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Why is Child Abuse So Much More Pervasive in the U.S.

Why is Child Abuse So Much More Pervasive in the U.S.

Any local paper will have it, most likely buried beyond page six, but it will most certainly be there. What I am talking about is some horrific account of ritual child abuse, long ignored, but uncovered by local police, neighbors, or child protective services – but always a bit too late. Sometimes reading these accounts can literally churn your stomach, whether you are a parent or not. The idea of a violently oppressed child trapped in a cycle of abuse and neglect makes you question the humanity, or lack thereof, of your fellow citizen. The fact is, as child abuse exists around the globe, it is the first world, highly industrialized, United States that boasts some of the highest rates of child abuse in the world. Here is a statistic for you courtesy of the BBC: Over the past 10 years, more than 20,000 American children are believed to have been killed in their own homes by family members. That is nearly four times the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the child maltreatment death rate in the US is triple Canada’s and 11 times that of Italy. To say there is a problem here is a tragic understatement.

Many loving and engaged parents (like myself) will likely react to these figures in horror and (if they haven’t already) pledge to honor their children and their own roll as parents and protectors. But the fact is, our country (the U.S.) is rife with this sort of abuse and, while the individual abuser is ultimately to blame, economic and societal factors have a big impact on those numbers, so says Michael Petit, president of Every Child Matters. The fact that violent crime, teen pregnancy, imprisonment and poverty are all unreasonably high in the United States (compared to other industrialized countries) are generally far higher in the U.S. undoubtedly impacts the number of child abuse cases domestically, but the fact that the U.S. also has little in the way of social policies that provide child care, universal health insurance, pre-school, parental leave and visiting nurses to virtually all in need, creates an ideal environment for child abuse to become the norm. If child abuse were an opportunistic mold, the United States would be a wet basement filled with damp towels and incubator-like warmth.

Petit, in a piece written for the BBC, says this is America’s shame and makes the case that geography matters a great deal in determining the well being of a child. He uses the examples of Texas and Vermont: Texas prides itself in being a low tax, low service state, whereas Vermont is a high-tax, high service state. Petit sees Texas state policies as greatly contributing to the risk factors that children face. Children from Texas, he writes, are twice as likely to drop out of high school as children from Vermont. They are four times more likely to be uninsured, four times more likely to be incarcerated, and nearly twice as likely to die from abuse and neglect. While Texans can boast the most “freedom” of any state, they carry the burden of a deeply underserved, neglected, and often abused, child population. So while child abuse is ultimately a product of the parents/guardians, the existing state policies seem to have a hell of a lot to do with the frequency and how widespread the abuse actually is.

So as the economy staggers towards a possible double-dip recession, we could be fairly confident that incidents of child abuse, endangerment, and neglect will proportionately rise with the continuing downturn. Many legislators choose to blame parents for the abuse (as no abusive parent should remain blameless), but aren’t they neglecting to see that the state, as well as the federal government, is complicit in fostering an environment perfect for such abuse. To quote Petit again, “Children did not crash the US economy. It is both shortsighted economic policy and morally wrong to make them pay the price for fixing it.”

What is your read on the political, social, and economic influence on the widespread nature of child abuse in the U.S.? Is this oversimplifying the problem? Are parents the only ones to blame for their bad behavior, or can the problem be addressed from the top down?

Read more: Babies, Blogs, Children, Family, Health, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

77 comments

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3:50AM PDT on Sep 18, 2013

Life sentence or death penalty should always apply if death of an innocent child has occurred in the hands of a monster who doesn't deserve being called a human being.

10:31AM PDT on Apr 12, 2013

I am absolutely disgusted with the way child abuse is handled in the USA. It seems to me animals have more rights than our kids. I do not believe anything deserves abuse, but it isn't fair every other commercial is "stop animal abuse". Maybe if we hand out a jacket and a bag, more people will be interested. It is so heartbreaking that child abuse is on the back burner. Children are our future, let's protect it and them!

6:45PM PDT on Oct 25, 2011

this is what happens when legislatiors only care about a child until it's born. no abortions, no matter what, but once you're born you're going to wish you were dead because you're not going to get any more help.

