Hope in hopeless times

Many of us have become so skeptical and jaundiced that it doesn’t seem possible for good news to come out of Washington. If anything positive emanates from the seat of government, it’s usually couched as just “less bad” instead of “better.”

As Dante’s Inferno instructs. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.”

As such, we tend to view anything remotely positive with suspicion and distrust. Congress doesn’t help us do otherwise. Fortunately, the Bureau of Justice Statistics has just released a new report that picks up some of the slack.

According to the just published BJS report, Violent Crime Against Youth, 1994-2010, “The overall rate of serious violent crime against youth ages 12 to 17 declined 77 percent from 1994 to 2010, falling from 61.9 victimizations per 1,000 youth to 14.0 victimizations per 1,000.”

The study defines “serious violent crimes” as rape and other sexual assaults, robbery and aggravated assault.

The BJS report provides some useful detail as to how these types of criminal victimizations have decreased. As the BJS observes, “Among serious violent crimes against youth, the rate of rape and sexual assault declined 68 percent, robbery declined 77 percent and aggravated assault declined 80 percent. Overall, declines in serious violent crime among youth were greater from 1994 to 2002 (down 69 percent) than from 2002 to 2010 (down 27 percent).”

While the flattening rate of decrease might appear to give cause for concern, that fear can be allayed by the fact that the precipitous drop from 1994 – 2004 represents a fundamental shift in the landscape of violent crime — such that lowered levels of victimization have become more normative, thus making further dramatic drops less likely.

Apropos of a discussion prompted by the school shooting in Newtown, CT, the BJS notes, “In 2010, the rate of serious violent crime against youth at schools (6.6 victimizations per 1,000) was similar to the rate at non-school locations (7.4 per 1,000).”

This finding tells us that schools are statistically no more dangerous for our children than any other location. Thus, the National Rifle Association-prompted furor to arm teachers and further fortify schools can be readily dismissed as just one more opportunistic dig into the social and political landscape.

Without attributing the phenomenon to a specific causal mechanism, the BJS also observes, “From 1994 to 2010, youth living with an unmarried head of household were generally more likely than youth living with a married head of household to be victims of violent crime. In 2010, youth living with an unmarried head of household experienced violent crime at nearly four times the rate (3.8 times) of youth living with a married head of household.”

This finding indicates that there may indeed be a protective factor at play when two parents are present and engaged in child-rearing. Those who dismiss the lack of a second parent as simply a cultural prerogative, may be doing their child a grave disservice.

One of the major sticking points in this kind of reporting is found in the caveat “crimes known to the police.” Not all crimes are known, because not all crimes are reported.

The BJS addresses this aspect of victimization as well, “From 1994 to 2010, more than half of violent crime against youth went unreported to police. However, the percentage of serious violent crimes not reported to police dropped from 62 percent in 1994–02 to 56 percent in 2002–10. Also, the percentage of simple assaults not reported to police decreased from 79 percent to 72 percent during the two periods.”

While this report is hardly all roses and sunshine, it does tell us that the nation as a whole is moving in the right direction — at least where youth violence is concerned.