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Society, Politics & Law

The dark heart of America

Updated Thursday 31st May 2012

Child abuse and deaths from maltreatment are rising in America at a time when child services are being cut, says Dick Skellington

A child with black eyes is held behind a cell made from the Stars and Stripes in this cartoon Creative commons image Icon Gary Edwards under Creative-Commons license America's dark secret is out. It is now the western world capital of violence against children. Child welfare statistics reveal an epidemic of child abuse, neglect and murder. In America a report of child abuse is made every ten seconds.

In 2009, approximately 3.3 million child abuse reports and allegations were made involving an estimated 6 million children. In some instances, the reports were of multiple abuse (see Chidren's Bureau and childwelfare.gov). 1,770 children were killed as a result of maltreatment. (See childhelp.org statistics.)

Over the past 10 years, more than 20,000 American children are believed to have been killed in their own homes by family members, nearly four times the number of US soldiers so far killed in Iraq and Afghanistan put together. 

Put this shocking statistic in perspective and it seems all the more shocking. In the industrialised world 66 children under 15 years old die each week: America accounts for 27 of them, almost one half of the total. Unicef, as long ago as 2001, sounded a warning to the American government when it revealed that the USA was placed equal bottom with Mexico on child deaths from maltreatment. Now America stands alone, adrift among countries of the developed world.

The American child abuse rate is three times that of neighbouring Canada, and 11 times the rate of Italy. In relation to child deaths per 100,000 children from abuse, America with 2.4 far exceeds the UK with 0.9, Germany with 0.8, Japan with 1, and France 1.4.

The problem is related to the deep inequalities that still belittle the American nation. Increasing levels of poverty, not helped by the world financial crisis, blight many American states and cities. Add to the mix high levels of violent crime, imprisonment, and teen pregnancy, and you can begin to see why America continues to produce statistics that put it to shame.

The abuse is expensive too. In 2007, the latest year abuse was costed, it cost America $107 billion. Experts believe that the financial crisis will lead to a further increase in child deaths, abuse and neglect in 2011 and 2012.

This blog post is part of Society Matters. The blog seeks to inform, stimulate and challenge our understanding of this changing world and of our humbling role within it. Find out more about the blog and the team.
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