Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Is child abuse declining? It depends on how far back you look.

The US Department of Health and Human Services has released an updated National Incidence Study on child abuse. The new study says betweem 1993 and 2006, the incidence of sexual, physical, and emotional child abuse wend down substantially, between 15% and 38%.

The article I read about it was full of people talking about how neat this is and why it happened. When I started to write this post, I looked for the study online and accidentally saw the 1996 study based on 1993 data. It said in the previous 10 years, different types of child abuse went up 80 or 100%.

So child abuse went up 80 or 100% over one ten-year period and then back down 15 to 38% in the next, and this is supposed to be wonderful. Your cancer is in partial remission, Mrs. Jones. Congratulations.

The people the AP quoted found a number of reasons child abuse might be going down:
  • "more public awareness and public intolerance around child abuse"
  • "the proliferation of programs designed to help abusers and potential abusers overcome their problems"
  • "several coinciding trends, including a "troop surge" in the 1990s when more people were deployed in child protection services and the criminal justice system intensified its anti-abuse efforts with more arrests and prison sentences."
  • "greatly expanded use of medications may have enabled many potential child abusers to treat the conditions that otherwise might have led them to molest or mistreat a child"
  • "a general change in perceptions and norms about what one can get away with, so much more publicity about these things"
  • In my local paper, the mayor said it was due to law enforcement getting tough on child molestors.
Me, I'd say it's either "more public awareness and public intolerance around child abuse" or a point in cycle, and we can expect the sine wave to go up in a few  years. The fact that it comes after such a large increase in child abuse makes me less hopeful than the experts quoted. I'd feel better if it had gone down as much in this ten-year period as it had gone up in the previous one.

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