Friday, December 7, 2012

The Cautionary Instruction: The danger is clear, the source a bit murky

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
December 7, 2012

In 2005, when Americans were presented with a list of six crimes that could happen in their local communities, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that Americans expressed the greatest concern about child sexual molestation, with roughly two in three saying they are "very concerned" about the issue.

The growing unease about sex abuse is also reflected in two surveys taken four years apart in Massachusetts by Masskids, a nonprofit child advocacy organization. In 2003, fewer than half of Massachusetts residents said they would be willing to participate in training to learn about child sexual abuse and how to prevent it. By 2007, two-thirds of residents said they would be willing.

Parental anxiety seems to be on the rise even as the rate of child sexual abuse is falling. Data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System showed that the rate of substantiated child sexual abuse dropped 62 percent between 1992 and 2010, from 150,000 cases to 63,000 cases.

This trend corresponds with the general feelings of Americans about crime. Despite a sharp decline in the United States' violent crime rate since the mid-1990s a majority of Americans continue to believe the nation's crime problem is getting worse. In 2011, 68 percent say there is more crime in the U.S. than there was a year ago, 17 percent say less, and 8 percent believe that crime is unchanged.

That is why Sandra Hagen Solin’s comment to the Denver Post in 2010 came as no surprise. Solin told the Post, "I know on a couple of occasions, I've woken up because I think, 'Is the door locked?'" She added, "Someone could come in and swipe my son. It has happened."

The fear of child abductions has taken the same course as child molestation and crime generally. In 1999, a nationwide study found that there were only 115 stereotypical child abductions, including 81 kidnappings that were by a total stranger and 34 that were by a slight acquaintance. Forty percent of the children in those stereotypical kidnappings were killed. Statistics, often cited since then, report that only about 50 children throughout the country each year are abducted and murdered by a stranger.

Today, the link between child abduction and sexual crimes has become better understood. Threats to a child have been shown to be less likely to come from "stranger danger" than from family and friends. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) continues to encourage parents to adhere to the organization’s national child safety campaign.

Keeping children safe is best achieved by focusing on real and likely dangers. Sometimes those dangers are close to home and at the hand of those we know and love. That is an unpleasant fact that children need to know.

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