Prevalence Battered Women Essay

Accurate estimation of the prevalence of domestic abuse or intimate partner violence (IPV) has been an issue from the time it was “discovered” in the 1970s and continues to be debated today. Having accurate estimates is important for several reasons, including allocation of societal resources to address the problem and assessment of whether progress is being made to ameliorate IPV. Estimating its incidence (rate during a defined period of time such as the past year) and prevalence (rate of its occurrence ever in one’s lifetime) has been challenging due to continuing stigma associated with being battered or abused. This stigma makes it difficult to get accurate reports of just how common it is for women to be abused by a partner. Central to the issue of accurately measuring the extent of woman battering or IPV is how it is defined.


Over time, researchers and advocates for battered women have tended to define battering or IPV more comprehensively. Initially, domestic violence tended to be defined as physical aggression or violence by a male partner toward a female partner. But as our understanding of domestic abuse deepened, we learned that women who were physically abused also tended to be emotionally or psychologically abused and often sexually abused as well. Thus, the extent of woman battering or IPV tends to be related in part to how broadly or narrowly it is defined. The more types of abuse that are encompassed in the definition, the higher the estimates will be.

There are other methodological issues that affect measurement of the extent of IPV that include the following:

  • Sampling (the size of the group studied and how well it represents the population of people it is supposed to represent in terms of important characteristics such as age, ethnicity, education, and income)
  • Data collection methods (e.g., whether people are interviewed in person or by telephone or are asked to complete a paper-and-pencil survey on their own, as well as the exact wording of questions asked; in general, more behaviorally specific questions yield higher and more accurate estimates of abuse)
  • Time at risk (the past year versus over the course of a lifetime and whether estimates cover adolescence as well as adulthood or just adulthood)
  • Whether threats or attempts at violence are included or only actual acts of violence
  • Whether estimates are based on reports from only the female member of the couple or are based on couple agreement (this is important in that women tend to report higher rates of victimization than men report perpetrating)

Prevalence Studies Of IPV

Physical Violence

There have been several national prevalence studies of physical abuse, beginning in the 1970s: the National Family Violence Surveys of 1975, 1985, and 1992; the National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS) conducted jointly by the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which asks about criminal victimization in U.S. households; the National Survey of Families and Households; and a study of IPV conducted as part of the National Alcohol Survey.

As a group these studies yield widely varied prevalence estimates as a result of several methodological differences among them. At the high end, two studies suggest that as few as 8% and as many as 21% of American couples, married or cohabiting, had experienced an act of physical violence during the previous year. Regarding individual rates, the NVAWS reported a lifetime physical assault rate for women of 25%. Past year rates of individual physical victimization in the NVAWS and NCVS were 1.3% and .9%, respectively. In contrast, two other recent national surveys have reported somewhat higher rates of 1-year female victimization by male partners: 3.4% and 5.4%.

However, these studies concur that acts of less severe violence such as pushing, grabbing, or shoving occur with much greater frequency than more serious acts such as hitting with an object, choking, punching, beating up, or using a weapon. At least half of IPV victims have reported that they were abused on multiple occasions. Female victims of IPV are more likely to be injured; rates of injury are reported to be in the 25% to 50% range. According to the NCVS, about three quarters of intimate partner homicide victims are women.

Rates of IPV do not vary randomly across all women. Virtually all the national studies find similar patterns in who is most at risk of being physically abused or battered by an intimate partner. Those at higher risk tend to be younger, with the peak risk being in the late adolescence to early adulthood range; have less formal education; are poor; are separated, divorced, dating, or cohabiting versus married; live in urban areas; and are American Indian or African American. Regarding sexual orientation, few methodologically strong studies have been conducted. It appears that gay men and lesbians are as likely or more likely to be physically abused by an intimate partner than are heterosexuals.

Trends In Violence Against Women By Intimates

Criminal victimization of women by intimate partners declined between 1992 and 2001 by almost 50%, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. In 1993, about 1% of women experienced a nonfatal victimization by an intimate partner, compared to .5% in 2001. In contrast, female homicide by an intimate partner dropped after 1993 by about 21% after a two-decade period of relative stability. The NCVS reported that in 1998 about three quarters of intimate partner murder victims were women, up from about half in 1976.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse (EA) or psychological abuse has not been as well researched as physical or sexual abuse, in part because there is no consensus on how it should be defined. Unlike physical or sexual abuse, definitions of EA often focus more on intent than specific behaviors. EA is defined here as a pattern of (recurrent) behaviors or communications that are intended to harm a woman’s well-being. It appears that the most common types experienced are ridicule and other forms of verbal abuse, restriction of freedom, and jealousy. Prevalence of EA is said to be extremely high in intimate relationships, with some studies showing that a majority of those in relationships report acts of emotional or psychological abuse. However, studies of battered women have found EA to be virtually universal in such women, who report it to be extremely harmful to well-being.

Sexual Violence

Women are more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted by an intimate partner, friend, or acquaintance than by a stranger. The NVAWS reported a rate of 7.7% for lifetime rape by an intimate partner, and .2% of women reported being raped by an intimate partner in the previous 12 months. About half of these women reported the sexual assault to have occurred on multiple occasions. In the NVAWS, about a third of rape victims sustained injury.

Marital rape is a serious crime and is as “real” as rape by a stranger; in fact, it is estimated to be the most prevalent type of rape and is at least as harmful to well-being as stranger rape. Small-scale studies have reported that 9% to 14% of married women have reported rape or attempted rape by their husbands. Most of these sexually assaulted women are also physically and/or emotionally abused by their husbands. Studies of battered women have found that a third to a half reported having been raped by their husbands, oftentimes on more than one occasion.

Rates Of Abuse

We are closer to being able to accurately measure the extent of abuse in intimate relationships, although there is still not a consensus on all aspects of the problem, in particular the most effective ways to measure extent of abuse and what should be considered emotional or psychological abuse. There is significant variation in rates of physical violence by male partners across well-designed national studies. However, we can conclude that substantial numbers of women are being abused by intimate partners—physically, emotionally, and sexually. As many as one in five women report having been physically abused by an intimate partner in their lifetimes, and at least 1% to 5% of women are physically assaulted each year. A substantial proportion of these physical and sexual assaults result in injury. Women who are young, poor, from certain ethnic minority groups, poorly educated, separated from their partner, and who live in urban areas are more vulnerable to being abused by a male partner. Although these forms of abuse can occur by themselves, oftentimes they co-occur.

However, recent national data suggest that rates of physical abuse may be dropping, perhaps in response to decades of research, programming, and prevention work to make the public aware of what constitutes abuse, that women do not deserved to be abused, and that assistance is available to help women escape from abusive relationships.


  1. Bennice, J. A., & Resick, P. A. (2003). Marital rape: History, research, and practice. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 4, 228–246.
  2. Rennison, C. (2003). Intimate partner violence, 1993–2001 [National Crime Victimization Survey]. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  3. Schaefer, J., Caetano, R., & Clark, C. L. (1998). Rates of intimate partner violence in the United States. American Journal of Public Health, 88, 1702–1704.
  4. Tjaden, P., & Thoennes, N. (2000). Extent, nature, and consequences of intimate partner violence (NCJ 181867) [National Violence Against Women Survey]. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs.
  5. Zlotnick, C., Johnson, D. M., & Kohn, R. (2006). Intimate partner violence and long-term psychosocial functioning in a national sample of American women. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 13, 156–166.

Social Contract Essay

The social contract is an agreement between the people and government, according to which rulers agree to rule justly and the people to obey. The idea is most familiar from works of the great contract theorists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau. But it has received considerable recent attention because of the work of John Rawls. In conjunction with the closely related idea of the consent of the governed, the social contract indicates popular control over government. As the people have agreed to it, they may view the contract as broken if government behaves unacceptably.

History Of The Concept

The social contract has a long history. Perhaps the earliest extant version is found in Book II of Plato’s Republic. Plato’s spokesman, Glaucon, argues that rules of justice arose from an agreement. People agreed not to take advantage of others, in exchange for not being taken advantage of themselves. However, this particular agreement established rules of justice, rather than political authorities to enforce them.

The contract developed into something approaching its classic form in the course of medieval struggles to place limits on royal authorities. A recognizable contract was expressed by Manegold of Lautenbach, a Saxon monk, in the late eleventh century, during the Investiture Controversy. Manengold argued that, if we would fire a swineherd who did not take proper care of our pigs, the same should hold with a ruler who did not take care of his charges. Arguments for limited authority were developed in the church by “conciliar” theorists, who claimed that authority in the church was held by the members generally (in different forms) and delegated to church officials on a conditional basis. Implications of this view were realized during the Great Schism of the Church, in the late fourteenth century, as two and later three competing popes contended for power. The Council of Constance (1414–1418), summoned to address the crisis, declared the authority of the council over that of the pope and resolved the problem of competing popes. Even though the conciliar position was beaten back in subsequent years, conciliar ideas were developed by later thinkers, who readily transferred them to secular bodies. An especially clear expression is the Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, written in 1579 to justify resistance against the French monarchy. Arguments based on contracts between the king and the people were central to this and numerous other similar treatises

During the political turmoil of seventeenth-century England, Hobbes performed the impressive feat of using a contract argument to establish absolute government. Hobbes argued that the state of nature is a horrific condition, “a war of all against all” that is only remedied by the establishment of absolute government. To do so, people enter into an agreement that is literally unconditional, not a contract, but rather a grant of power by each individual to the ruler. In exchange for peace, they accept the inviolable authority of government.

The traditional contract doctrine, limiting governmental power, received classic expression in Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. Living under natural law that they enforce themselves in a generally peaceful state of nature, people come into conflict because of their self-interested natures, and so recognize the need for an impartial umpire. They leave the state of nature in two stages, through two agreements, forming first a community and then government. Although Locke does not refer to the crucial second agreement as a contract—he uses the language of “trust”—when its terms are violated, people have the right to resist.

The contract takes a radically democratic turn in Rousseau’s Social Contract. In his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Rousseau depicts natural man as little different from an ape, but happy and morally innocent. The movement into society corrupts man, a condition that can be largely reversed in a properly organized society. The remedy is the new contract Rousseau presents in The Social Contract. People give up all their rights to the community, receiving in return rights to vote on all laws. For Rousseau, only the terms of this particular contract can render government legitimate. The only legitimate form is direct democracy, in which the people rule themselves, with their votes determining the “general will.”

The historicity of a Lockean contract was sharply criticized by David Hume, in his essay, “Of the Original Contract.” Although he agrees with what he views as Locke’s fundamental claim concerning the limited nature of political power, Hume rejects an actual historical contract. There is no record of one, and people have no recollection of entering into one. Hume argues for limited government on grounds of social utility, without the fictions of an original state of nature or social contract. Government is necessary for the good of society. But if it ceases to be useful, it loses its rationale and so also its authority. Because of the enormous costs of changing governments, revolution can be justified only if governments become egregiously tyrannical. But in essence, this is what Locke too had held.

Hume’s arguments did considerable damage to the idea of an actual social contract, which had always been vulnerable on historical grounds. Although theorists had used it as an analytical device, they tended to be ambiguous in regard to its historical existence. Accordingly, Immanuel Kant made an important contribution, in viewing the contract as purely hypothetical, rather than an historical occurrence. Kant argues that government is limited by the terms of a hypothetical agreement, which the united people could accept.

Recent Developments

Contract arguments were revived by John Rawls. In his monumental A Theory of Justice (1971), Rawls self-consciously places himself in the contract tradition. He argues that appropriate principles of justice are the product of an agreement between representative individuals in an artificial choice situation, the “original position.” The representative individuals are placed behind a “veil of ignorance,” which deprives them of knowledge of their personal attributes— age, race, level of talents, and so on—and so prevents them from choosing principles that would advantage themselves at the expense of other people. With Rawls and other recent thinkers who argue along similar lines, the contract is not only a purely analytical device, but is used to identify appropriate moral principles, rather than to constitute a limit on legitimate political authority.


  1. Cahn, Steven M. Classics of Modern Political Theory: Machiavelli to Mill. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  2. Hobbes,Thomas. Leviathan, edited by Richard Tuck. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  3. Locke, John. “Second Treatise of Government.” In Two Treatises of Government, edited by Peter Laslett, 265–428. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.
  4. Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice, rev. ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999.
  5. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Basic Political Writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, edited by Peter Gay. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987

Fraternities and Violence Essay

There are two very distinct literatures on violence as related to fraternities, with only the smallest overlap. One literature, on hazing, touches lightly on predominantly White (PW) fraternities and is mainly concerned with violence in hazing in historically Black (HB) fraternities. The other literature is almost completely focused on PW fraternities and deals with sexually predatory and aggressive practices. In neither case is the empirical support in the literature particularly strong.

Sexual Aggression

Sexual aggression and date rape are discussed here only in the context of PW fraternities, as there has been little research on these behaviors in HB fraternities. Often, people studying fraternities have felt that these organizations have provided a sort of subculture that insulates their members from the general norms or rules of the entire campus. Over the years, studies have shown that fraternities promote conformity, and earlier work showed that fraternity members were more likely to be accepting of racial prejudice and hate crimes. A preoccupation with loyalty, a very strong concern with masculinity, and the abuse of alcohol can easily lead to either individual or group violence. A historic indifference by most college administrations to violence against women has provided a lack of deterrence that allows such behavior to continue. If fraternity men think that they can get away with violence against women, it is because on most campuses, most of the time, they can.

Most of the citations in the literature have been to the earlier ethnographic studies of Patricia Martin and Robert Hummer or Peggy Sanday, or to an array of surveys on rape supportive attitudes, which did not find as clear an association between PW fraternity membership and self-reported sexual aggression as more recent empirical studies have found. For example, in a meta-analysis of a variety of empirical studies, researchers found a significant but modest relationship between fraternity membership and admitted sexual aggression. One reason why the effect is only modest may be that researchers lumped all fraternity members together into one pool, while in truth some fraternities may be more sexually aggressive than others. Further, fraternities are rarely monolithic entities where all members think alike; some members may be much more sexually aggressive than others, especially where they are more influenced by male peer support networks. Thus, those who live in the on campus houses of the most predatory chapters may be the most influenced by male peer support and perhaps be the most aggressive. Male peer support further sustains hyper masculinity, group secrecy that promotes a lack of deterrence, and a culture of alcohol abuse that has repeatedly been associated with sexual aggression. Research indicates that bedroom wall pictures show that fraternity men engage more in the sexual objectification of women.

Physical Hazing

Hazing is rarely recognized as a criminal act, although virtually all states have laws against it. It has a long history on American campuses, particularly in the 19th century, but more recently it seems to have been limited mainly to fraternities and sororities. Hazing might include relatively lesser forms of degradation (marching around campus, singing songs on the campus green, wearing beanies), or it might include any uncomfortable activity that a young person could think up for the pledge: for example, spanking with paddles as often as daily for months or a year, forced drinking of large quantities of alcohol, eating disgusting foods designed to induce vomiting, being left outdoors in winter overnight wearing only underwear, not being allowed to sleep for days. Both fraternities and sororities practice mental forms of hazing, which are commonly dismissed as pranks, but which have occasionally left pledges so affected that they develop such symptoms as speech impediments.

To deal with abuses, physical hazing is banned today by all fraternity national organizations and central offices, such as the National Pan-Hellenic Council, the coordinating body for the eight historically African American fraternities and sororities, which has banned hazing in any form whatsoever. Spurred by the potential liability from lawsuits by harmed students, universities have also instituted strong antihazing rules. However, the net effect has been to hide the extent of current hazing; anywhere it continues it has been driven off campus and underground, where critics claim that it is getting more physically abusive beyond the control of campus officials and alumni.

There are strong pressures to keep hazing alive. Students often have not bought into the antihazing prohibitions. Alumni may be strong advocates of hazing and a problem in preventing university action. Pledges volunteer for hazing, not unlike some street gangs where those who join without major pain and stress are given much less prestige as members than those who are beaten. This has been particularly true in some HB chapters, where it may be a badge of masculinity, self-esteem, and pride to have undergone painful hazing.

Virtually all of the literature on hazing suggests that although PW fraternities are now only using humiliation techniques, some HB fraternities still engage in serious beatings of pledges and branding of members. In PW fraternities, pressure from national chapters seems to have cut back or ended beatings in the past 20 to 30 years, although a lack of alcohol and beatings has not meant an end to deaths or injuries in PW hazing.


  1. Jones, R. L. (1994). Black haze: Violence, sacrifice and manhood in black Greek-letter fraternities. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  2. Murnen, S. K., & Kohlman, M. H. (2007). Athletic participation, fraternity membership, and sexual aggression among college men: A meta-analytic review. Sex Roles, 57, 145–157.
  3. Ruffins, P. (1997). Fratricide: Are African American fraternities beating themselves to death? Black Issues in Higher Education, 14(8), 18–25.
  4. Sanday, P. R. (2007). Fraternity gang rape: Brotherhood and privilege on campus (2nd ed.). New York: New York University Press.
  5. Schwartz, M. D., & DeKeseredy, W. S. (1997). Sexual assault on the college campus: The role of male peer support. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Pregnancy and Violence Against Women Essay

There has been a growing awareness about the prevalence and severity of violence against women during the past several decades. It has been established that women are more likely to be victimized by their intimate partners than by strangers on the street, and there is a substantial amount of information about women’s experiences of emotional, physical, and sexual violence. An important issue that has been raised by researchers is the connection between pregnancy and violence against women.

In 1975, Gelles first drew attention to this issue in a published article by exploring the connection between women’s experiences of violence and pregnancy. Early research with battered women indicated that pregnancy was often a high-risk time for increased violence. Violence during pregnancy can take a variety of forms, but battered women commonly report increased emotional and verbal abuse; physical assaults directed at their breasts and genital and abdominal areas; and sexual violence during pregnancy. Importantly, many women also report sexual violence by their intimate partners immediately following childbirth. Reports about women’s experiences led to an awareness that abuse was a health risk for pregnant women. In 1992, the American Medical Association published a guide that advised practitioners to routinely assess for abuse during prenatal and postpartum visits with women. This guide was also a central focus at the National Conference on Violence and Reproductive Health sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June of 1999.


Some of the earliest studies indicated that 40% to 60% of battered women experienced abuse during pregnancy. More recent research has sought to determine how often violence during pregnancy occurs within the general population of women. Most typically, researchers have found that approximately 4% to 8% of women experience some form of violence when they are pregnant. However, estimates of prevalence vary considerably (from .9% to 20%) with different sampling strategies and measures of violence. This variation has led some researchers to question whether pregnant women are at increased risk for violence compared to nonpregnant women. One important consideration is that young women (under the age of 25) are likely to experience both intimate violence and pregnancy and that it is plausible that the relationship is spurious. Although researchers have not concluded with certainty that pregnancy increases a woman’s chance of being abused by her partner, there is sufficient evidence to indicate that being pregnant does not necessarily offer women protection from an intimate partner.

Sociological Considerations

Women’s experiences of violence from their intimate partners vary greatly, and recent research indicates the importance of considering sexual violence and women’s experiences of unintended pregnancies. Research indicates that once some battered women are pregnant, they experience a protective period where they suffer less violence; however, others experience an increase in the frequency and severity of violence. Some women’s experiences of violence by their partners do not change regardless of the pregnancy.

Women may experience violence by their partner during one pregnancy yet not with another pregnancy. For those who experience violence during pregnancy, it can occur at any time during pregnancy, although some researchers have found that the violence is likely to escalate during the third trimester.

There are many sociological factors that have been attributed to why someone would abuse his pregnant partner. Male jealousy of the fetus or the attention that many pregnant women receive may be factors contributing to higher levels of violence. Pregnancy is also recognized as a time of change, and differences in the patterns of violence may be the result of challenges to an abusive partner’s control and sense of power in a relationship. Another factor is that some men believe they are entitled to sexually and physically abuse their partners. Pregnancy does not necessarily alter men’s normative expectations about their “right” to abuse their partners; with regard to sexual violence, women’s experiences may escalate if they are prohibited from having sexual intercourse. Pregnancy may be perceived as interfering with some men’s beliefs that they are entitled to have sex with their partner on demand.


Violence against women during pregnancy has serious implications for women and their pregnancy outcomes. Some researchers, such as Campbell, Oliver, and Bullock, have found that battering during pregnancy is a risk factor for more severe abuse in relationships and eventual homicide. Women who are abused by their partners during pregnancy often suffer from anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and suicidal ideation. Physical and sexual abuse during pregnancy has also been linked to miscarriages and stillbirths. Women who are raped by their partners during pregnancy are at risk for sexually transmitted diseases, urinary tract infections, and vaginal and rectal tearing. Many women are sexually abused by their partners following their release from the hospital, and Bohn and Parker note that this abuse can result in increased trauma to the genital area including severe lacerations and failure of episiotomies to heal. Violence against women during pregnancy can seriously affect pregnancy outcome. Many studies associate low birth weight, premature births, fetal bruising, and neonatal death with violence against women during pregnancy. Thus, violence against women during pregnancy is a serious problem with significant effects.


  1. Bohn, D., ; Parker, B. (1993). Domestic violence and pregnancy: Health effects and implications for the nursing practice. In J. Campbell ; J. Humphreys (Eds.), Nursing care of survivors of family violence (chap. 6). St. Louis, MO: C.V. Mosby.
  2. Campbell, J. (2002). Health consequences of intimate partner violence. The Lancet, 359(9314), 1331–1336.
  3. Campbell, J., Oliver, C., ; Bullock, L. (1998). The dynamics of battering during pregnancy. In J. Campbell (Ed.), Empowering survivors of abuse (pp. 81–90). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  4. Gazmararian, J. A., Lazorick, S., Spitz, A., Ballard, T., Saltzman, L., ; Marks, J. (1996). Prevalence of violence against pregnant women. Journal of the American Medical Association, 275, 1915–1920.
  5. Gelles, R. (1975). Violence in pregnancy: A note on the extent of the problem and needed services. Family Coordinator, 24, 81–86.
  6. Libbus, M., Bullock, L., Nelson, T., Robrecht, L., Curry, M. A., ; Bloom, T. (2006). Abuse during pregnancy: Current theory and new contextual understandings. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 27, 927–938.
  7. Newberger, E., Barkan, S., Lieverman, E., McCormick, M., Yllo, K., Gary, L., et al. (1992). Abuse of pregnant women and adverse birth outcomes: Current knowledge and implications for practice. Journal of American Medical Association, 267, 2370–2373.

Social Conservatism Essay

Social conservatism is an ideological perspective on how individuals in free societies ought to respond to matters having to do with moral beliefs or behavior, cultural traditions, religious institutions, or patterns of social interaction generally. It involves the desire to see older norms and assumptions regarding all of these matters to be preserved. Hence, social conservative thinkers either oppose or are cautious about individual innovations in personal habits and preferences, marriage and family arrangements, civic rituals and customs, religious observances, and so forth.

In general, social conservatism reflects the concerns advanced by Edmund Burke, as well as other late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century writers who confronted modern revolutionary or democratic movements and transformations, and warned against or tried to moderate the changes being wrought by them. Their arguments were that society is not a social contract between individuals, but rather an organism, a living culture with a specific history and specific classes and customs that must be acknowledged; that social accomplishments depend on maintaining a foundation of traditions from which the members of society draw their inspiration and connection to the past and the future; and that a healthy society is one with both stability and continuity, which only widely accepted, shared, and promoted public values and practices can provide. These ideological beliefs form the traditional core of most socially conservative movements and parties around the world. However, many social conservatives today, while agreeing with these basic insights, have come to premise their ideological perspective on much more explicitly religious (generally Western Christian) doctrines than was the case with Burke and other “traditional conservatives.” So thorough has been the merging of the cultural concerns felt by many Protestants and Catholics with the language of traditional conservatism in the United States that the label Christian right often has come to be used interchangeably with social conservatism itself.

