Why you should care
Because if the government spies on average Americans, it should spy on suspected child abusers too.
The stats on child abuse have remained horrifically constant: more than six million reports in the U.S. every year; five kids dead from abuse or neglect every day. Perhaps the only thing worse than child abuse is its recurrence: About a third of abused kids experience it over and over, and it’s usually inflicted by a supposed caregiver.
It’s time to disrupt this chronic crisis. Let’s put cameras in the homes of suspected abusers and have government authorities monitor them. It’s radical and intrusive, and it’s meant to be: Child protection is well past due for a shake-up. Notoriously overworked and underpaid, caseworkers are in desperate need of help. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley’s best and brightest are putting their energy toward “reinventing” dating and dinner delivery. Surely, they could turn their attention toward some of the most vulnerable people in the country.
We’re talking about children, of course. Victims of child abuse are captive. They often can’t speak up for themselves or are too terrified to do so. And speaking up is just the first step in an arduous process that might end with them back in the firing line. For want of better options, taking kids out of their home is “the last thing we do,” says Armand Montiel, public affairs director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. If family reunification is the best realistic option, in-home cameras would function as a deterrent to future abuse.
Leigh Ann Erdman, who sits on the board of child-abuse nonprofit Dreamcatchers for Abused Children, argues that parents who’ve abused their kids shouldn’t get them back unless they agree to court-ordered cameras in their phones. She compares the house cams to ankle bracelets or other post-conviction monitoring. Our “ultimate goal” should be to protect children, she adds.
Of course, there are civil rights problems. Home video monitoring “is one of the most invasive surveillance techniques imaginable,” writes Rainey Reitman, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, via e-mail. Especially when you’re talking about bedrooms and bathrooms. But at some point, the rights of a child — or other abused person — must come into play too. And there’s precedent for such monitoring. In 2011, for instance, Ohio State shut down a senior living facility after secretly installed “granny cams” revealed rampant abuse. And while public opinion often shifts, recent data from the Pew Research Center suggests that most Americans are generally OK with some degree of government spying in the name of fighting terrorism.
A bigger potential problem is practicality. Montiel thinks in-house cams wouldn’t be effective, because parents would merely abuse children outside the camera frame. Which is why we’re calling on the collective brainpower and ingenuity of Silicon Valley’s techies: Come up with a Big Brother to protect children from abuse.
Do you think it’s about time we use tech to bust child abusers? Does this sound like a massive invasion of privacy? Let us know!