LANSING––Michigan children are nearly three times as likely to be neglected and are twice as likely to be physically abused or sexually assaulted if they live in a county with either an above average or above median rate of hunting participation.
Michigan sells two times more hunting licenses per capita as upstate New York, a closely comparable region, but has seven times the rate of successfully prosecuted child abuse, and twice as high a rate of sexual assault on children.
Michigan and New York, exclusive of New York City, have similar per capita income ($20,453 for Michigan, $20,124 for upstate New York), unemployment rates (7.0% for Michigan, 7.7% for upstate New York), and population density (164 people per square mile for Michigan, 228 people per square mile for upstate New York).
But Michigan sells 16,430 hunting licenses per 100,000 residents; New York, with almost identical licensing requirements, sells 8,627. Only 7% of upstate New York residents hunt; 9.6% of Michigan residents hunt, the third-highest rate of hunting participation in the U.S., behind only Alaska (15%) and Pennsylvania (9.8%).
There are 235.2 identified victims of child abuse per 100,000 Michigan residents, but just 30.2 victims per 100,000 residents of upstate New York. There are 25.4 child victims of sexual assault per 100,000 Michigan residents, but only 13.2 per 100,000 in upstate New York.
In short, Michigan is at the high end of the known U.S. scale for hunting participation, child abuse, and sexual assaults on children and the coincidence is no surprise. Michigan is the third state whose official hunting and child abuse statistics that ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton has examined by comparing hunting license sales and abuse convictions per 100,000 residents on a county-by-county basis, and the third in which rates of hunting participation appear to be as closely associated with crimes against children as the traditional predictors: low population density and low per capita income.
The initial study, covering the 62 counties of New York state, found that in 21 of 22 direct comparisons between counties of almost identical population density, the county with the most hunters also had the most child molesting. Twenty-eight of the 32 New York counties with rates of child molesting above the state median also had more than the median rate of hunting. The complete data appeared in the March 1994 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE.
Data published in the November 1994 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE demonstrated that among the 88 counties of Ohio, those with more than the median number of hunters per 100,000 residents have 51% more reported child abuse, including 15% more physical violence, 82% more neglect, 33% more sexual abuse, and 14% more emotional maltreatment.
New York, Ohio, and Michigan together have 232 counties for which both hunting and crime statistics are available and 14% of all the hunters in the United States.
The parallels prevalent in all three states support a hypothesis that both hunting and child abuse reflect the degree to which a social characteristic called dominionism prevails in a particular community. Stephen Kellert, in his 1980 study American Attitudes Toward and Knowledge of Animals, commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, defined dominionism as an attitude in which “primary satisfactions [are] derived from mastery or control over animals,” a definition which other investigators have extended to include the exercise of “mastery or control” over women and children. Kellert––who for years now has struggled to deny the import of his findings––reported that the degree of dominionism in the American public as a whole rated just 2.0 on a scale of 18. Humane group members rated only 0.9. Recreational hunters, however, rated from 3.8 to 4.1, while trappers scored 8.5.
Isolating the influence
While demonstrating the statistical association of hunting with child abuse is easy, separating the influence of hunting on abuse statistics from the influences of isolation and poverty requires more math.
In Michigan, factors associated with high rates of child abuse are, in order, less-than-median family income, at 297.1 cases per 100,000 residents; above median hunting participation, 291.7; below median population density, 286.6; below average family income, 273.2; below average population density, 263.5; and above average hunting participation, 263.3.
Hunters may take heart that in terms of simple numbers, poverty appears to be slightly more closely associated with child abuse than hunting participation. But the factors associated with high rates of sexual abuse of children show high hunting participation in first place, at 40.7 victims per 100,000 residents for above median hunting participation; low population density second, at 39.1; above average hunting participation third, at 38.4; below average population density third, at 38.3; and level of income of possible minor importance. Below-average income weighs in at 31.3, well over the norm of 19.2 for counties of above-average income, but median rates of sex abuse are virtually identical among both high- and low-income counties.
In each set of averages and medians the margins are often so very narrow as to be perhaps illusory. Child abuse in all forms is believed by most experts to be significantly under-reported, especially in rural areas where witnesses are few. A handful more reported cases in counties of low population density could markedly change the order of the figures.
A more accurate measure of the relative influence of population density, income, and hunting upon child abuse is the differential. The differential is the difference between the norm for all counties above the median or average for the characteristic being examined, and the norm for all counties below that median or average. Using differentials offsets the distortion that may result from a relatively few incidents occurring in a county of very low population. The wider the differential, the more important the characteristic is likely to be in shaping the difference.
Relative to overall incidence of child abuse, the differentials for population density, income, and hunting participation are all closely comparable, ranging from .73 to .80, except that an increase in per capita income of $5,000 is predictably associated with markedly less child abuse.
The differentials for physical abuse are narrow among both medians and averages, suggesting that while population density, income, and hunting participation may all have some relationship to such abuse, showing up in the averages but not the medians, none of these factors are stronger than any of the others.
Both low population density and poverty have a predictably strong influence on the incidence of physical neglect, social neglect, and miscellaneous offenses, of which abandonment and diversion of child welfare benefits are most frequently prosecuted. Counties with more than the median amount of hunting participation also have wide differentials for physical neglect, social neglect, and miscellaneous offenses against children, but this could be considered a mere byproduct of their population and income characteristics.
Measuring by averages, low population density, low income, and high hunting participation all coincide with sharply elevated rates of sexual abuse of children. Measuring by medians, however, income as above noted seems to be much less a factor than either rural location or hunting partipation and of these factors, hunting weighs heaviest.
In any event, the coincidence of high hunting participation with both poverty and child abuse is in itself indicative that hunting may be symptomatic of a poor social environment.
(See also “New York state statistics show link: hunters & molesters,” http://www.animals24-7.org/…/new-york-state-statistics…/; and Ohio data confirms hunting/child abuse link: stronger than link to rural poverty,” http://www.animals24-7.org/…/ohio-data-confirms…/.)