Social conservatism in this sense is therefore a much stronger force in the United States than in other North American or western European countries, as the United States is by most measures a heavily Christian country, with high rates of religious affiliation and a frequent reliance on and a broad acceptance of religious rhetoric and arguments in political discourse. (The prevalence of this particular Americanized image of social conservatism around the world often leads various parties and movements that otherwise agree with certain principles of traditional conservatism, especially those associated with the ideas conveyed through the mostly secular Counter-Enlightenment tradition of Justus Moser or Joseph de Maistre, to eschew the label social conservative entirely.) This kind of social conservatism has been a growing presence in American politics and policy debates since the early 1970s, with the controversy over abortion rights, which exploded following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973 to legalize abortion across the nation, often identified as the real beginning of the contemporary Christian conservative movement. But the ideology of social conservatism has been influential elsewhere as well. Contests over norms and laws regulating or permitting pornography, Sunday commerce restrictions, no-fault divorce, sex education in public schools, access to birth control, state-sponsored gambling, public funding of controversial or arguably offensive works of speech or art, homosexual behavior, and most recently homosexual marriages, have all been arenas in which social conservative thinkers, activists, and voters have been a major influence.

While initially many of these concerns had been seen as the sole and narrow concerns of various evangelical or fundamentalist Protestant sects, through the 1980s and 1990s they became important concerns for many conservative Catholic thinkers and voters as well. The merging of many evangelical and Catholic Christians into one socially conservative cultural and political movement (predominantly but not solely in the United States) had a large impact on not only party allegiances, but also on how the language and ideas of traditional conservatism have been adapted and used to advance various causes. For example, for many years in the United States. both Catholic and “social gospel” Protestant thinkers had seen—in different ways—their moral priorities as requiring an emphasis on progressive or communitarian responses to the problems facing their adherents. In this, American Christians often tended to follow European Christian socialist or democratic patterns (the Catholic church in Europe has long combined socially conservative perspectives on moral and civic matters with a support for social justice in economics). But in recent decades the secularization of American society has, for many believers, pushed those concerns aside in favor of a focus on conserving specific moral or religious norms and practices that often are grounded on common Christian beliefs shared across denominational lines. This synthesis, sometimes called the conservatism, has had some influence on conservative parties and movements elsewhere around the globe, but for the most part this particular mix of concerns under the label of social conservatism remains an American phenomenon.

Social conservatism has had an ambiguous intellectual relationship with the development of neoconservatism in the United States. While some of the “new conservative” thinking that emerged alongside critiques of the social changes and egalitarian policies of the 1960s and 1970s did turn to social conservative ideas to buttress their arguments about the need for cultural standards and stability, not all did, with the result that the neoconservative intellectual camp remains divided between those who are doubtful of the religious tone of much social conservatism and those who embrace populist religious conservatism as a part of the neoconservative project.


  1. Brown, Ruth. For a Christian America. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus, 2002.
  2. Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution of France. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992.
  3. Himmelfarb, Gertrude. The De-moralization of Society. New York: Vintage, 1996.
  4. Hitchens, Peter. The Abolition of Britain. London: Quartet, 2000.
  5. Kirk, Russell. The Conservative Mind. New York: Avon, 1968.
  6. Muller, Jerry, ed. Conservatism: An Anthology of Social and Political Thought. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997.
  7. Neuhaus, Richard. The Naked Public Square. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1986.
  8. Will, George F. Statecraft as Soulcraft. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.

Foucault, Michel Essay

Michel Foucault (1926–84) was a French philosopher who made significant contributions to the academic discourses of continental philosophy, social theory, and the history of ideas, literary criticism, and criminology. Additionally, Foucault’s arguments have greatly informed significant debates in areas such as history, sociology, political theory, feminism, linguistics, cultural studies, and psychoanalysis. His 1975 book Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison, translated and first published in English in 1977 as Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, is a historical narrative of the micropower struggles that developed in Western society from the start of the 18th century and focuses especially on social institutions such as prisons and schools.

In Foucault’s study, the prison is essentially a prototypical model of the modern, disciplinary society. Accordingly, the emergence of the prison that Foucault historically narrates in his study functions at the level of the institution as a microcosm of such a modern, disciplinary society. Foucault outlined and characterized a shift in historical epochs, a transformation from a sovereign society to a disciplinary society, in his work on the prison. Through the 1970s and 1980s, his study strongly influenced social control theories in a number of Western countries. Among Foucault’s most significant contributions were his relentless efforts to understand and document the historically contingent but, nonetheless, normalizing techniques of power, social control, and domination that had become characteristic of European and North American culture.

Discipline and Punish

Foucault’s Discipline and Punish is not simply a historical treatment of punishment. The study represents a structural analysis of power, which in its purely modern form Foucault designates as “discipline.” It aims to describe how domination is achieved and the way individuals are socially constructed in the modern world. Foucault begins his study from a penal history point of view, which helps bring into light his study’s theme of the way repressive forms of governance, such as execution, dissolved over time into new, milder reforming techniques represented in the birth of the prison. He finds that gentler forms of control such as inspection, discipline, and “normalization” have come to take the place of repressive violence in strategies of law and government. In such fashion, the prison is conceptualized by Foucault as epitomizing all of the former social forms, not because of its institutional structure but rather because it is a place where modern techniques of control are commenced in full capacity. Consequently, a close analysis of the machinery of imprisonment, and the knowledge on which it is based, forms the basis for a general anatomy of modern form of power and control. It is an approach to imprisonment that conceives it exclusively as a form of control.

