. Authorities seem to be on the alert. Interviews are in progress to recruit hangmen to send the guilty to the gallows. 

Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently said there was no increase in crime according to statistics. However, a glance at any newspaper suggests there is a definite increase in crime, with more serious crimes, shocking in their brutality and viciousness, reported almost on a daily basis.
The escalation of such incidents has also affected the country’s image internationally. The UK in its latest travel advisory has warned its travelers of the prevalent situation in the country. The travel advisory cited incidents of sexual abuse and an increase in anti-west sentiments in the recent past.
“Travelers should note that the end of the military conflict in May 2009 has seen an upsurge of nationalism in Sri Lanka. As a result, anti-Western (particularly anti-British) rhetoric has increased,” it said.

Many foreign countries mellowed down their travel advisories on Sri Lanka after the war. The main concern of the international community until May 2009 was the security situation in the country that prevailed due to the war. Travelers were barred from visiting certain parts of the country owing to the volatile environment and the possible threats on tourists.

Police is in the receiving end, blamed by the public for inefficiency in tracking down culprits connected with most cases. Police Spokesperson SSP Ajith Rohana however, said the police had been effective in tracking down many suspected involved in crimes around the country. The police recently arrested several people involved in various crimes island wide and were also successful in nabbing some involved in the museum burglary. In defense of the police, SSP Rohana pointed out that the police had tracked down several key figures of the under world, which has resulted in the reduction of crime.
Head of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Prof. M.W. Jayasundara said while the increase in the crime rate was small according to statistics, brutality of crimes has risen. “For example, instead of killing one person, they kill the entire family, to eliminate witnesses. In cases of sexual assault, even children as young as six to seven are brutally murdered in order to stop them from speaking about it. Such incidents have seen a marked increase in recent times,” he said.

Prof. Jayasundara said trends reflect aspects of ‘Modernization Theory’, which give birth to the thought that modernization can make violent, radical changes to society. “Accordingly, as we move away from a traditional agriculture based society to a more industry based one, it is inevitable that such crimes occur,” he warned. Prof. Jayasundara added that in such a society, people were competing with each other more often than not, leading to conflict. He said the decline of religious institutions was worsening the situation. “There is competition even amongst religious institutions, sometimes even within one religion itself. Thus, institutions that are supposed to be there to educate the public on morality have become morally corrupt themselves,” he opined.
Prof. Jayasundara added the media were also fueling the trend through its depiction of sex and violence onscreen. He said frustrated and impressionable men would be driven towards committing crimes they see onscreen.

Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Udayakumara Amarasinghe said while statistics don’t indicate a massive increase in the crime rate, there is a trend of more heinous crimes being given much more exposure in the media. Amarasinghe told The Nation, that there are more media institutions in Sri Lanka than before and added, “Thus, invariably, crimes society deems to be shocking will get far more exposure”.

Amarasinghe noted most of the so-called ‘shocking’ crimes that grab the public’s attention are those like murders, rapes and sexual molestation of children. “In contrast, crimes such as theft and bribery do not hold public’s attention as much as the other crimes. As such, media exposure for those is comparatively low,” he said.

According to Amarasinghe, there are two types of sexual crimes that grab media and public attention: sexual assaults on women, and sexual assaults on children. He noted there were certain elements to these crimes that made the public more interested in them.

“In many cases of sexual assaults, especially involving children, we see that the perpetrators are mostly those who are close to the victims, such as family members, relatives, neighbors, or friends. This adds to the shocking nature of the crimes,” he affirmed. He further added that the number of sexual assault cases may well be much higher than reported due to the social stigma associated with such cases. “Many victims and their families don’t report such crimes due to the fear of being ostracized by the community. The victims in such cases tend to be victimized further by society. Thus, there could be many occasions where the perpetrators are allowed to go free,” he warned.

Experts agree that urgent measures need to be taken to address these issues. According to Prof. Jayasundara, the law needs to be applied “equally to all citizens” if the crime rate is to be reduced. “All too often, we see that the law applies only to certain sections of the populace, whilst some can get away with anything. The police don’t enforce the law equally on all citizens. In such a scenario, the public will lose trust in the legal system and take the law into its own hands,” he pointed out. He emphasized the law must apply to all citizens irrespective of their status and perpetrators of crimes be punished severely.
Amarasinghe said when it comes to sexual offenses against minors, it is important to take whatever steps necessary to prevent such crimes. “We need to analyze on what occasions such crimes take place, by whom, and why, in order to devise a method to minimize such crimes,” he said.

Physician and author, Dr. Priyanga de Zoyza, said as far as he can tell, there was no increase in the crime rate, but said he believed the impression has been created by media exposure. He opined people were especially curious to know more about sexual assaults as they were “inherently curious about sex”. He said such crimes were rare in extremely rural societies or among tribes such as Adhi Vasis around the world. “Apart from crimes committed out of momentary anger, we don’t see such calculated acts in such societies. This is because they haven’t been exposed to such crimes through the media,” he opined.
Dr. de Zoyza said one way the media can contribute to reduce such crimes was to focus more on what happens to those found guilty of such crimes. “The media can follow up on what happens to the families of those found guilty of such crimes; how they’re suffering without him or her. If they focus more on the plight of what happens to those who enter prison for these crimes, instead of devoting so many pages and so much airtime on the crimes themselves, I believe it would act as a deterrent,” he claimed.

Last modified on Saturday, 23 August 2014 13:21
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