The silence by the Obama administration, major interests, and news media regarding the epidemic of domestic violence victimizing children and teenagers in their homes is unconscionable, as previous blogsdiscussed. The Administration on Children and Families estimates there have been more than 1 million violent assaults, rapes, and other sexual and psychological abuses, and 3,500 murders during Obama’s presidency.
Certainly, policymakers and reporters do address deeply serious violence. Incidents such as the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School rightly brought prolonged grief and urgent demands for action. A rape at a high school party, followed by online cruelties against the victim, merited furious reaction against “rape culture.”
The problem is that leaders and their press disciples largely confine their anguish to the small fraction of violence that is perpetrated by young people and victimizes either adults or the children of parents who arouse our sympathy. Unfortunately, narrowing discussion to very rare types of crimes is far too limited. This enables politicians, interest groups, and reporters to champion themselves as protectors of the family against heartless, demented young assailants.
The hundreds of thousands of young victims to murder, gun violence, and abuse do not have grieving, sympathy-arousing parents. Instead, they are accorded only indifference. In fact, the assailants in America’s epidemic of domestic violence against children and teenagers overwhelmingly are parents or parents’ partners aged 25 and older.
Our sympathy seems to be for parents who lose children, not children who suffer violence. If that judgment sounds harsh, ponder the indifference that greeted the administration’s previously cited 2012 Child Maltreatment report. This documented household violence victimizing the young, including a Sandy-Hook-sized murder toll every 10 days. If Americans cared about children like leaders and pundits claim, this report would have been headline news, major talk-show currency, and the subject of furious calls for action from White House initiatives to “News at 11”.
Yet… no eulogies by the First Lady to a child whose life was cut short, no visits from the governor to survivors, no urgent White House initiatives, not even a news story. Politicians and interest groups are not likely to invoke as gun violence victims the 10- and 12-year-old shot to death along with their mother, allegedly by their 38-year-old father.
This moral double standard infects all aspects of youth and crime. The progressive activists who correctly lecture us that “rape is rape” and angrily deplore the “rape culture” and “cyberbullying” evidenced by selected college and high school cases have not similarly applied that term to the tens of thousands of substantiated rapes and sexual assaults against children and teenagers in their homes—or even mentioned them. Leaders and authorities ignore even obvious connections, such as the role violent families play in molding violent youth.
The same news media that is expressly uninterested in hundreds of thousands of real-world household violent crimes against youths, nevertheless headlined blatantly silly splashes on fictional violence, led by the Annenberg Public Policy Center’s clarion that “the amount of gun violence in the top-grossing PG-13 movies has more than tripled since 1985.” So what? Violent crimes by youth have plummeted. Unable to reference anything real, Annenberg researchers retreated into foolishness that “the mere presence of guns in these films may increase the aggressive behavior of youth.”
Annenberg, the Partnership at DrugFree.org, Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Commonsense.org, Media Education Foundation, Parents Television Council, and the Associated Press and much of mainstream media function as distractors, trivializing genuine youth issues with emotion-grabbing pop-culture irrelevancies that enable leaders to dodge tough realities.
Americans fixate on the 5% of killings that involve youthful gunmen and/or mass shooters and ignore the other 95%. We largely dismiss the 99% of rapes that do not involve young perpetrators and social media. We indulge the easy stuff—tongue clucking at pop-culture and venting antiquated prejudices—while avoiding tough problem analysis and policy reform. Then we fulminate that other Western nations—ones with more disciplined leadership and fact-driven institutions—are so much better at managing social problems.
Evolving American leaders who resist scapegoating feared demographics, whether directly (“young black men”) or through coded euphemisms (“youth violence’), is a major key to more effective social policies. The popular pretense that we can fix social crises simply by assembling rescue teams of parents, educators, law enforcement, programmers, and other adults to fix young people must yield to the opposite reality that addressing grownup problems is paramount to addressing youth problems.
Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice