One by one by one they add up

I’m going to piss off some people with this, but…

I think the reaction to what happened at Newtown is a little bit out of proportion. Wait, I can explain. I don’t mean it wasn’t absolutely horrible. But the reaction seems to imply that it’s terribly out of the ordinary, and the fact is…it’s not nearly as out of the ordinary as it should be except in the fact that it was 20 children in one go.

The US has a shamefully high rate of violence against children. The BBC reported on this more than a year ago.

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

The child maltreatment death rate in the US is triple Canada’s and 11 times that of Italy. Millions of children are reported as abused and neglected every year. Why is that?

20,000 killed by family members (if the figures are correct). Two thousand a year; more than 5 a day. A Newtown every four days. Only worse, because the children in Newtown weren’t killed by their own families.

The gun control issue makes me sick. I think we need to fix that. I always think we need to fix that. But I also think we should pay more attention to the one-at-a-time horrors.


  1. says

    I agree that we, collectively, should pay more attention. Some of the reactions that you see now, though, some of the loudest reactions, are coming from people who do pay attention to those deaths and to the higher rates of “successful” suicides and to the other tragedies. It’s just that we know that everyone else is paying attention for just this short moment, and we’re determined that they need to listen before they go back to ignoring everything that doesn’t get 24-hour cable news coverage.

  2. says

    The problem is that big crimes like Newtown make national news. The smaller cases rarely get more than local coverage, if that. It is very easy to ignore the scope of the problem.

  3. kevinkirkpatrick says

    It does make you wonder what the impact would be if national news outlets made the leading news story, every day, “N Children Brutally Murdered In Their Homes Yesterday”, with a half page dedicated to listing the victims, photos, and brief memorial statements from family/friends/teachers/etc. So long as the status quo remains, it seems like that’s what should greet us every day, not just when the 20 tragic deaths are co-located.

  4. Lyanna says

    A great point about the forgotten victims of child abuse, murdered by (usually) their parents. It ties into a seemingly-unrelated recent event: the US rejection of the treaty protecting the rights of the disabled.

    It sounds like a tangent, but bear with me and I’ll explain the relevance. The reason why the treaty for the disabled was rejected was that conservative Republicans successfully beat the fear-mongering drum about how the treaty would infringe on parental sovereignty over their children. Specifically, conservative Christians are very defensive about their freedom to homeschool (as all freethinking feminists should know; as Libby at “Love, Joy, Feminism” or Vyckie at “No Longer Quivering” can tell anyone), and they were scared that the treaty would somehow interfere with their “right” to educate their kid as they see fit. (I.e., stuff them full of creationist, misogynist nonsense).

    The patriarchal, religion-endorsed notion of parents (especially fathers) owning their children and having “rights” over their children that are more important than their kids’ health and safety is poison. It’s the reason for all those kids’ deaths. And it’s why those kids’ deaths go unremembered. We can all get het up about a stranger killing OUR kids, damaging OUR property, but a father killing/raping his little daughter?

    Well. It’s horrible, of course. But the notion of taking any legal action to prevent ti is even more taboo than gun control.

  5. Sili says

    Don’t be silly.

    If this were true, we might have to face the fact that there’s a problem.

    So of course children are only killed by atheist madmen, and we need more, more, MOAR guns to protect our precious babies from the roaming hordes of barbarians.

  6. julian says


    Tragedies like this often make a good launching pad for larger discussions (and hopefully policy change) but really they all tend to fit some pattern whether it be the vulnerability of sex workers, the assumed guilt of black men or the lack of oversight at banking firms.

  7. freemage says

    Stephanie @1: It’s important, however, when using an event in that fashion, to make the connection between the proposal and the incident crystal-clear. For instance, I’ve seen many posts about this tragedy talking about concealed-carry laws. Thing is, this wouldn’t have been affected by C-C being illegal, at least, not directly. (I concede, at the very least, the possibility of ‘gun culture’ being altered, but that’s a more nuanced argument, and this tactic doesn’t handle nuance well.) Gun control advocates who want to make the most of this opportunity would be best served by concentrating on two specific issues–magazine size and autofire capability. Anything else is going to trigger warning-bells in those folks who might otherwise be approachable, and ultimately limit the appeal of gun control arguments.

