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

Charlie Stross (
Wed, 2 Dec 1998 12:40:20 +0000

On Mon, Nov 30, 1998 at 10:41:22PM +0100, den Otter wrote:
> > 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."

Er, those figures come from "American Guardian -- America's Frontline Defense Against Perversion". To quote from their home page, "Lord, you have called us to be guardians of all children founded on your principles. Whatever our tasks as defenders of the "silent ones", we do them to serve You and our nation. We are proud to accept the responsibility of this high calling. We dedicated ourselves to our vocation, and ask for guidance and courage in aiding America's children to live free from perversion and with dignity, in safety and peace. Use us, O Lord, as shields for your little children, reflecting your security and peace. Amen."

They do not provide any substantiating evidence, references to studies, or discussion of their survey methods.

They assert out of the blue "The actual incidence of abuse and neglect is estimated to be 3 times greater the number reported to authorities." By their figures, there'd be 9 million cases of child abuse per year. Yet unless the demographics of the USA are _very_ different from those of every other developed country there are only about 30-40 million children in the USA! Going by the "American Guardian" figures, every child in America has probably been raped two or three times by the age of eighteen.

Somehow I don't think so.

Bear in mind that these people are religious fundamentalists. They are pro-life, anti-homosexuality. They conflate homosexuality with paedophilia: "Despite the attention given to homosexuals in the media and in the public forum, many citizens are not informed regarding the homosexual community and its goals. Many are uncertain about what they should do in response to homosexuality. The facts presented here are intended to help these citizens make up their minds. Several years ago when a group of parents formed the American Guardian to combat child porn on the internet they had no idea there was a direct connection between pedophiles and homosexuals. What they found was shocking, 82% of all child pornography discovered by the American Guardian were owned by homosexuals."

More juicy sermons -- er, quotes: "If I were the devil... if I were the prince of darkness - I'd want to engulf the whole world in darkness; ... I would caution against extremes in hard work, in patriotism, in moral conduct. I would convince the young that marriage is old-fashioned, that swinging is more fun, that what you see on TV is the way to be. And thus I could undress you in public, and I could lure you into bed with diseases for which there is no cure. In other words, if I were the devil, I'd just keep on doing what he's doing."

Do you detect a certain agenda at work here? Yup, it's our friends, the Christian fundamentalists, and the whole point of this website is to further their campaign against gay rights, women's rights, abortion, free speech, and the usual suspects.

> See also:

Superficially a more believable source: "The Georgia Council on Child Abuse is a private, citizen-based, nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. Based in Atlanta, GCCA has 46 Local Chartered Councils throughout the state, in addition to four regional offices in Athens, Albany, Rome, and Savannah. GCCA leads, supports and coordinates citizens and professionals in an effort to end child abuse through volunteer, community-based prevention programs, in addition to advocacy, training and increased public awareness. Last year, GCCA's efforts reached over 300,000 children and families throughout the state. GCCA is the Georgia affiliate of the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse and Parents Anonymous."

However, they draw a rather _wide_ definition of child abuse: for example, "Emotional abuse exists when the parent creates a negative emotional atmosphere for the child. Examples are when the parent makes continued unfavorable comparisons to a sibling, when the parent makes the child feel bad because he/she is not perfect, or when the parent uses shameful forms of punishment."

I dunno about you, but being told to go stand in the corner because I'd been bad wasn't an entirely alien experience to me as a child, and it certainly didn't make me grow up bitter and twisted. But by the GCCA's definition I'm a victim of child abuse.

Now they actually quote some figures, with references, on their web site, which puts them a long way above the last bunch: for example "In Georgia in 1995, there were 77,640 child abuse reports representing 95,925 incidents of child abuse or neglect. (Child Abuse Central Registry 1995 Annual Report, Division of Family and Children Services.)" But there's no indication of how many distinct children are generating these reports -- are there more than one report per child being abused? Where are the actual figures for children being abused in Georgia? And how many of these are reports of harried moms slapping a child who's throwing a tantrum in the middle of a shopping mall, and how many are genuine serious abuse cases?

They also note "Since 1990, 10,000 American children have died at the hands of their parents or caretakers. (A Nation's Shame: Fatal Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States, April 1995, U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect.)" Well, yes. But the US annual murder rate is something like 16,000 per year, isn't it? In which case, 10,000 children died at the hands of their parents or caretakers in a period during which 80,000 Americans were murdered -- roughly in line with the proportion of children in the population at large.

