Montréal, 10 juin 2000  /  No 63
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David MacRae is a software consultant who works out of his home in St. Laurent, Quebec.
by David MacRae
          Over the last fifty years, almost every country in Western Europe and North America has experienced an enormous increase in crime rates. Neighborhoods that once were safe at night have become dangerous during the day. Random acts of violence, once almost unknown, have become common. 
          We have this notion that this is an American problem. It is not. While Americans are definitely have a problem with murder, overall crime rates are actually higher in many other countries including Canada, Great Britain, France and Sweden. Certain kinds of violent crime are actually more common elsewhere. Home invasions are far more common in Britain. The Montreal area has recently experienced a rash of them, resulting in several deaths. 
          The good news is that rates seem to have stabilized in the nineties. The bad news is that appears to be largely a demographic issue. Most perpetrators of crime are young men. As the baby boom ages passes from its teens and twenties into its forties and fifties, there are simply fewer people in the appropriate group than there once were. But if you look in the places where you find young people, you find that things are perhaps worse than they ever were. High schools have turned from places of learning into armed camps. Increasingly, girls are imitating their boyfriends and joining in the party. There is a reason why teacher burnout rates are so high. Shell shock. 
          Social conservatives tend to say that the reason for crime is criminals. The answer therefore is longer sentences, the abolition of juvenile courts and a return to the death penalty. While clearly we are all ultimately responsible for our actions, this answer is unsatisfying. It does not explain why crime has risen. Conservatives then answer that it is because of a breakdown in moral values. Perhaps this is true, but it’s not an answer either. Why did values break down? 
At the root of the problem 
          Liberals (and here I use the word in its North American sense – as a euphemism for socialists), answer that the reason for crime is « child poverty » and « discrimination ». Kids who come from « disadvantaged backgrounds » are pre-disposed to anti-social behaviours. The answer therefore is the same one that liberals always have to any problem: get the government to spend more of other people’s money on it. Welfare, subsidized daycare. You name it.  
          The idea that child poverty is responsible for crime has always been silly. To start with, poverty (as opposed to squalor) has been virtually eliminated in the Western world. Furthermore many countries in which real poverty does exist, such as India and China, don't exhibit this social pathology. The reality is that, aside from the industrialized West, crime is limited to those areas of the world where the political and judicial system has broken down such as Russia and most of sub-Saharan Africa. None of this is very surprising when you consider that the human animal was designed to live in a world where poverty, want and famine were the norm, not the exception.  
          Yet for all this talk about the root causes of crime, there is one factor which overwhelms all of the others: fatherlessness. The link between fatherlessness and crime is so strong « that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low income and crime », as Barbara Defoe Whitehead notes in her famous article from Atlantic Monthly « Dan Quayle was Right ». 
     « In 1983, the US Department of Health and Human Services found that 60% of child abuse is inflicted by mothers with sole custody of their children. Almost all of the rest comes from other members of her entourage, especially boyfriends and second husbands. »  
          Consider these facts: 
  • 85% of all children that exhibit behavioral disorders come from fatherless homes (U.S. Center for Disease Control);
  • 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes (U.S. Bureau of the Census);
  • 80% of rapists motivated with displaced anger come from fatherless homes (Criminal Justice & Behavior, Vol 14, p. 403-26, 1978);
  • 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions come from fatherless homes (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Special Report, Sept 1988); 
  • 85% of all youths sitting in prisons grew up in a fatherless home (Texas Dept. of Corrections 1992).
          In fact, you can pick a social ill at random and you will find that the correlation with fatherlessness is clear and direct. Depression. Suicide. Dropping out of school. Teenage pregnancy. Drug use. In sum, fatherless children are: 
  • 5 times more likely to commit suicide;
  • 32 times more likely to run away;
  • 20 times more likely to have behavioral disorders;
  • 14 times more likely to commit rape;
  • 9 times more likely to drop out of high school;
  • 10 times more likely to abuse chemical substances;
  • 9 times more likely to end up in a mental institution;
  • 20 times more likely to end up in prison(1).
