SALT LAKE CITY — With the 24-hour news cycle reporting on shootings in schools, theaters and malls, when you add in child abduction to the list it can seem like a post-apocalyptic movie out there. So is it really worse now than it has ever been, or do we simply hear so much more when it happens that it seem that way?
The statistics may surprise you.
According to the Centers for Disease Control Injury Prevention website, in 2007 (the last year listed) unintentional injury and medical issues were far and away the leading cause of death for persons from ages 10-24. Homicide was the second-leading cause of death in this age group, accounting for just 18.8 percent of deaths. Young men were nearly twice as likely to die as a result of violence than young women.
The same source shows a drop in homicide rate in that age group from 15.6 homicide deaths per 1 million in 1991 to 9.1 homicide deaths in 2007. Among all ages, the drop was from 9.9 to 6.1. While numbers are not yet final, the trend appears to continue through 2010.
The CDC also reports, for the period of 2001 through 2007, non-fatal injuries caused by violence dropped in all age categories with the largest drop among males ages 10-24. Again, the trend seems to continue through 2010.
Another concern for parents is child abduction. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website, using statics from the U.S. Department of Justice, notes that in 2002 of the nearly 800,000 children reported missing each year, only 115 were victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping: “These crimes involve someone the child does not know or a slight acquaintance who holds the child overnight, transports the child 50 miles or more, kills the child, demands ransom, sexually abuses or intends to keep the child permanently.” The largest numbers of missing children are runaways followed by family member abductions.
Mass murders, like the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and the movie theater screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Colorado, are understandably troubling — and the media coverage can make it seem as if these types of events happen regularly and with increasing frequency. The statistics tell a much different story.
Jenifer Rubin, writing for the Washington Post cites the following: “The United States experienced 645 mass-murder events — killings with at least four victims — between 1976 and 2010, according to Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox. When graphed, these incidents show no obvious trend. The numbers go up and down and up again. The total body count: 2,949.”
Crunching the numbers, the average number of mass-murder events is approximately 19 yearly, and the average number of deaths per year for the 34-year period was just under 87 — not good, but not the Armageddon that that perception would indicate.
The statistics show that by most objective measures the danger to our kids and to us seems to be dropping. In most places we are safer now than we were a decade ago, and safer still than two decades ago.
So no need to worry, right?
While there is no need to adopt a fortress mentality and barricade the doors, equally there is no need to figuratively run naked through a thunderstorm waving a long metal pole.
Prudent precautions have helped to protect our children as they grow and have done much to contribute to a safer environment for everyone. It is safer out there than in the past, but are you and your children still at risk? Of course, in exactly the way you and they are at risk of death or injury in an automobile; it's just at a lower probability.
Just as defensive driving will lower your risk of an accident, reasonable precautions will lower your family’s risk from a violent incident. Go out, enjoy life and remember be safe out there.
Guy Bliesner is a longtime educator, having taught and coached tennis and swimming. He is school safety and security administrator for the Bonneville School District in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Guy has been married for 26 years and has three children.