This article, by NCRJ director Emily Horowitz, addresses the past few decades of mass media coverage of crimes against children and the new laws, including the explosion of sex offender laws, aimed at protecting them, by placing rampant media coverage and extensive new legislation in a broader historical and social context, in an effort to understand the causes and consequences of the historic and persistent hysteria and irrationality about this issue. Horowitz argues that child protection efforts emerge from the telling of sensational stories about abused children and abusive adults, transmitted in ways that support American cultural beliefs concerning individual responsibility for personal behavior and economic circumstances. Specifically, Horowitz uses examples of how this narrative persists in mass media, by examining the content and frequency of stories about child abuse. While data and research consistently show that crimes against children are inexorably linked to poverty and economic distress, the mass media story about child abuse focuses on the most egregious and statistically rarest cases (e.g., child kidnapping by strangers). Consequently, or correspondingly, laws emerge that sanction these exceedingly unusual events (e.g. child sexual abuse by strangers), and this narrative regarding the behaviors of evil and immoral people creates and maintains a misguided and ineffective approach to child protection, in the structural realms of American social welfare, criminal and legislative policies.
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