  8. says

    It does make you wonder what the impact would be if national news outlets made the leading news story, every day, “N Children Brutally Murdered In Their Homes Yesterday”, with a half page dedicated to listing the victims, photos, and brief memorial statements from family/friends/teachers/etc.

    I can tell you exactly what would happen, because people can be horrible.

    First they’d be desensitized by the constant media drone.

    Then someone would make a buck off it by starting a lottery: guess the number of dead children this week!

    (You say no way: I saw it happen in Philadelphia, where people would lay bets on how many murders the Daily News would report on Monday.)

  9. Feline says

    At risk of attracting certain individuals, I ask this: How often is the idea that children are the property of their parent put forth by certain individuals in favour of applying knife to infants?
    And as we all know property is not killed, it is destroyed.

  10. Acolyte of Sagan says

    I have been involved in a similar discussion at where I was basically accused of hypocricy for my outrage over the deaths of 20 children in affluent America when several millions of children die needlessly every year, mainly across the Third World and developing nations. His point is valid; there isn’t nearly enough being done internationally – even though the year-on-year totals have been declining – but not for the reasons he claimed in this post, , such as ;

    …..humans so greedy and selfish they place cheap coffee higher than the needs for survival for millions of babies….


    Do you walk around sobbing for all of them (think about it, 7 million last year, that is more than 13 every minute of the entire year)?! Didn’t think so. So keep your tears for those 20. You are just playing along in the media’s little circus about it.


    The following is part of my response, explaining why I believe this seemingly disproportionate reaction to varying scales of tragedy is common;

    I once heard it said that a single death was a tragedy but a million deaths is a statistic, because people tend to be affected more by things that they can personalise, and it’s easier to personalise a handful of people than it is a million. That’s why, whenever you see a documentary about famines or televised appeals for organisations such as Oxfam or Save the Children, the voice-overs will talk about millions but the cameras tend to focus on individuals or family groups: it’s why the most famous WWII photograph, the one latched onto by peace groups worldwide, was the shot of the children fleeing Nagasaki, and centred on one little girl with her clothes burnt off, burns to her body and naked terror in her eyes: it’s why the most famous Vietnam War picture is almost identical to the Nagasaki shot, only this time the little girl is fleeing a napalm strike: it’s why the headline “250 dead in air crash” is invariably accompanied by a picture of a child’s shoe or a teddy bear lying among the wreckage. The voices can tell of the scale of death, but the pictures are the things that hit us where it hurts.
    That said, as much as the millions of deaths you chide me for not caring about may indeed be a statistic, I believe that first and foremost that they’re millions of individual tragedies, and of course I’m saddened by them. I’m also angered by the fact that most are preventable, and of course the guilt and frustration that comes from the knowledge I can personally do next to nothing to help them. It would be impossible to function as a human being if I allowed all of that to dominate my life, so I don’t allow it to. I don’t ignore it, but neither can I dwell on it too much, in much the same way that wartime soldiers have to very quickly become innured to the scenes of horror they witness.

    There’s more, but I’m too tired to carry on tonight. It’s worth a look though.

  11. yahweh says

    I tried to post this link ( to the work of the late Alice Miller once before but it didn’t work, so I’ll try again.

    Trigger warning for 98% of humanity. Snippet likely to go down well on this site is below. The rest is pretty well guaranteed to outrage and offend.

    “Unquestioning adulation of parents and ancestors, regardless of what they have done, is required not only by some religions but by ALL of them, without exception, although the adult children frequently have to pay for this self-denial with severe illness symptoms. The reason why this is the case is not difficult to identify, though it is rarely taken into account. Children are forced to ignore their need for respect and are not allowed to express it, so they later look to their own children to gratify that need. This is the origin of the Fourth/Fifth Commandment (“honor your father and mother”). “

  12. Claire Ramsey says

    You didn’t piss me off. The thousands of people (OK children) murdered and harmed by others, including their own families, were the first thoughts that flashed into my brain when I heard the news last Friday.

    You did not piss me off.


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