          Fatherless children are also, according to one British study, about 33 times more likely to be abused. In 1983, the US Department of Health and Human Services found that 60% of child abuse is inflicted by mothers with sole custody of their children. Almost all of the rest comes from other members of her entourage, especially boyfriends and second husbands. 
          Under these circumstances, you would think that there would be an enormous amount of research under way in an attempt to understand what is happening. The media would be demanding answers. Are men abandoning their children, as is commonly supposed, or are they being forced out? Or simply treated as a convenient source of sperm? How does child support affect the issue? Is there a difference between unwed and divorced mothers? Is there a difference between welfare mothers and the others? How does continued father contact affect things? Is there an identifiable group of single mothers who do significantly better than others – or significantly worse? And most of all, why do single father families not exhibit the same sort of pathology? 
          But nothing happens. On the contrary, the facts are suppressed.  
Facts or propaganda 
          A few days ago (June 7), an article appeared in La Presse summarizing a telephone survey in which the Quebec Health Ministry asked 2469 mothers about child abuse in their families. Various correlations are made between child abuse and mother tongue (!), between child abuse and family size, between child abuse and poverty. Yet family structure is never mentioned once. Nor is welfare. Furthermore, we never learn who is actually performing this abuse. The article uses contorted constructions in the passive voice to avoid the topic such as: « 79% des enfants ont vécu de “l’agression psychologique” au moins une fois pendant l’année » (quotes in the original). It’s also interesting to note that the word « parent » appears eight times in the article, including the title, always without specifying who it refers to. « Mother » only appears three times, always when talking about who was surveyed. « Father » does not appear at all.  
          The ambiguities in La Presse’s article merely reflect those in the survey itself. Whole sentences are taken directly from the government’s press release. It is remarkable to see how poorly this survey is designed. Of course, it is pretty clear that it is really a propaganda tool, not an attempt to understand child abuse. Let’s take a look at it. 
          To start with, father-only households are simply ignored. The premise of the survey is that we only talk to women so this family-type is simply wished out of existence. At least the combination of father and stepmother is considered. There, after all, we find a woman in the house who we can talk to. With perhaps more justification, other families without a mother are all lumped together (although it is well-known that grandmothers supply far better care to children than foster mothers).  
          Worse than this, the survey makes no distinction whatever between different types of parents, fathers vs. mothers or natural parents vs. step-parents. All questions simply refer to parents. What is the point of a survey about child abuse which doesn’t ask about who is doing the abusing? No wonder, La Presse mixes them up! 
          It is well known that children of violent parents are significantly more likely to be violent towards their own children; we learn our parenting techniques from our own parents. In an attempt to quantify this relationship, the survey also asks whether the mother’s own parents (and those of her spouse, if any) were ever violent towards a sister, brother or mother. Note that the possibility of violence towards the father is specifically excluded. This being so, it is unsurprising that the survey finds fathers to be about 50% more violent than mothers.  
          What is surprising is that the mother’s own parents are found to be much more violent than those of her partner! This amazing fact is supplied without comment. Imagine it. The parents of women are more violent than those of men. This despite the fact that the survey also finds that boys are more likely to be victims of familial violence than girls. Perhaps it might be worthwhile talking to Mr. Partner the next time around to find out why this might be. Maybe his perception of his relationship with his parents might be different than that of an outsider. 
          Finally, the survey does ask the mothers about family structure but nowhere in any of the 124 pages of the report does it make any comments about how this affects the results. It seems almost self-evident that stepfamilies would either be better or worse situations than mother-only ones. There are simply too many differences for the two to be the same. Yet no comment is made whatsoever. One can only ask why. 
          The report does make one and only one recommendation: that the survey be repeated every three years in order to « educate » parents about child abuse. The bureaucratic instinct strikes again! Perhaps it’s time to start asking the right questions instead of repeating the same old ones.  
1. See "Fatherless Homes Breed Violence" (Courtesy Mark Hall, Fathers Manifesto) and Daniel Anneus' The Case for Father Custody (another goldmine for information of this kind).  >>
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