Discipline and Punish revolutionized the study of crime and punishment, particularly in Foucault’s argument that criminology is a discourse/ practice that in a sense creates the category of criminality. This category is then imposed punitively on behaviors that formerly were viewed as socially legitimate or simply ignored as bizarre. Foucault helps sociologists view deviance in terms of the experiences and meanings that construct it. Foucault’s postmodern theory of discipline stresses the inherent resistances that people mount against their labeling and differential treatment. He uses cultural and historical data in a novel way to assemble a theory of social control that neglects neither aggregate nor microlevel phenomena.

In Discipline and Punish, Foucault examined the prison as generating the conditions for modes of productive surveillance and inventive control. Foucault found that the expansion of the disciplinary powers had enabled the psychiatric control of the underclass in his earlier study Madness and Civilization. He argued that the disciplinary power of prisons and psychiatric institutions resides in the applications of technical knowledge (including forensic psychiatry and epidemiology) to justice. In such cases, the aims of these scientific truths are commenced in the normative practices of objectification, classification, and quantification. Foucault found that it is not so much the actual danger that the individual represents, as much as his/her embodied difference in psychiatric and penal settings.

For instance, governments may attempt to regulate such a difference through sustained intervention practices (including prescription drug therapy) in times of confinement. These practices are deemed appropriate given the existing medical knowledge of modern society. Foucault finds that such knowledge, as an extension of power engaging certain scientific truths, is just. Foucault’s critique of modern society in part rests on the idea that mental illness is not a phenomenon that can be historically situated. In relation to the institutionalization of potentially dangerous individuals, imprisonment is not justified unless a crime has been committed. According to Foucault, the formation of the psychiatric institution and its normative and prescriptive, purportedly therapeutic value was an attempt to justify the deprivation of an individual’s freedom, which was formally administered in the imposition of punishment.

Foucault’s Contributions to Social Control Theory and Criminal Justice Ethics

Foucault’s critiques of institutions, such as psychiatric and penal institutions, viewed confinement of the noncriminal as a method of controlling, or isolating, the socially undesirable individual. In line with other justice systems, Foucault argued that institutionalization was a means of policing public hygiene, or better, eliminating a society of difference. Foucault argued that the involuntary confinement of the mentally ill and dangerous productively and inventively advanced the state’s regime of power in the name of the privileged science of truth. The historically informed social theory of Foucault was instrumental in developing a critique of the psychiatric institution, medical justice, and the means by which society disciplines difference. Foucault intended to provide an account of the various, yet similar, roles institutions assume in society. In doing so, he systematically traced the development of social control, as linked to science or scientific truths, to demonstrate the widening of disciplinary practices in contemporary society. The function of law, psychiatry, and confinement, as differing modes of societal surveillance, is to attain control.

Foucault argued that modern and inventive mechanisms of disciplinary control originated in discourse itself. Discursive techniques of power activated by language displaced the rational, reasonable, self-same subject of the early modern world. Influenced by the 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Foucault commenced his “genealogical” attempt to provide specific institutional support for the historical transformation of modes of domination and control, conveyed through discourse, with the publications of his studies such as Discipline and Punish. Societal institutions of the modern world such as the prison, the school, the hospital, the workplace, and the military were all noteworthy for their complicity in promoting the production of docile bodies through novel mechanisms of control. Established through technologically evolving aspects of everyday life, the functioning of these social structures demonstrated how power could be efficiently inserted into discourse itself. Foucault’s theories and qualitative methods entailing techniques of power and knowledge, employed to interrogate subjects and bring out their deeply held secrets, proved to be an invaluable source of information for social institutions aiming to boost the predictability and regulation of non-normative behavior. Such theories and methods lent themselves to the development of sociological and criminological studies of deviance.

As Foucault described, advances in the social and natural sciences, or what he described in the context of the human sciences earlier in his career, were critical to the task of acquiring such data. He argued that the transformation of disciplinary techniques in modern society was driven by the desire for more effective punishment and disciplinary control. Foucault found that discourse itself is the disciplinary mechanism in which docile bodies are created and bodies of utility are stabilized. In this manner, governance is linked to disciplinary forms of power.

