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Criminological Analysis of Stephen Port

Info: 6846 words (27 pages) Dissertation
Published: 9th Dec 2019

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Tagged: Criminology



4.1 The Panopticon

Stephen Port’s passage to crime ended with a wide-open doorway. The world wide web acts as a port of opportunity for transgression dependant on any individuals’ needs and goals; criminal or legal. This open doorway of technological advancement, like all new frontiers, will inevitably lead to exploitation for criminal opportunity. Recent stories in the news related to global ransomware attacks provide timely examples of such exploitation. The ‘open range’ nature of this technology has unsurprisingly acted as a beneficiary to deviant behaviour since its inception, yet only now is Western society truly beginning to recognise the intrinsic danger associated with its use. State policing of this medium is problematic; its outcomes based on much trial and error – our collective understanding of the dark web, for instance, remains at micro level. Our protectors and authority agencies continue to struggle against a gargantuan tide of digital progression, and criminal elements remain two steps ahead of most forms of regulation. The example of Richard Huckle shows that characteristically unorthodox methods are beginning to be employed to confront and abate the rising menace of the internet’s misapplication. Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) received a tip-off from Australia’s Queensland Police Service special branch investigating online child abuse, Task Force Argos, on 19th December 2014. Task Force Argos traced clues of an individual’s paedophilic activity from the dark web to a fake Facebook page, which in turn led to the arrest of the administrator of the network ‘The Love Zone’ (TLZ). Officers then assumed the identity of the individual which led to the arrests of hundreds of paedophiles. Huckle was noted as a high-level, prolific abuser, who detailed his activity through diary entries and sold video content through the online-only ‘Bitcoin’ currency. Using their assumed identity, police traced Huckle’s movements through the open web and discovered he was due to arrive back in the UK from Thailand for Christmas; he was arrested at Gatwick airport upon arrival.

The Richard Huckle case, and its implications, will surely be a prime source of research and analysis in the years to come with regards to criminological investigation and theory. Huckle’s crimes were ended by a new variant of the panoptic notion that Michel Foucault theorised. Thomas Brignall notes in 2002’s The New Panopticon: ‘If Internet service providers or police agencies randomly monitor Internet users, then the Internet begins to share comparable properties with the panopticon prison structure’ (Brignall, 2002, p. 2). He continues to posit that: ‘the panopticon might emerge as a desirable structure for the perceived need for the protection of… internet user safety’ (Brignall, 2002, p. 3), and it is in this potential panoptic monitoring that a budding Stephen Port of the future may be apprehended before they commit a crime. Certainly, there is an advantageous ‘safeguarding’ facet to policing of the internet, but the cost of this unseen observance may be to our individual civil liberty and freedom of privacy. For many, the internet is a liberating space; its’ potential inestimable. The capability to connect and express creativity through the medium has boundless scope for the future, and the possibilities entwined with its expansion are palpable. However, it can also act as a harbour for the shared perversions of depraved addictions of the sexual deviant or criminal; for as Berger states in his 1966 work The Social Construction of Reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge: ‘Human expressivity is capable of objectivation, that is, it manifests itself in products of human activity that are available both to their producers and to other men as elements of a common world.’ (Berger, 1966, p. 62). Berger’s analysis can be attached to contemporary tendencies online; for Stephen Port, his attraction with the rape of an unconscious young male led to his discovery of specifically-created visual content online that had been created and distributed by others to appeal to a clearly illegal fetish scenario. Berger continues to posit that this behaviour can be ‘habitualised’ and that, appositely in relation to Stephen Port, Berger asserts that habitual behaviour can become anonymised; for Berger: ‘the typifications of social interaction become progressively anonymous the further away they are from the face-to-face situation’ (Berger, 1966, p. 23). It is in this anonymity that Stephen Port may have placed his trust; by ‘playing the system’ he was able to anonymously exchange information and arrange face-to-face interaction with his victims. The websites and applications he used could have hypothetically been monitored for activity, yet, conversely, the domains that provided the means to which Port could commit his crimes are free from insinuations of wrongdoing. Neutrality is a by-product of the ‘googlefication’ of the internet (Taylor, 2006); we as individuals are deemed to be responsible for our actions online, and may be monitored and investigated as such, but the content we view and the actions we make are provided neutrally, without consequence for the provider. As Kohl states in Google: The rise and rise of online intermediaries in the governance of the internet and beyond: ‘…another pervasive facet of ‘neutrality’ is that of automation, or the idea that automated processes are inherently neutral, thus releasing the actor behind it from legal accountability.’ (Kohl, 2013, p. 4). The concept of autonomy is suitably drawn on – from a biological perspective – by Varela in Principles of Biological Autonomy (1979), who defines it as: ‘always relative to the process of interactions of the domain in which they occur, and to the observer community that describes them’ (Varela, 1979, p. 5). Can it be proposed then, that content providers act merely as neutral gateways to information and material? In the trial and subsequent conviction of Stephen Port, no mention was made of the websites he used being investigated for their role in the crimes he committed. This notion leads to further questions surrounding liability, and specifically, future action related to holding content providers to account. At this embryonic stage, recent notable laws passed to deposit accountability, such as the 2014 Coalition Government’s enacted ‘Revenge Porn’ law, are sluggishly beginning to catch up with online behaviour. The formerly mentioned Investigatory Powers Act is outwardly a power given to state agencies designed to primarily combat terrorism, hate speech and propaganda online – to what degree can this type of act be enforced and legitimised in future inquiry related to a would-be criminal like Stephen Port? Our increasing rapport with the online world has not yet established a just and conclusive way to monitor individuals’ behaviour without constricting or restraining our deeply ingrained acuity of civil freedoms. As Keel states:

‘At what point are the rights of the innocent violated by the operation of official control policies? How efficient is our system at determining guilt? Are punishment and deterrence goals that overrides determination of guilt beyond a shadow of doubt? What is the “goal” of the criminal justice system?’

(Keel, 2005, p. 4)

Long has the liberal society looked inwardly to what can be done to regulate deviancy and criminal elements in its’ communities. It is of possibly equivalent importance to look to our guardians and their role in safeguarding our passage through Western societal existence – in 2017, the state has come under fire for their preparations and reactions to potential threats and dangers to us all (Grice, 2017); global terrorism is as dangerous as at any point in modern Western history, the recent London and Manchester attacks being scars that act as cursory reminders of the continual ‘threat’ we face. Yet the odds of any of us coming face to face with extremism are decidedly low. The Governments raising and lowering of terror threat levels keeps us continuously on the lookout for danger, the cold war’s ‘duck and cover’ advice has been modernised and replaced with the new terror-threat management sloganising of ‘Run, Hide and Tell’ (NPCC, 2017). It is in this guidance and provision of security that we as a populace invest in and come to rely on to safeguard us. Yet terrorism is a distressing act of large-scale violence that, within Western society, is directed broadly to affect hateful damage on as many persons as possible, and resultant fear in the aftermath. In the case of Stephen Port, Western ‘society’ was evidently not his intended target of attack. The serial murders of four young gay men will have been long forgotten by large swathes of our communities because it didn’t directly affect them. It is of unfortunate consequence that those affected most by the actions of one man are the immediate family and friends of the victims. People in the gay community may feel the odds of a similar set of events are decidedly low as to not warrant self-restriction. Further research could be optioned relating to Ronald Clarke’s theory of situational crime prevention, with notions of ‘target hardening’ as posited in 1983’s Situational Crime Prevention: Its Theoretical Basis and Practical Scope. However, this should not detract from a larger theme that events such as those surrounding the crimes of Stephen Port bring about; namely, that our personal safety is self-prophesising – the more we do as individuals to safeguard ourselves, the more likely we are to be safe (see Anandarajan, M., D’Ovidio, R. and Jenkins, 2013). Any message or recommendations related to self-protection regarding the Stephen Port murders need not only be heeded by the gay community. Panopticism can often be dismissed with popular culture touchstones surrounding fear of surveillance and authorities/big brother watching us – George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and so on – yet the technology at the forefront of our society needs policing at a macro level for countless reasons; as David Wall states in Policing the Virtual Community: The Internet, Cyberspace and Cyber-Crime: ‘Cyberspace undermines economic, social and political boundaries, posing a considerable threat to traditional forms of governance and creating a challenge to traditional understandings of order’ (Wall, 1997, p. 3). Personal safety, when viewed through the current trend of conservatism, is deemed personally attributable, with right-realism suggesting, with its notion of rational responsibility, that we ‘get out what we put in’. Foucault seemingly struggled with how an individual could willingly involve themselves in a system that could hypothetically be viewed as being counter to their own interest – yet from a rationalist perspective, it can be posited that by ensuring checks and balances are put in place by the service user as much as the service provider – privacy windows for personal banking, for example – accounts for the safeguarding of our individual concerns. Raphael Cohen-Almagor argues in Internet architecture, freedom of expression and social responsibility, that: ‘freedom of expression is important but so is social responsibility’ (Cohen-Almagor, 2015, p. 146). But for crimes like those committed by Stephen Port, there may be more required from authorities and internet service providers in ensuring this modern utility is suitably protected. As Serena Simmons states in her 2016 article for The Conversation and The Independent:

