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Threatened Children: Rhetoric and Concern About Child-Victims

NCJ Number
J Best
Date Published
240 pages
Although interest in threatened children has a long history in the United States, contemporary reformers tend to see children as victims menaced by adult deviants, a shift in focus exemplified by the missing children campaign launched by government officials and parents in the early 1980's.
The concern for missing children resembles fears about other threats to children, such as child abuse, incest, molestation, Halloween sadism, and child pornography. Clearly, these are not new problems; what is new is the level of attention they receive. In examining rhetorical tools used by child advocates when making claims aimed at raising public anxiety, the media's role in transmitting these claims, and the public's response to alarming statistics, the author contends that what is said about threats to children is subtly changed to fit the demands of journalistic and popular cultural formulas. When the public reinterprets what the media report, content and meaning evolve as claims are transmitted from one audience to another. By comparing images of threatened children presented in a wide range of data sources, including statements by officials and activists, criminal justice records, television news stories, popular fiction, and public opinion surveys, the author discusses how the cultural construction of social problems evolves. He demonstrates that campaigns to draw attention to threatened children generate public concern, but the meaning of that concern is not straightforward. For many people, expressing concern for endangered children serves to make fears about their own vulnerability more manageable in the face of larger social crises. The author concludes that a society mobilized to keep children safe is not necessarily prepared to protect children from ignorance, ill health, and poverty. 340 references, 14 tables, and 2 figures