“I Was a Child Abuser!”: How Media Mis-representations Promote Misguided and Ineffective Approaches to Child Protection – May 5

The University Seminars on
Ethics, Moral Education, and Society
Innovation in Education

“I Was a Child Abuser!”: How Media Mis-representations Promote Misguided and Ineffective Approaches
to Child Protection

Date: MAY 5 at 7 PM
at Gottesman Library, Teachers College, 525 West 120th Street,
Seminar Room 305, Russell Hall

Bio: Emily Horowitz is associate professor in the Sociology Department at St. Francis College in Brooklyn.  She is completing a book about myths and realities of crimes against children (under contract, Rowman & Littlefield), and has a forthcoming article in Psychology of Popular Media Culture on child abuse stories in American high-circulation magazines. She also works as an advocate for those falsely accused and/or wrongfully convicted of sexually and/or physically harming children. She received her Ph.D. from Yale University in Sociology in 2002.

Links: Huffington Post article by Emily Horowitz on Halloween Laws for Sex Offenders (October 2014): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/emilyhorowitz/manufacturing-fear-hallow_b_4135793.html


Presentation: This talk will address the past few decades of mass media coverage of crimes against children and the new laws, including the explosion of sex offender laws, aimed at protecting them.  I shall connect the rampant media coverage and extensive new legislation to a broader historical and social context, in an effort to understand the causes and consequences of the historic and persistent hysteria and irrationality about this issue. I argue that child protection efforts emerge from the telling of sensational stories about abused children and abusive adults, transmitted in ways that support American cultural beliefs concerning individual responsibility for personal behavior and economic circumstances. Additionally, I will study examples of how this narrative persists in mass media, by examining the content and frequency of stories about child abuse. While data and research consistently show that crimes against children are inexorably linked to poverty and economic distress, the mass media story about child abuse focuses on the most egregious and statistically rarest cases (e.g., child kidnapping by strangers). Consequently, or correspondingly, laws emerge that sanction these exceedingly unusual events (e.g. child sexual abuse by strangers). I will consider how such a narrative regarding the behaviors of evil and immoral people creates and maintains a misguided and ineffective approach to child protection, in the structural realms of American social welfare, criminal and legislative policies. Finally, I shall also suggest how this discourse influences adult and child interaction at the individual level.


Dinner: To augment the fellowship among members, you are warmly invited to join other members for dinner at Faculty House at 5:30 PM.  (After dinner we will walk to Teachers College, 10 minutes away).  Dinner at Faculty House, a varied and ample buffet (including wine), is $25, which must be paid for by check at the beginning of the meal.  If you intend to join us for dinner you must let us know via email a week in advance (by Monday, April 28).  RSVP to either Ron Gross (grossassoc@aolcom) or Michael Schulman (mdschlmn41@yahoo.com).


Directions to Faculty House:  Faculty House is located on Columbia University’s East Campus on Morningside Drive and 117th Street.  Enter Wien Courtyard through the gates on the north side of 116 Street,between Amsterdam Avenue and Morningside Drive. Walk toward the north end of the courtyard, then turn right toward Morningside Drive.  Faculty House will be the last building on the right.


The Seminars: This seminar is jointly sponsored by the Columbia University Seminars on Innovation in Education and Ethics, Moral Education, and Society.

The Seminar on Innovation in Education is co-chaired by Ronald Gross, who also conducts the Socratic Conversations at the Gottesman Libraries, and Robert McClintock who is John L. and Sue Ann Weinberg Professor Emeritus in the Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Education at Teachers College. Founded in 1970, the Seminar explores the process of learning in individuals, organizations, and society throughout the lifespan and via major institutions.

The Seminar on Ethics, Moral Education and Society, chaired by Michael Schulman,  brings together scholars from psychology, philosophy, sociology, political theory, education, religion and other disciplines to explore issues in ethics, moral education, moral development, moral motivation, moral decision making and related topics.


This is our last meeting of the 2013-14 academic year.

Columbia University encourages persons with disabilities to participate in its programs and activities.  University Seminar participants with disabilities who anticipate needing accommodations or who have questions about physical access may contact the Office of Disability Services at 212-854-2388 or disability@columbia.edu.  Disability accommodations, including sign-language interpreters, are available on request.  Requests for accommodations must be made two weeks in advance.  On campus, seminar participants with disabilities should alert a Public Safety Officer that they need assistance accessing campus.


Michael Schulman, chair, Ethics, Moral Education, and Society, mdschlmn41@yahoo.com

Ron Gross, co-chair, Innovation in Education, grossassoc@aol.com


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