‘Clearly we must be able to move with the times as quickly as offenders are moving. To be able to study and accumulate information about what is happening and – most importantly – be able to safeguard those that may be vulnerable to becoming victims of these horrendous crimes.’

(Simmons, 2016, p. 2) 

4.2 Social Bond Theory

As mentioned formerly, ‘right realism’ and its current place in societal trends and consciousness – with epochal moments such as Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency – has been slowly in the ascendancy for the past decade (see Hall and Winlow, 2015). Motions such as the Investigatory Powers Act have been realised by a right-leaning governance that arguably places practical solutions before moral ones. With the Brexit elections as a referential touchpoint, it is plausible to suggest that there is an element of xenophobia circling our nation at present; fear of a changing world, the constant fear of terrorism in Western society, an evolving racial landscape and anger and frustration at working conditions and opportunities for ‘locals’ (De Freytas-Tamura, 2016) has washed a sense of irrational paranoia on to our shores. When discussing Social Bond Theory, it is pertinent to highlight the political and social mood of the nation; clearly, social bonds are not as strong as say, war-time Britain, and it is important to view a criminological theory through this time-specific lens.

The basic tenet of social bond theory suggests that an individual’s ties to their community; through obligations, associations, principles, norms and values act concurrently to encourage them to live law-abiding, prosocial lives (Hirschi, 1969). This investment of ones’ self into the community thus naturally inhibits temptation to transgress into deviant behaviour, as the individual has a stake in said community. Morality is defined by the community one inhabits by social order and cohesion. The works of Robert Merton and Travis Hirschi form the basis of social bond theory (sometimes referred as social control theory); Merton’s conception of anomie, described in his 1938 entry ‘Social structure and anomie’ in the American Sociological Review, provides the counterpoint to productive, prosocial community cohesion:

‘In every society, adaptation (conformity to both culture goals and means) is the most common and widely diffused (factor in cohesion). Were this not so, the stability and continuity of the society could not be maintained. The mesh of expectancies which constitutes every social order is sustained by the model behaviour of its members falling within (this) category.’

(Merton, 1938, p. 677)

Social Bond Theory moves to theorise the notion of community and the importance it can hold in relation to prohibiting deviant behaviour. Important works related to this field from Walter Reckless (1961), Jackson Toby (1957) and David Matza (1961 and 1964) all play a crucial part in contemporary criminological theory, however the key underlying correlation between these works lies in their specificity in writing of gang culture and youth offending. It is therefore important to highlight Travis Hirschi’s conception – as described in the literature review previously, Hirschi moved away from Merton’s work on Strain Theory (1938) because it placed too much importance on the system an individual inhabits and not the individual themselves. 1969’s Causes of Delinquency instead suggested that key elements play a crucial role in an individual’s choice to transgress or behave within social and lawful boundaries. Stephen Port’s relationship with his community will now be explored, using the four ‘elements of the bond’ (Hirschi, 1969): attachment, commitment, involvement in conventional (versus criminal) activities, and the common value system within his society or subgroup.