I'd say that a campaigning anti-child-abuse organisation has a vested interest in making their cause as alarming as possible, in order to reap the maximum publicity and attention. But they can't point to any specific symptoms of a disease sweeping the nation that's distinct from the everyday background noise of a violent culture. For example, "Between 1986 and 1995, child maltreatment reports have increased 49% nationwide. (Current Trends in Child Abuse Reporting and Fatalities: The results of the 1995 Annual Fifty State Survey, National Center on Child Abuse Prevention Research.)" There's no comment on whether this is due to an underlying upward trend in child abuse, or due to increased reporting of child abuse, or drawing the definition so widely that formerly tolerated behaviour (parents spanking badly-behaved kids) is now classified as abuse. This sort of spurious statistic is effectively meaningless, other than as a source of alarm and despondency for the news anchor to look suitably gloomy about, to a background of political sound-bites.

> > 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.

But the point is, the figures you're quoting are being used by organisations with a special interest to whip up the hysteria. You're a victim of it, and don't seem to have realised it. On the one hand, the fundamentalist Christian agenda is deeply conservative, and seeks to demonize people they disapprove of by whipping up hysteria over child abuse then blaming it on the gays/the feminists/abortion/sex before marriage. On the other hand, you cite a special purpose organisation that has a vested interest ("private, citizen-based, nonprofit organization") in campaigning about the issue. (Yes, it's a nonprofit organisation. All that means is that the money goes into its campaign staff's wage packets, rather than shareholder's dividends.)

> > 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.

Unfortunately we don't have that. Here in the UK the government is putting up a network of half a million surveillance cameras. They're actively pursuing development of automated face-recognition technologies so they can identify suspects automatically. (Don't believe me? Go read some of the papers on Yet when a couple of journalists planted a webcam outside a minister's official residence last year they rapidly received a visit from the Special Branch. No such system of checks and balances exists, and although I will concede your point if it did, we don't seem likely to get one -- it's not in our ruler's interests and not enough people are alarmed about it to make it a hot political issue.

> 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.

Certainly. The UK hasn't been "brought to the brink of dictatorship" because, as Lord Hailsham put it in 1977, "the British system of government is an elected dictatorship". All my personal email is subject to interception by the police without a search warrant, at the say-so of "a senior police officer" (as defined by PACE(1996)). I am not free to read anything I want; Customs and Excise have the power to burn books (Obscene Publications Act 1958) without reference to a court (section two). Under current proposals I can be arrested and convicted of terrorist offenses on the word of, er, "a senior police officer" (thank you, Tony "get tough on terrorism" Blair).

As for the cameras, it's still early days. However, the main effects seem to be (a) increase rate of convictions for petty offenses (e.g. vandalism), (b) displacement of theft from inner-city areas to unwatched areas, (c) an increase in the willingness of the courts to accept _any_ kind of digitally submitted evidence as fact, regardless of how easy it is to tamper with a shop's CCTV system, and (d) a massive invasion of the privacy of EVERYONE in the whole country.

Loss of civil rights is a corrosive, incremental process. I hope you never have to experience it at first hand.

Right now the UK is not a functioning dictatorship, but an infrastructure is in place that would have made the East German Stasi drool.

> 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.

What's the point of punishment? Revenge? Deterrence? Pandering to a vague sense of "it isn't fair" on the part of third-party bystanders?

Bullshit. Deterrence doesn't work. Revenge is -- well, I view it as a perversion of a tit-for-tat game-theoretical stance, best treated as just that: a perversion. The _real_ goal of a penal system should be to prevent recidivism. And I think you'd find, if you looked into the matter, that prisoners in jail are not pampered: they're brutalised.

> > 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?

No it hasn't.

The age of consent has been lowered to 18. It _would_ be lowered to 16, in line with the heterosexual age of consent, if the House of Lords wasn't in the process of throwing a tantrum over the hereditary peers losing the right to throw tantrums.

Incidentally, the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967 was so restrictive that, basically, it _only_ permits acts between two consenting males over the age of consent "in private". Some police forces have concluded that this means they must be the only people in the building, which one of them must own outright, and all the doors must be locked -- some some magistrates and judges have seen fit to go along with this. The result is that in 1997, more gay men were prosecuted for illegal acts and found guilty than in 1967.

> > 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...

See above: I do not live in an open society. There are cameras on street corners near my front door. Some of my friends are stigmatized as sex offenders for acts which most people think were legalized thirty years ago. Some of the books I own would probably be confiscated and burned if HM Customs and Excise ever decided to investigate me. (And if they ever decided to break down my front door they don't need a search warrant.) There are free telephone hotlines advertised on bus shelters which you can phone to anonymously denouce criminals. They're bringing in American-style civil forfeiture procedings to confiscate assets of criminals, to be administered by a "National Confiscation Agency" (hah!). What more do you want -- swastika armbands and a free secret policeman in every cereal packet?