||Threatened Children: Rhetoric and Concern About Child Victims
|| Joel Best
|| University of Chicago Press © 1990
The University of Chicago Press
5801 South Ellis Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
This small book, consisting of nine chapters and an appendix
entitled "Recent Fiction About Threats to Children," was written by a
sociologist from the University of California. Dr. Best is known for his
previous attacks on the validity of statistics used to support various
children's needs, such as Halloween poisonings and missing children.
Besides an excellent history of child abuse hysteria, Dr.
Best highlights where the issue is apt to go with our policymakers. New claims
for expanding definitions of child abuse include smoking, song lyrics,
circumcision, drugs during pregnancy, custody disputes, inadequate state social
services, no television for children, parental religious instructions, parental
child grabbing, and gender-differences in teaching by parents.
Dr. Best blames much of America's hysteria on the media,
particularly the "ten second sound bites" (p.102). All major media
fell for the misleading statistics at the beginning, but later began attacking
the exaggerations, or what historian Barbara Tuchman calls "relocating
facticity" (p.98), with all persons with vested interests inflating the
figures to make their case. ABC's Tom Jarrell and Bettina Gregory helped expose
the missing children's inflated statistics. However, U.S. Senator Jennings
Randolph of West Virginia referred to social scientist David Gil as
"wishy-washy" and a "namby-pamby" (p.69) when Dr. Gil asked
for sanity in reading the statistics on missing children.
This illustrates Dr. Best's point that true facts seldom
influence policy — emotions do. Words have consequences, and values also shape
policy, but truth is a weak third, and the first loss of any social war. Although the child-saving movement started with a concern for physical safety,
it quickly was jerked away from sane professionals and was expanded into all
The book closes with an excellent set of references.
Although theoretical, this may be the best intellectual
history of child abuse hysteria ever assembled. Dr. Best's description of
potential new areas to be labeled "child abuse" will chill the hearts
of most parents in this country. The description of the role of the media is
excellent and illuminating. The book is highly recommended.
Reviewed by LeRoy Schultz, Professor of Social Work, West