Firstly, we approach the element of attachment, and Stephen Port’s sense of attachment to the community he inhabited. Hirschi defined attachment as an indication of psychopathic tendencies, equating a lack of morality in a similar vein (Hirschi, 1969). Consequently, norms and values are violated. From a literal point of view, modern housing trends lean to short term tenancies for most single individuals in inner-city areas. PricewaterhouseCoopers 2015 publishing, The Plight of Generation Rent qualifies this assessment by projecting that ‘for younger generations, renting privately is now the norm and many will only become home owners quite late in their adult lives’ (PWC, 2015, p. 3). Stephen Port’s rented accommodation and living situation in Barking was not unique, nor was his social situation in the area in which he lived. So, we move to discuss Port’s social attachment to his community, and more specifically, the gay community. Port’s explicit attachment was closely associated with a relationship with the online portion of the gay community; Port used widely-accepted websites and applications in the gay community such as the dating apps Grindr and GayDar, Facebook, and online male escort sites; these online avenues forming part of the burgeoning online gay network – to commit his crimes (Openshaw, 2016). However, at some point, Stephen Port’s stake of attachment to this community ceased to be at the prosocial relationship level; indeed, Port stepped overboard and into the ‘deep-end’ by spending substantial portions of his private life viewing extreme pornographic material in the comfort of his own home, procuring ‘chemsex’ materials and searching for methods to incapacitate potential victims.


Hirschi posited that from a conceptual perspective, commitment assumes that the society an individual inhabits would be such that the benefit of said individual would be threatened if they were to participate in criminal activity (Hirschi, 1969). Consequently, the element of commitment has causal links to rational choice theories and concepts; namely, that Stephen Port’s decision to commit his crimes was rationally determined. The argument was made by Hirschi (1969) that an individual, or actor, could make decisions in each scenario that would not appear irrational to them when accounting for the risks and costs they could potentially face. Hirschi’s notion of commitment is founded in the notion that Stephen Port would have had to invest himself in activities with positive virtues to feel committed to his community. Again, Port’s private activities as stated in his trial suggest that his commitment to conventional behaviour was truly lost; ‘the risk he runs of losing the (prosocial) investment he has made’ (Hirschi, 2002, p. 78) was considered and ultimately ignored in his internal deliberations to commit deviant offences.

Involvement in conventional versus deviant or criminal activities

Hirschi’s conceptualisation of ‘involvement’ was suggested to fall into a similar category as control theories in criminology. The argument was made that an individual may simply be too busy doing conventional activities to find time to participate in deviant actions (Hirschi, 1969). Hirschi continued to state that conventional events provided a tie to the everyday; activities such as schedules, goals, hours of work, and so on. Consequently, the argument made was that any opportunities to engage in criminal or deviant acts would seldom occur.

Stephen Port’s life history does little to suggest that he was tied to involvement in conventional activity. Described as a loner at school (DeSimone, 2016), Port dropped out of art college and trained as a chef – appearing on ‘MasterChef’ in 2014 (Williams, 2015) – before finding work at events and weddings, before working at Stagecoach in West Ham, London, where he cooked for bus drivers and staff (DeSimone, 2016). Port lived with his parents until 2006, before moving to a small flat in Barking, close to where he grew up. It is plausible to suggest that Port’s working life was not the focus of his existence – instead, his predation of young men, and repeated allegations of rape against him (DeSimone, 2016) – lead to presumptions that Port held minimal stakes in his working life and commitments, yet placed a high importance on his sexual activities. Hirschi’s assertions that an individual’s involvement in conventional activities precludes them from even thinking about deviant activity – let alone act on any inclination – (Hirschi, 2002) seems far-fetched when attempting to apply to the case of Stephen Port.

