Child abuse stats

Sarah Harvey in the SST reports:

More and more New Zealanders believe child abuse is a cultural issue despite statistics showing that abuse does not discriminate between cultures, a social work lecturer says.

Raema Merchant, a social work lecturer at the Eastern Institute of Technology, said it was unclear how the public had developed a perception that it was a Maori issue.

Her masters thesis at Massey University found about half of the children killed in New Zealand died at the hands of a Pakeha abuser.

This story came up last year also, and is basically a rehash. As the weather is crap today, I’ve just spent a couple of hours reading the thesis. It is 158 pages in total.

There are some interesting stats in it, which I will get to. But its biggest failing is a total ignoring of the fact that European and Maori populations are of different sizes, so prevalance rates are what should be looked at.

The thesis says that the ethnicity of those convicted of assaulting children are Maori 48%, European 28%, PI 19%. To get a prevalence figure, I will use the population figures for under 14s. This is 21% Maori, 58% European, 11% PI and 9% Asian.

This works out to a prevalence rate for Maori that is 4.8 times that of Europeans. It is also 3.4 times that of Pacific Islanders. Or to compare all three, the comparative rates are Maori 4.8, PI 1.4, European 1.0.

Almost 9000 children were victims of physical abuse between 2000 and 2008, yet only 21 became “household names” in the media, she said.

Just one-third of child deaths were reported in the press, and they were predominantly Maori cases.

This is because no child victim can be named, unless they are killed. So it is the deaths that get most reported.  I do not believe they get reported more because they are Maori. They get reported more due to the nature of their details, with the more horrific the abuse, the more they get reported.

“Where are they getting it from? Child abuse is not a cultural issue.”

A recent survey by Research New Zealand found that 58 per cent of people believed child abuse was a cultural issue, up from 51 per cent the year before.

About 55 per cent believed child abuse was an economic issue, compared with 34 per cent in 2011, something which Merchant said was pleasing.

“I would applaud the people that accept that poverty has a lot to do with it. It’s often not so much the poverty of the people but in countries where the gap between rich and poor is the greatest then the child abuse figures tend to be the greatest.”

There are many factors in child abuse. I suspect the most powerful factor is that those who were abused themselves go on to become abusers.

The thesis is inadequately done to be able to make conclusions on whether or not ethnicity or culture is an issue. First it ignores the prevalence rate being 4.75 times higher. However if for example poverty is a powerful factor, that ethnic difference may be because (for example) Maori are 4.75 times to be in a family with low household income.

High quality research would look at ethnic prevalence rates, while controlling other factors which might be an influence such as poverty, welfare status etc.  I’d be very interested to also see data on prevalence rates by welfare status, once income has been removed as a factor. In other words is there more child abuse in households where no adults work, than in households where at least one adult works – but has much the same level of income.

There was some interesting data in the thesis. In terms of relationship to victims, 50% of perpetrators are step-parents or partners, 15% Mums, 11% Dads, and 12% other relatives.


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