TOLEDO, Ohio––The number of hunters in a county more accurately predicts the level of child abuse than either population density or median income, according to a new study of Ohio state statistics and the findings apply to all four standard categories of abuse, including physical violence, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional maltreatment.
Overall, Ohio counties 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.
Rural location and poverty are the two traditional predictors of child abuse but by contrast, Ohio counties of less than the median population density have only 46% more reported child abuse than the state norm. Counties of less than median per capita income have just 25% more reported child abuse than the norm, not even half as much as the heavy hunting counties. On a statewide basis, hunting license sales per 100,000 residents is from a fourth to a third more closely predictive of both neglect and sexual abuse than either low population density or low median income.
The Ohio data, analyzed by ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton, using standard statistical methods, supports the findings of a similar study of New York state hunting and crime rates, published in March 1994. The New York study found a strong association between hunting and child molesting, also independent of the association with population density, but did not consider the association with poverty because adequate per capita income data was unavailable. In New York, in 21 of 22 direct comparisons between counties of almost identical population density, the county with the most hunters also had the most child molesters. Twenty-eight of the 32 counties with rates of child molestation above the state median also had more than the median rate of hunting.
The Ohio and New York data cannot be directly compared because of major differences in record-keeping: Ohio tracks verified incidents involving children, while New York tracks prosecutions, and the two states differently categorize many specific offenses. Cultural differences also require the use of different measuring tools. While 47 of the 62 counties in New York have fewer than 400 residents per square mile, they still vary enough in population density that sub-groupings at particular plateau densities are easily extracted for comparative purposes. In Ohio, 77 of 88 counties have fewer than 400 residents per square mile, and the differences in population density are often so slight that it is difficult to tell where sub-groupings should begin or end. Population plateaus, if there are any, are not obvious. In consequence, the distribution of both hunting rates and rates of child abuse appear superficially to be almost random.
The Amish factor
Indeed, in Ohio the association of hunting with sexual abuse in particular appears to weaken relative to population density when the comparison is based on averages rather than medians but the raw averages are misleading because of the unusually low rates of child abuse in several counties whose relatively high rates of hunting license sales are offset by the presence of large traditional Mennonite and Hutterite religious communities. Members of these communities are known for having large extended families, with close family bonds and close adherance to religious beliefs that would inhibit both child abuse and the reporting of abuse to outside authorities. Of the five counties with the most Mennonites and Hutterites Holmes, Tuscarawas, Wayne, Geauga, and Trumbull only Tuscarawas even reaches the median level in reported incidents of child abuse, no others are remotely close, and only Wayne reaches the median level in sexual abuse. Of the eleven counties with the most hunters per capita, two Holmes and Gallia have such a visibly strong Mennonite and Hutterite presence that they also have the lowest overall rates of child abuse, and most pronouncedly, sexual abuse, of any counties among the 44 with the most hunting participation. Subtracting the heavily Mennonite and Hutterite counties from the averages produces approximately the same stratification as appears in the medians.
However, it is not necessary to subtract the counties with a noteworthy Mennonite and Hutterite presence to achieve meaningful comparisons. Simply dividing the 88 Ohio counties into eight groups of 11 each demonstrates that the superficial appearance of randomness actually conceals important patterns, which emerge when the counties are grouped in order of hunter density, in order of population density, and in order of per capita income. In each order, rates of both hunting participation and child abuse rise as population density and per capita income decline.
The relative importance of hunting, population density, and per capita income in predicting child abuse emerges from comparing medians and averages. The difference between the median or average of counties above the Ohio norms and below the Ohio norms is called the differential. The higher the differential, the greater the predictive value of the statistic. Clifton used three different means of comparison: medians of counties above the state medians were measured against the medians of counties falling below the state medians; averages of counties above the state medians were measured against the averages of counties below the state medians; and averages of counties above the state average were stacked up against the averages of counties falling below the state averages.
Using the averages/averages comparison, hunting appeared to be the best predictor of all types of child abuse except sexual abuse. This is the least accurate form of comparison, however, since averages tend to homogenize data, incorporating the distortions produced by the Mennonite and Hutterite counties on the one hand and those produced by the relatively few heavily urbanized counties on the other.
Comparing the averages of counties above and below the state median likewise incorporates distortion, but the distortion is reduced somewhat because in this comparison there are an equal number of counties on either side of the baseline. In the averages/medians comparison, low population density seems to be the best predictor for child abuse in general, and also, by a much smaller margin over hunting, for predicting physical abuse and sexual abuse. However, hunting remains the best predictor of neglect, and becomes a better predictor of emotional maltreatment.
The most accurate comparison minimizes distortion by comparing medians to medians. In this comparison the differentials show hunting as the strongest predictor of all child abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse. Low population density appears to be a very slightly stronger predictor of physical abuse, and a better predictor of emotional malreatment.