Common value system with the individuals’ society or subgroup

Hirschi’s final element within the theory accepts the presence of a ‘common value system’ within a said group or subgroup whose standards and values are being sullied. This system essentially asks the question of why an individual would violate the rules or standards they believe in – not a discernible distinction between the differences in groups or individuals, whose definitions of good and desirable conduct vary. Hirschi asserted that even if an individual became deviant within a group, the assumption could be made that said individual understood and believed in the rules and values connected to it. Gresham Sykes and David Matza’s ‘techniques of neutralisation’ as described in the 1957 work Techniques of neutralization: A theory of delinquency go a significant way in describing how Stephen Port could disassociate himself from the crimes he committed by neutralising feelings of guilt, moral conscience and legal obligation. They suggest that denial of responsibility, the victim and injury lead to a neutralisation of guilt. This leads to denial of responsibility, and, for this theoretical series of coping mechanisms, explains how individuals such as Stephen Port could continue to commit terrible acts and function within society. However, Hirschi asserts that some individuals simply may not feel ‘moral obligations’ to conformity irrespective of individual benefit, and these persons may not have respect towards societal conventions (Hirschi, 2002), and it is undoubtedly conceivable that Stephen Port simply did not care enough about his victims, their families, friends, and the wider community to stop himself.

Stephen Port’s relationship with the gay community is a delicate subject to broach. Firstly, it is imperative to pursue credible research sources when evaluating Port’s background and history; being a case still in investigatory status means that approved information is scarce and limited in its scope. However, what is ‘commonly known’ of Stephen Port is that he was a known open homosexual since the early 2000’s. Friends and neighbours knew of his sexual orientation and preference of younger looking men – a not all together uncommon taste in the gay community – and that he was an active pursuer of these types of males (BBC, 2016). However, his private life was certainly private; his movements and circles in the community were unclear to most of his acquaintances and were kept private and in the confines of his home domicile (DeSimone, 2016). The gay community itself is relatively new to the online world – arguably, only in recent decades has homosexuality truly been recognised as of equal status in Western society, and consequently the gay online community is reactively acquiring its share of the internet (Henn, 2014). Of course, gay people have used the internet since its inception just as heterosexuals, however the openness and accessibility of this world is still in relatively new form. The advent of dating applications such as Grindr show that Western society is beginning to embrace homosexuality online. Groups such as PRIDE openly declare that social media applications such as Facebook are still the best way to connect with other members of the LGBT community (Sheets, 2016), being as it is an individual-led medium. With this being the case, it is certainly reasonable to assume that many in the gay community – just as in the heterosexual community – are understandably secretive in their personal lives and romantic/sexual relationships, particularly in the online world and with respect to modern technological formats. Shih and Huang’s Influences of Web interactivity and social identity and bonds on the quality of online discussion in a virtual community suggests that virtual community members who ‘feel stronger control over their actions on the web platform are more likely to perceive personal belonging to the community and develop congruent values and norms with one another’ (Shih and Huang, 2012, p. 637), yet Stephen Port’s control over his actions suggests a predatory nature and exploitation of an open format that offered opportunity for him to select victims in privacy. The dichotomous nature of our personal, tangible sexual preferences when put alongside technology means that our exploratory viewing habits online are not necessarily defined by our own personal predilections. As such, subgroups and communities in an online context do not define the individual – just as the person viewing randomly selected content on YouTube or other video formats online may not automatically be interested in that content. However, in Stephen Port’s case, his private, personal viewing habits came to define his desires, motivations, and ultimately, his actions. This blurred line between the theoretical context of Social Bond Theory and the online world we now inhabit proves problematic when trying to explain the actions of Stephen Port. His partiality for a certain type of gay male does not represent homosexual people, just as someone viewing a specific website or social media platform does not unilaterally live by or believe in the digital content which they are viewing.


