||Threatened Children: Rhetoric and Concern About Child
||University of Chicago Press, © 1990
The University of Chicago Press
5801 Ellis Avenue, Fourth Floor
Chicago, IL 60637
This small book, consisting of nine chapters and an appendix entitled
"Recent Fiction About Threats to Children," was written by a well-known
sociologist from the University of California. Joel Best is known
for his attacks on the validity of statistics used to support expressions
of concern for children, particularly for Halloween poisonings and missing
children. In this book, the author describes the hysteria of child
abuse and how the issue was sold to Americans and the media. The
book closes with an excellent list of references.
Although theoretical, this may be the best intellectual history of the
current child abuse ever assembled. Besides the excellent history,
the author highlights the potential future direction of current policy
makers, a prediction that will frighten parents in this country. New
proposals for expanding definitions of child abuse include smoking, song
lyrics, circumcision, drugs taken during pregnancy; custody disputes, a
lack of TV for children, adhering to religious beliefs, parental child
snatching, and gender-differences in teaching by parents.
The author blames much of the hysteria on the media, particularly the "10
second sound bite." The media readily succumbed to the allure of inflated
statistics, or what historian Barbara Tuchman calls "relocating facticity," an
inflation promoted and abetted by persons with vested interests in the
appearance of high rates of child abuse. Only much later did the media
begin to critically examine and criticize the exaggerated statistics,
particularly those concerning missing children.
The author reminds us that true facts seldom influence policy — falling
victim instead to emotions. While words have consequences and values are
important, truth frequently comes in a weak third. Although the child
saving movement began with a concern for the physical safety of children,
responsibility for child protection was quickly removed from sane professionals.
Additionally, definitions of child abuse have expanded into many other aspects
of parent-child relations. At the present time, professionals who
challenge the inflated statistics run the risk of being accused of being "soft"
on child abuse.
This book is recommended for everyone who wants to understand the child abuse
statistics and how they are inflated.
Reviewed by LeRoy Schultz, Professor of
Social Work, West Virginia University.