Re: Child abuse (Was Re: Is the death penalty Extropian?)

den Otter (
Mon, 30 Nov 1998 22:41:22 +0100

> From: Charlie Stross <>

> On Sun, Nov 29, 1998 at 02:45:57PM +0100, den Otter wrote:
> >
> > Well, it is true that many of society's problems are caused by parents
> > abusing their kids. In fact, afaik, child abuse is a much bigger problem
> > than all other crimes combined.
> Er, I'd take exception to that assertion. Do you have any figures to back
> it up?
"In 1996 more than 3 million child abuse reports were made [3.1 million]. The actual incidence of abuse and neglect is estimated to be 3 times greater the number reported to authorities." See also:

So we're looking at a number of ~9 million possible abuse cases. Ok, so it's not bigger than all crimes combined (total US crime index offences in '95 was 13.9 million, according to the FBI, see also, but it certainly is a *big* problem (note: the 13.9 figure includes victimless crime as well, of course). Also, there are strong indications that childhood abuse can lead to criminal behaviour later in life, so a (significant?) part of the total statistics could be seen as a direct result of childhood abuse.

[from:] "The complex problem of child abuse has many consequences. Studies have shown that children who are at risk of abuse today often become the school dropouts, crime perpetrators, and abusive parents of tomorrow. Everyone is affected by the lives of these children who come from homes in which there is emotional, physical, educational, or material deprivation. National statistics show that 90% of convicted felons have experienced some form of abuse during their childhood. We all pay for the increased law enforcement, medical treatment, remedial education, foster care, and public assistance needed by individuals who grow up in abusive, neglectful homes."

> Right now, here in the UK, we're in the middle of a witch hunt directed
> against paedophiles. It's not very pretty, and statements like the one above
> are fairly typical of the alarmism used to whip up hysteria about the issue.

Pedophiles are a relatively minor issue compared to non-sexual forms of abuse (physical and psychological). Of course hysteria is bad, but doing too little about the problem is even worse (more victims). Ideally, the new measures would be implemented discretely, not with the usual political pomp. This should avoid or at least reduce public hysteria.

> That's not to say that child abuse _isn't_ a very serious issue, where and
> when it occurs, but overreacting this way is just opening the door on a
> rather nasty kind of police state.

Let's put it this way: in the hands of a more or less "democratic" regime (as we have in the Western world) better surveillance and stricter sentencing (based on surveillance evidence) pose no real threat. In fact, as it makes it more difficult to hide the truth it actually empowers the citizens. A system of checks and balances, of surveillance upon surveillance etc. would make abuse by politicians very difficult indeed. If the police are forced to wear cameras that beam their data directly to a publically accessible database (for legal purposes only, btw), than their power is greatly reduced. They become "servants of the people", as they should be. Same for politicians. Make a system of civil rights organizations and government agencies that all keep an eye on eachother. Divide and conquer. No-one should be immune to surveillance checks, and it goes without saying that those in power will be checked most often.

In recent years, the number of (police operated) surveillance cams in the UK has risen dramatically. Now, can you honestly say that this has brought the country to the brink of dictatorship? Right. IMO, the "camphobia" (and DNA/fingerprint phobia etc.) is not based on any hard facts whatsoever. If so, please present them now.

> > d) Tough punishments for abusers (jail time and corporal punishment).
> I'd rather see the problem prevented before it occurs, or a fix applied
> such that it is less likely to recur. Can you show me any studies
> suggesting that flogging and hard labour reduce recidivism in paedophiles
> more efficiently than psychiatric counseling and probation?

Gee, for some reason I don't think too many of those exist. Of course prevention is important (in a previous post I've stated that everyone should be able to receive free (or at least affordable) treatment if they have a (potentially violent/otherwise undesirable) mental disorder. However, once someone has actually commited a crime I prefer (yes, that's a personal choice) real punishments to "pampering" the criminal while the victim is either dead or has a trauma for life. That just isn't fair, IMHO. Also, the preventive (deterrent to others) function of the "soft treatment" is no doubt even lower than that of real punishment. Oh, and once again: pedophiles are not the biggest problem (though a serious one nonetheless). The measures are directed at *all* forms of child abuse (not just of the sexual kind). See also:

> > f) Of course, the abusers (should they ever get out of jail) would
> > be slapped with a perpetual restraining order, to be enforced by
> > an electronic ankle bracelet (or something more sophisticated).
> Here in the UK, the gummint passed a law a year or so ago to the effect
> that all sex offenders must be registered with the local cop shop whenever
> they move house. This law was passed to protect children from predators.
> Unfortunately, it was a bit broadly worded. Until about two years ago, it
> was illegal for men aged under 21 to have sex together, even in private;
> a large proportion of the registered sex offenders are basically young
> gay males.

Yes, but it *has* been abolished, hasn't it? Besides, this anomaly doesn't degrade the value of electronic monitoring in any way. The net gain is still massively positive, and that's what counts.

> The vigilante mobs who try to run 'paedophiles' out of their homes under
> threat of lynch law don't seem to be able to tell the difference, though.

And obviously this should be stopped too. However, these things mostly occur because the justice system is doing a bloody awful job. That is relatively easy to fix.

> All I see here is a call for postively fascist levels of policing,

I think you're being somewhat liberal with the word "fascist" here...

> without
> a coherent goal in mind

The coherent goal: an optimal society. Freedom, justice and wealth for all. That's the idea behind all my proposed reforms. Most will never be implemented, but hey, it's fun to think about.

, articulated as a knee-jerk response to a problem
> of questionable severity,

Tell that to the victims (yes, all x million of them).

> and likely to result in the most astonishing
> abuse of fundamental human rights.

A "most astonishing abuse of human rights" is going on in our own (proverbial) back yard this very minute (in fact, 6 times a minute according to the US stats). That is real. Your "police state" dystopia is just an assumption, probably influenced by works of *fiction* such as "1984". In any case, this is probably a moot point as the surveillance society is now only a matter of time. Regrettably many of the additions that make a good system great, probably won't be implemented, but I do expect an overall improvement in crime prevention. Some areas might actually become safe to walk at night again, etc. And, if you don't like it you can always leave and go live in some lawless place, like Johannesburg for example.