4.3 Rational Choice Theory

It must be considered, then, that Stephen Port made rational, deliberate choices, despite knowing the risk, the cost, and the effect it could have on the community he inhabited both in the real world and online. Rational Choice Theory naturally shares much in common with previously detailed theories of neutralisation techniques by Matza and Sykes as well as classical Chicago School theories such as Social Disorganisation Theory (Sutherland, 1924). At the heart of Rational Choice Theory lies the insistence that crime is deliberate and considered; as Cornish and Clark declare in The Reasoning Criminal (1986): ‘criminals exercise some degree of planning and foresight and adapt their behaviour to take account of proximal and distal contingencies’ (Cornish and Clarke, 1986, p. 13). In this theoretical construct, the criminal or deviant is a rational actor, one who engages in cognisant decision making to maximise their utility. This rational thought process can significantly explain a large portion of Stephen Port’s actions in committing his crimes. For the rational actor; a carefully deliberated decision, enforced and ratified with logical self-reasoning and justification, is often an action designed to benefit the individual – after risks and rewards are measured and weighed up, Rational Choice Theory posits that action will be taken if the rewards outweigh the risk. Bachman, Paternoster and Ward assert in The Rationality of Sexual Offending: ‘Those who commit sexual assault are… often characterised as motivated more by sexual urges or aggressive drives than by a deliberate and rational calculation of consequence’ (Bachman, Paternoster and Ward, 1992, p. 345).

For Stephen Port, his decision-making process was carefully premeditated, yet there was clearly a determined desire and drive to commit his sexual offences, and subsequently murder. In his case, the choices to be made were of severe consequence to his victims; choices that were strategic and calculated to deliver maximum efficiency in his goal of sexual gratification. To plan the series of events that would lead to the rapes and deaths of four men undoubtedly requires a degree of calculation and deliberation. Piliavin, Gartner, Thornton and Matsueda’s study for the American Sociological Review: Crime, Deterrence and Rational Choice contests that an individual can also be driven by influences outside of their internal logic sphere:

‘persons’ evaluations or imputed meanings of sanctions are important in determining their behaviour. These evaluations or meanings may be conditioned by elements within the immediate situation confronting the individual.’

(Piliavin, Gartner, Thornton and Matsueda, 1992, p. 115)

Stephen Port’s rational thinking in committing his crimes would have involved the conscious and subconscious deliberation of his utilisation of technology. Port’s modus operandi was unquestionably rooted in his usage of the internet; his regular viewing of hardcore gay pornography – specifically tailored to his personal predilection towards young gay men, or ‘twinks’ – suggests that for Port, the pornography he viewed online was a fuelling factor in his rational choice process; Port specifically chose men with the features he desired after viewing pornography on his computer. He also scoured search engines to obtain information regarding date rape and suitable chemicals to perform the crime (Openshaw, 2016), as well as recommended measurements of said chemicals and how to procure them. Most of us are collectively aware of the authorities’ ability, through State-approved legislation such as the Investigatory Powers Act, to pursue an individuals’ internet usage and browsing history if required. Operation Yewtree, for example, shone a spotlight on child sex offenders mass-usage of online facilities to make, distribute and view illegal material and content. Port’s browsing history, whilst technically within legal confines, would heavily implicate him if ever investigated by authorities. In this circumstance, Stephen Port presumably made the personal rational choice to continue with his viewing habits, despite the known risks associated in relation to the crimes he was committing. For Stephen Port, the rewards outweighed the risks. Cohen and Felson’s (1979) development of Routine Activity Theory, as described in Routine Activity and Rational Choice: Advances in Criminological Theory, details that three key elements are required to be present in relation to the theory – 1. an appropriate target, 2. a driven offender, and 3, a lack of authority figure to avert the crime (Cohen and Felson, 1979). Stephen Port, for all four murders, had an appropriate, suitable target selected online. He was clearly driven to commit the crime; evidence brought to trial showed that he selected his targets and arranged to meet them, often in the immediate hours after searching for explicit pornography sharing distinct similarities to the murders he eventually committed (Openshaw, 2016). Finally, no discernible authority figures were present at any stage of his crimes, nor were his online or physical movements monitored over this period, thus potentially disqualifying any notion of panoptic surveillance as mentioned previously.  

