June 11, 2012

Child Abuse: Are Atheists More Likely to be Victims?

Child abuseIt all started when I was reading a few threads over at Reddit/r/atheism. I know, I'm not supposed to enjoy /r/atheism because some of the people who are active there are sexist and have posted inappropriate comments on innocent photos of young women. But I've learned that those who do this sort of thing are a small minority and that there are some really good discussions at /r/atheism. In fact, I've had trouble getting a few of them out of my head for a few days now, and I want to write about one issue they helped bring to my attention.

LGBT teens and pre-teens appear to be at an increased risk of child abuse and neglect from Christian parents due to their sexual orientation. We've heard countless stories of these kids being thrown out of their homes, disowned, threatened, and beaten. We've seen the research documenting their elevated suicide rate compared to their heterosexual peers, and we know that family support is a critical protective factor. In short, we are well aware of the damage hateful Christian parents can inflict on LGBT children and teens.

What gets far less attention is the plight of atheist children and teens living in similar households. Disturbing personal accounts abound, and they certainly resemble what we have heard from LGBT youth. Atheist teens talk about being thrown out of their homes, threatened, and even physically assaulted by fundamentalist Christian parents and other family members. There is little doubt that this is occurring, but there has been very little (if any) research documenting the rates of abuse and neglect experienced by atheist youth. Thus, it is tough to get a handle on how common it is.

Child abuse and neglect are serious social problems that cut across the demographic spectrum. We know that some groups are particularly likely to be victimized (e.g., children with disabilities), but I am beginning to wonder if atheists are also at increased risk.

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