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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 December 2006, 12:43 GMT
Is there shaming in naming?
By Dan Parkinson
BBC News Magazine

Absent parents who refuse to pay for their children will have their details published on the net. But in a climate where dishonour is almost a badge of honour, does naming and shaming work?

Their names and faces are splashed across leaflets and posters up and down the country. But their fame is of a very different kind to that of the latest chart-toppers or sporting heroes.

They are the nation's "named and shamed".

Train fare dodgers, shoplifters, litter louts, yobs and even unfaithful lovers are all having their details made public. Now, ministers say they plan to add to the list absent parents who try to avoid paying child support.

Naming and shaming is being used like never before. And every new scheme is guaranteed to bring with it a raft of positive headlines.

Advocates hope offenders will be suitably humiliated at the thought of their friends, family and neighbours knowing about their crimes that they will be deterred in the future.

We have had people in court who say they just don't care and young lads who actually want to see their names up there
Spokesman for Tyne and Wear Metro

But is there substance to the schemes or are they, as critics claim, just a gimmick? Do offenders really care if their names are made public? Or, worse, do they actually revel in the limelight it brings them?

Naming and shaming emerged in the British tabloid press in the 1980s, but became a hot topic when, in 2000, the News of the World began publishing the identities of paedophiles.

It was, and remains, a highly controversial move - this week a convicted paedophile had to be moved from his Somerset bungalow after the News of World published his details, sparking protests by concerned parents.

Mostly, though, the public exposure of wrong-doers has been targeted at those accused of far lesser offences.

In Plymouth the police have started to name and shame people who try to skip court appearances. In Manchester the local council put up "wanted" posters carrying details of people who fling litter out of car windows. A similar scheme was adopted in Bristol by police who put posters up in supermarkets showing shoplifters in action.

Central Trains
Central Trains' poster, listing names, ages, addresses (pic Lorenzo Wood)
Train and tram companies have started displaying posters carrying the details of convicted fare dodgers at stations.

Naming and shaming has even been used by jilted lovers as a way of getting back at cheating partners. In 2004 Susan Hughes set up the Love Rat website with a "Cheats Gallery" to help victims of infidelity exact their revenge.

Most prominently many of those hit with anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) have been named and shamed in leaflets and posters.

Badge of honour

Police and local councils say such methods help nip in the bud bad behaviour and allow law-abiding locals to know when an order is being breached. But new figures show that the policy might not be as effective as it was hoped.

Two reports published last week showed about half of all anti-social behaviour orders handed out in England and Wales have been breached. Critics point to the reports as clear evidence that naming and shaming does not work.

We don't think naming and shaming can be considered productive from a children's rights perspective
Chris Stanley, Nacro

More worryingly, they say, youths see Asbos as a "badge of honour" and revel in the notoriety they achieve.

"We don't think naming and shaming can be considered productive from a children's rights perspective," says Chris Stanley, head of policy and research at crime reduction charity Nacro.

"There's also the issue of some young people who have never done anything successful holding up a leaflet publicising their Asbo and saying to their friends 'I did that'; almost like it's a badge of honour."

Better results appear to have been achieved by transport operators. Central Trains says fare dodging has been halved since it started putting up posters bearing the names of convicted offenders in 2000.


On the Metro tram system in Tyne and Wear illegal journeys fell steadily after the introduction of naming and shaming.

Alleged spitters
Naming and shaming Chinese style: Spitters pictured for all to see (pic: Chuong Van Dang)
But in both cases the policy was bolstered with other measures, such as increased ticket inspections. A Metro spokesman says naming and shaming "does not work on its own. We have had people in court who say they just don't care and young lads who actually want to see their names up there".

Psychologists also see the policy can be counter-productive.

"These days people are likely to feel more shame about what they look like or their material success rather than any offence they may commit," says Professor Bernice Andrews, of Royal Holloway University of London.

"Some people are just shameless. They are usually people who don't feel empathy or regret. They may simply want recognition and actually enjoy being in the public eye. It only works if people care what others think of them."

Critics are adamant that in many cases where people are named, there is no shame. Most, they say, enjoy their five minutes of fame.

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