IPT Book Reviews

Title: Threatened Children: Rhetoric and Concern About Child Victims  Positive Review
Author: Joel Best
Publisher: University of Chicago Press, 1990

The University of Chicago Press
5801 Ellis Avenue, Fourth Floor
Chicago, IL 60637
(800) 621-2736
$29.95
 

Description:

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.
 

Discussion:

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.

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