What do deaths from the H1N1 virus, food-borne illnesses, Toyota accelerator malfunctions, sexual predators, and coal mining all have in common?
They add up to a small fraction of the toll of child abuse deaths in the United States — and yet they garner thousands of news stories more than do the much more prevalent issue of child abuse and neglect deaths.
A new analysis from the National Coalition to End Child Abuse Deaths (NCECAD) shows how the American news media turns a blind eye to child abuse deaths while lavishing extensive coverage on deaths that occur less often.
Journalists rarely cover child abuse cases unless they involve abduction and murder by sex offenders. While those rare (but sensational) cases make headlines, they are not the real problem.
Who is murdering America's children? Abusive and neglectful mothers, mostly, and fathers. Some are killed in accidents, and a relatively rare few by strangers.
According to a 2003 report by the Department of Human Services, hundreds of thousands of children are abused and neglected each year by their parents and caregivers, and over 1,500 American children died from that abuse in 2003 — most of the victims under four years old.
That is more than four children murdered per day — not by convicted sex offenders or Internet predators, but by those entrusted to care for them.
I wrote about the news media’s blackout of child abuse in my 2003 book Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us, and in February 2005 I conducted a short, random news media survey and found a dozen children killed or nearly killed by their mothers in the first three weeks of February alone.
Yet despite children being murdered about every other day by their parents, the news media was (and remains) conspicuously silent about this epidemic of child abuse.
According to the NCECAD, U.S. child abuse deaths eclipse the number of U.S. combat fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Bringing about real reform and helping real children takes more than changing Facebook profiles to cartoon characters or participating in candlelight vigils.
A NCECAD press conference is scheduled for today to discuss ways to help prevent child abuse. Speakers include Michael Petit, President of Every Child Matters Education Fund; Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association; Teresa Huizar, director of National Children's Alliance; and Joan Zlotnik, director of Social Work Policy Institute, National Association of Social Workers.