Monday, July 16, 2012

Why they hype: A rare moment of candor about phony child abuse numbers

Catching up with The Associated Press, which did the story last year, The New York Times published a story in June about how the hype and hysteria surrounding the Penn State scandal obscures the fact that rates of child abuse in general, and child sexual abuse in particular, actually have been declining significantly.

Two advocates are remarkably candid about one of the reasons for this: It’s because so many of their fellow advocates want it that way.  According to the story:

Mark Chaffin, a professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, had one possible explanation for why it was hard for some people to accept the numbers. "The child abuse field has always been one that felt like there was not enough public policy attention, so the narrative reflected that. It's at crisis proportions; it's getting worse every year; it's an epidemic," he said. "So when people hear that the rates are going down, it really is sort of a challenge."

Lucy Berliner, director of the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress in Seattle, notes that many child advocacy groups depend on government financing, and good news always brings mixed feelings. One of them is the fear that if the issue does not seem dire enough, the money might dry up.

"It is very risky to suggest that the problem you're involved with has gotten smaller," she said.

Even if it happens to be true.