The actual procurement of GHB was through a now convicted drug-dealer, Gerald Matovu. Police investigations led to mobile phone records and downloads from electronic devices belonging to Port incriminating him (Mitchell, 2017). Again, any adult with cognitive ability would be able to presume that a smartphone is traceable and trackable, and its stored history viewable by Police if necessary. Rational choices made by Stephen Port ultimately deemed the usage of this technology instrumental in his actions, and worth the ‘risk’.

4.4 Risk Society

Risk Society as a conceptual theory essentially assumes that society combats intrinsic risk and newly discovered danger by both proactive thinking and reactive response. As Beck states in World Risk Society as Cosmopolitan Society? Ecological questions in a framework of manufactured uncertainties: ‘For its axial principle, its challenges, are dangers produced by civilisation which cannot be socially delimited in either space or time’ (Beck, 1996, p. 1). With relation to the mediums utilised by Stephen Port, namely social media applications and online customer-orientated websites, technological risk continues to exist. These incongruities have been revealed through aggressive expansion on the digital frontier; new tools and formats spring up continuously in the battle for digital dominance and market share. When contemplating the theory of risk society in relation to the Stephen Port case, and in direct relation to the objectives initially set out for this dissertation, the predominant hypothetical question being asked is whether our current state of society – with all associated risks, safety measures, unquantifiable unknowns and measurable risk assessment paradigms set in place – helped to enable a sexual predator and consequent serial killer in committing his crimes? Van Loom and Adam state in The Risk Society and Beyond: Critical Issues for Social Theory that: ‘Risks are manufactured, not only through the application of technologies, but also in the making of sense and by the technological sensibility of a potential harm, danger or threat’ (Van Loon and Adam, 2000, p. 2) If risks are manufactured, then is it plausible to contest that the technology with which we all now embrace daily has indeed contributed to the types of modern crimes committed by Stephen Port?

The question is readily applicable to many criminal incidents and deviant acts; terrorism is now directly associated with our relationship with technology – extremist groups such as the so-called ‘Islamic State’ use the commonalities shared with social media applications to relay and broadcast their views, claim or deny responsibility for attacks, and attempt to spread hatred and fear throughout the societies that utilise such formats. This in part led to the Investigatory Powers Act being realised – a risk-assessed response to a thoroughly modern-day threat. Stephen Port’s aims and objectives may not have been grandiose or outwardly hateful as extremist terrorists, but in addressing the risks associated with the technological inventions we have come to rely on, perhaps consequently, an individual – with insular, self-gratifying objectives – could have their predilection for deviancy inadvertently sequestered. Stories like that of Stephen Port become the stuff of the bogeyman; through common fear of danger, hopefully, safeguards and technical deficiencies in technology, alongside human trial and error and a mutually beneficial attempt on society’s behalf to become properly acquainted with them, act as a self-policing warning for users of the form. In the same ways that previous generations inherently understood the dangers of accepting sweets from strangers or getting in unknown individuals cars, it is deep-rooted within the theory of risk society that helps both proactively breed self-sufficiency in dangerous waters, and reactively reinforce safety measures when operating modern technologies. More specifically, areas of society like the gay community need to be aware of the risks and dangers being taken by those who solicit business opportunity – such as the male escort – and personal gratification – in terms of sexual encounters, friendship and so in with relation to meeting people online. However, there are no guarantees of self-policing in this regard. As George Santayana famously declared in The Life of Reason: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’ (Santayana, 1905), and one posits that similar crimes like those attributable to Stephen Port will occur again. As Van Loon and Adam state: ‘the ontology of risk as such does not grant privilege to any specific form of knowledge’ (Van Loon and Adam, 2000, p. 3).