Hunting vs. poverty
The clincher comes in examining which combinations of hunting, income, and population density produce the strongest associations with child abuse. One hypothesis trumpeted by hunters in response to the New York study is that the association of hunting with child abuse is merely an artifact of poverty and rural background. In other words, both hunting and child abuse might be related to low income living at a low population density, but they might have no intrinsic relationship to one another.
If this is the case, the association of hunting with child abuse should disappear in counties with high levels of hunting but also above median income per capita and population density. The New York data did in fact demonstrate that the association between hunting and sexual abuse of children held up, even at above median and above average population densities. The Ohio data even more emphatically the establishes the association, by weighing the influence of income as well as that of population density. Of the seven Ohio counties with both above-median hunting participation and above-median per capita income, only the heavily Mennonite county of Geauga is not significantly above the state median and average in total child abuse and every subclassification of child abuse. The strongest associations are with emotional maltreatment and sexual abuse.
By contrast, the 12 Ohio counties with both below-average per capita income and below-average hunting participation are only slightly above the Ohio median in most categories of child abuse, and are actually below the Ohio average in all categories but sexual abuse.
Ohio counties with both above average hunting and above average per capita income have up to 34% more physical abuse, 12% more neglect, 40% more sexual abuse, and 70% more emotional maltreatment of children than counties with below average hunting and below average per capita income.
One possible explanation for the association of hunting with child abuse is that the process of hunting, or learning to hunt, may somehow produce abusive personalities. In this event, assuming accurate data collection, the rates of any crimes associated with hunting should go up or down parallel to the rate of hunting itself. While this tendency appears to some extent in both the New York and Ohio data, rates of hunting participation rise at a faster rate in both states than rates of child abuse. This is more suggestive of the possibility that crimes against children are more frequent in areas with high hunting rates because of a psychological trait called dominionism. Yale researcher and hunting apologist Stephen J. Kellert in his 1980 study American Attitudes Toward and Knowledge of Animals defined the dominionistic personality as one whose primary satisfactions [are] derived from mastery and control over animals––a definition he denied writing when approached by media for comment on the New York study.
Most people have some dominionistic feelings, but through interviewing 3,107 randomly selected Americans, Kellert found that on a scale of 18, members of humane groups rated 0.9 for dominionism; anti-hunters rated 1.2; the general public 2.0; and hunters from 3.3 to 4.1, with the highest score belonging to trophy hunters. Thus hunters are on average twice as dominionistic as the average American. While the hunting culture may encourage the development and expression of dominionism, dominionistic individuals apparently also feel a more compelling urge to hunt than those who hunt primarily for other reasons, such as to spend time with buddies and to get outdoors.
As the New York study preface explained, “One effect of the decline in hunting and trapping participation (since 1980, as the U.S. hunting population has dropped from more than 20 million to circa 14 million) may have been to lower the number of hunters and trappers with other motivations, while increasing the percentage who are driven by dominionism among the remainder.”
According to the dominionism hypothesis, at high rates of hunting participation, the majority of hunters may be involved mainly for social reasons. As the rate of hunting participation drops, and hunting becomes less socially acceptable, those involved for social reasons are the first to quit, while dominionistic hunters are likely to hunt the most and longest.
Plateau of abuse
If dominionism is the common link between hunting and child abuse, one might expect to find a plateau level of abuse reflective of the percentage of dominionistic men in the hunting population, existing independent of rates of overall hunting participation in the counties with the most hunters per capita, where large numbers of hunters may still be involved mainly for social reasons. As hunting rates drop, and hunting becomes less socially acceptable, the level of child abuse might remain close to the plateau, reflecting the continued activity of dominionists, even as non-dominionistic hunters put aside their weapons. Child abuse would decrease only as dominionism decreases, which might occur in part because of decrease in the amount of hunter training in a given county, in part because of a general rejection of the values of hunting, and partly too because dominionistic hunters might be motivated to leave counties where increasing amounts of land are posted off limits. An exodus of dominionistic hunters into counties whose cultures welcome hunting could gradually concentrate both high levels of hunting and high levels of child abuse into the same counties as may already be happening.
A more definitive study would check the identities of convicted child abusers against recent rosters of licensed hunters, but since the identities of hunters are kept confidential, this study could only be done through the cooperation of fish and wildlife departments with the justice departments of the same states an unlikely prospect given that most fish and wildlife departments are funded largely by hunting license sales and are directed by hunting advocates.
(See also “New York state statistics show link: hunters & molesters,” https://www.animals24-7.org/…/new-york-state-statistics…/; and “Michigan stats confirm hunting/child abuse link,” https://www.animals24-7.org/…/michigan-stats-confirm…/..)
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