Following the Orlando shooting, amid all the discussions about gun laws and gay hate crimes, there was scant conversation about the deeper “why” of it all: why are the United States so violent compared to its OECD peers?
First, the facts. The two metrics that are most often used in defining violence are murders and family violence.
- Homicides: with a rate of 3.8 murders per 100,000, the US has a much higher rate of homicides than all but three of the 34 OECD nations
- Domestic violence:
- intimate partner violence: the US is one of the eight OECD countries where over 1% of the population has been the victim of partner physical or sexual assault
- violence against children: the US tops the charts of children deaths by maltreatment. Non-fatal physical abuse is commonly accepted (a UNICEF report states that “While a Canadian study found that 59% of people believed that spanking is harmful and 86% that it is ineffective, research in the USA found that 84% agreed “that it is sometimes necessary to discipline a child with a good hard spanking.””)
So, why is the situation so dire? A few hypotheses to test:
- People born in the US are more frequently unwanted and less well cared for in infancy
- over half Americans born each year were unintended, mistimed or unwanted. In many States this rate is similar to developing countries’, yet access to family planning is restricted
- once the babies are born, the US is the only country in the OECD that does not mandate paid maternity leave, and has a microscopic daycare infrastructure available to properly support infants (vetoed by Nixon in 1971) Overwhelmed parents with no financial support find cheap and unreliable unskilled care solutions for infants, whose attachment patterns fail to form securely
- Something about the country’s history (slavery is my guess) must have caused traumas that ripple down generations.
Violence is a serious public health issue, and solving it requires us to think – and to feel – differently about the value of human life.