The simple fact of the matter is that risk is, was, and forever will be around us. Whilst Beck may lean towards viewing the notion of risk society in a detrimental light, claiming in Critical theory of world risk society: a cosmopolitan vision that: ‘Risk functions like an acid bath in which venerable classical distinctions are dissolved’ (Beck, 2009, p. 3). However, Anthony Giddens suggests that our relationship with risk need not be a uniformly fearful or negative experience. In an article for the Far Eastern Economic Review entitled Taking Risk, Giddens states that ‘embracing risk is the very source of that energy that creates wealth in a modern economy’ (Giddens, 1999, p. 31). Indeed, the fruits of invention and civilisation have been borne through undeniable risk taking and dynamism – innovation and progression in a progressive society depends on the braveness of its inhabitants.

The business world, and by context, successful business leaders and entrepreneurs are regularly called upon to take risks in their world. Norms and values associated with the ‘everyday’ are cast aside to realise success and gain resultant rewards in these industries. The risk vs reward idiom is central to this notion; yet one of the disadvantageous by-products of the notion of risk society is the missed opportunities, and resultant pleasures found in, taking risk. And so, it is logical to move to exploring the concept of ‘edgework’, outlined by Stephen Lyng in Edgework: The Sociology of Risk-Taking (2005). Lyng identifies the notion that the voluntary taking of risk is a rationally made choice, one that tasks the individual to test cultural limitations and accepted norms and values – this can be exemplified by extreme sports (BASE jumping, Parkour, Wingsuit flying etc) and drug-taking. Lyng states that:

‘Activities that can be subsumed under the edgework concept have one central feature in common: they all involve a clearly observable threat to one’s physical or mental well-being or one’s sense of an ordered existence.’

(Lyng, 1990, p. 857)

It is possibly contestable that Stephen Port’s sexual offences could fall under the umbrella of edgework; the taking (and repeating) of significant personal risk to ones’ own existence. Perhaps of more specific interest is Lyng’s notion of edgework including concepts of: ‘life versus death, consciousness versus unconsciousness, sanity versus insanity’ (Lyng, 1990, p. 857). When accompanied by Lyng’s explanation of negotiating the line between consciousness in relation to drug-taking, perhaps there is an argument to be made that Stephen Port was vicariously extracting pleasure by drugging his victims and seeing them lose consciousness before raping them; more specifically, there could be an argument made that Port’s modus operandi could have been central to this notion. There could be an assertion made, conversely, that Stephen Port was afraid to ‘go under’ as his victims were forced to, so as a vicarious pleasure, he enacted his own fetish upon others. There is strong empirical evidence to suggest strong links between sexual sadism and psychopathy – see Robertson and Knights 2014 study, Relating sexual sadism and psychopathy to one another, non‐sexual violence, and sexual crime behaviours. At this stage, information pertaining to Stephen Port’s reasons for committing his crimes have not yet been released. Perhaps in future research, evidence may be uncovered to suggest Port achieved a sense of hyper-reality or heightened emotional arousal (see Kaufman, 1997). This is hypothetical discussion, of course, and until such time where Stephen Port discloses (or the information is revealed) his true intentions and reasons for committing his crimes, it is subjective discourse. Yet the link with this case and Lyng’s edgework concept is an interesting one; when considering risk, within lies a contextual relationship between an extreme notion such as edgework and the postmodern, risk-addled Western civilisation we find ourselves living in, it could be argued that Stephen Port needed to experience the risk and danger of committing his crimes to experience pleasure he was not gaining from his every day, material, law-abiding life as part-suggested in Hirschi’s previously discussed notions of Social Bond Theory. In the same way that people consume excessive amounts of alcohol, or partake in class-A drug taking weekends, or pour thousands into gambling habits, perhaps Stephen Port needed to experience something that was tied to the concept of risk to feel alive? Irrespective of how his intentions could be interpreted, one thing remains clear: there is no justification for what he did, and no rational explanation for such heinous crimes. Any theoretical reasonings behind his actions, whether by Port himself, or in future criminological discussion, must be tempered with this actuality.

The dissertation will now move to the conclusion section.

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Criminology is a social science that applies elements of sociology, psychology and law in the study of crime, criminal behaviour and law enforcement.

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