6:32PM PDT on Oct 24, 2011

Lack of true education regarding having children, the responsiblilites (long-term, the lack of true caring for children, as individuals, rather than the selfish reasoning of having "my babies", are social mistakes in basis. Some cultural, some hormonal, some religious. Unwanted children; some unwanted after a time period, some simply become too many burdens to bear with life changes. Many are simply that, too many. These innocents are paying prices no one should have to pay for ignorance of the parents or the supposed supporting social structures who desire or demand children. Regardless of the costs, now and in the future. Those who are anti-abortion, anti-birth control, anti-planned parenthood, anti-sex education, are supporting instead, child abuse and all the evils that go with those actions. Man made pains and tortures of unimaginable extremes for innocent babies and children of all ages. This is what has and is happening in this 1st world country. Ignorance and selfishness from the Top down.

9:40AM PDT on Oct 23, 2011

Very few people on average know how to build wealth and those who do tend to dominate and control those around them, forcing their agenda on those who can't or don't know how to. The society then becomes a 'capitalist aristocracy.' The only thing that prevents the few from having their own way at the expense of the rest of the population is the government...you know .... the government that is ' for the people by the people.' When governments do not stand in the way of the few who have all the control 'the many' tend to live in fear - fear of not having any power, fear of not having enough to eat, fear of getting ill and not having a safety net. This fear is usually taken out on those who are weaker. No amount of jail time is going to change this. That would just increase the fear.

When, in God's name, will Republicans begin to understand that unbridled capitalism is not synonymous with democracy. It is synonymous with a form of aristocracy. The United States has simply replaced the 'royal aristocracy' of the British with 'capitalist aristocracy.'

6:59PM PDT on Oct 22, 2011

The problem is that animal abusers are not dealt with properly and eventually graduate to people abusers.

11:08AM PDT on Oct 22, 2011

The problem... we have a corrupt system that is paid to remove children. It didn't start out that way. CPS was created to save abused children. There is no denying, there are abused children that need intervention, we have all heard horror stories of unconscionable abuse. These images come to mind when we hear of a child having been removed from their home, even if we can't fathom abuse by "that" family, we say to ourselves "there must be something... they don't remove children for no reason."

The truth...CPS across the U.S. is a broken system. Based on national statistics, children are abused far more in foster care than at home. The calculated average is that for every 1 abused child removed from an abusive home, there are 17 NON-abused children removed from LOVING, NON-offending homes.

The truth...CPS does not get paid UNLESS they remove children from their homes. Reasonable efforts are supposed to be made to maintain a child in their home, and any allegations investigated. Instead, too often, as the data shows, CPS agents use overly aggressively tactics to remove children, justifying their actions by suggesting they are "erring on the side of safety," not following procedures in place to protect families from their terror.

Trauma caused to these children and their families due to the negligent actions of workers results in life-long irreparable harm and abuse. Millions of children, abused by the very system designed to protect them... for $$.

familyrightswi@y

2:00AM PDT on Oct 22, 2011

Eric Steinman you have spoken out bravely and have some well-considered responses. When one travels around the world, Americans are not highly regarded by the average man - but that is mainly due to interference and influence with their governments.
The US culture is violent, Police are cruel and very violent, TV and movie content is violent, guns, jail statistics, bad behaviour and violence in schools, drug use, CIA and its talons, sex slavery, military spying and invasions, military staff stationed in countless countries, but mostly war and more war.
How so many Americans remain well-balanced, manage to be kind, generous and peace-loving people, I can't explain.

12:17AM PDT on Oct 22, 2011

I really believe that the parents are mostly to blame. Yes, the economy and politics may have some responsibility. But the parent is ultimately responsible for their own actions. They have the ability to refrain from abuse. They are able to find SOME way to keep their children from going hungry or staying in school. I say that we are just looking for someone else to blame because we don't want to believe that so many parents would do such horrible things to these innocent and defenseless children.

11:32PM PDT on Oct 21, 2011

The solution is just...so....simple- Make child abuse a crime, because right now, IT IS NOT.

That is crime with a capital "C". Arrest the perpetrator, instead of imprisoning the alleged victim. Bring Constitutional Due Process back to the system.

See "What Happens in the Fog"-
http://www.examiner.com/examiner/x-26520-Family-Rights-Examiner~y2009m10d15-The-CPS-case-What-happens-in-the-fog

Leonard Henderson, co-founder
American Family Rights
http://familyrights.us
"Until Every Child Comes Home"©
"The Voice of America's Families"©

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