Where Foucault’s book Madness and Civilization (1964) is mostly concerned with psychiatry and the mentally ill, and the study Discipline and Punish with penal institutions and the life of the prisoner, a social control theory is evident at their intersection. There is significant overlapping in these two studies, with their interrelatedness representing an aggregate knowledge of the policing of difference in modern society. These contributions of Foucault to social control theory characterize how justice is employed in the modern world at the intersections of law and psychiatry, criminal justice and mental health. Foucault found that it was the intervention of psychiatry into law that sanctioned, produced, and legitimatized such a causal link between insanity and crime. In the wake of psychiatry’s participation with the law, the idea of dangerous individuals emerged in full. Foucault documented that psychiatrists historically had often regarded themselves as civil servants concerned with public hygiene. Toward this goal, such an idea as the dangerous individual found itself in legislation. Foucault highlights how people were confined in this new, modern historical epoch of disciplinary institutions, because they had been labeled, depicted, or stereotyped as dangerous, for reasons not entirely owing to criminal behavior. Foucault argued that police and psychiatry are social institutions designed to react to danger in a modern world. Psychiatry can become social police in such context, rather than public hygienists. Such a theory of modern disciplinary society is evident in other areas of Foucault’s body of work and is a theme of his scholarship.

Foucault argued that the emergence of modern society occurred in full in the developing of connections between the objectivity of legislation and discipline’s normalizing effects. In such a reliance on law and order were developed mechanisms of political control derived from practices of judgment. It is in such a sense that Foucault relates governance to disciplinary forms of power. Modern administrative and political environments were intended to characterize a full emergence of the disciplines that rested on the normative judgment associated with the disciplinary knowledge. Foucault’s arguments characterizing the categorization and repression of deviants, such as the mentally ill and the criminal, as based on somewhat haphazard assumptions concerning knowledge and normative discourse have proved especially significant for constitutive legal theory. The applications of Foucault’s work in law, criminology, and social justice have been substantial. Foucault’s postmodern theory has been linked to a great deal of contemporary social science beyond social control theories. Examples of his postmodern influence are seen in areas such as cultural and discourse analysis and the study of sexuality, despite Discipline and Punish representing a direct, empirical contribution to contemporary social science.


  1. Arrigo, Bruce A. and Dragan Milovanovic, eds. Postmodernist and Post-Structuralist Theories of Crime. Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2011.
  2. Arrigo, Bruce A., Dragan Milovanovic, and Robert Carl Schehr. The French Connection in Criminology: Rediscovering Crime, Law, and Social Change. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005.
  3. Arrigo, Bruce A. and Christopher R. Williams, ed. Philosophy, Crime, and Criminology. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2006.
  4. Best, Steven and Douglas Kellner. Postmodern Theory: Critical Interrogations. New York: Guilford Press, 1991.
  5. Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977.
  6. Foucault, Michel. Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. New York: The New Press, 1998.
  7. Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. New York: Pantheon, 1975.
  8. Foucault, Michel. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972–1977. New York: Vintage, 1980.
  9. Henry, Stuart and Dragan Milovanovic. Constitutive Criminology: Beyond Postmodernism. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1996.
  10. Pavlich, George. Critique and Radical Discourses on Crime. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate Dartmouth, 2000.
  11. Tadros, Victor. “Between Governance and Discipline: The Law and Michel Foucault.” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, v.18/1 (1998).
  12. Williams, Christopher R. and Bruce A. Arrigo. Theory, Justice, and Social Change: Theoretical Integrations and Critical Applications. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2004.

Predictors of Victimization Essay

Much of the research examining predictors of interpersonal violence risk has focused on factors that increase the likelihood of risk for perpetration. In some instances, these factors also have been shown to increase the likelihood of interpersonal violence victimization, although in other cases distinct risk factors for victimization have been identified. Overall, there has been less research focused on prediction of victimization in part because such research could be seen as attributing blame to the victim. Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest that a number of distinct risk factors increase the likelihood of victimization, particularly with regard to subtypes of violence including bullying, community violence, sexual victimization, dating violence, and intimate partner violence. These risk factors can be divided into four major categories: (1) individual demographic factors such as age, gender, and ethnicity; (2) developmental and psychosocial factors such as history of victimization; (3) situational factors such as alcohol and drug use; and (4) contextual factors such as living in poor communities. These categories also correspond with ecological frameworks of interpersonal violence risk that emphasize individual and contextual factors and how they interact over time.

Individual Demographic Predictors

Statistics reveal differences among interpersonal violence victims based upon individual predictors such as age, gender, and ethnicity. The National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS), conducted annually in the United States by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), reports that for the year 2004 approximately 54 of every 1,000 youths ages 12–24 and 22 of every 1,000 adults ages 25 and above were the victims of aggravated assault, suggesting that youth is a risk factor for assault victimization. Gender-based differences in crime victimization documented in the NCVS reveal that females were the victims of 99.5% of all sexual assaults reported in 2004. However, males are more likely to be victims of violent crime as a whole. In 2004, 56 out of every 1,000 males were the victims of violent crimes as compared to 39 of every 1,000 females. Thus, being male increases risk for victimization overall, with the exception of sexual assault victimization, which is almost exclusively associated with being female. With respect to ethnicity, 28 out of every 1,000 Blacks in the United States were victims of interpersonal violence in 2004 as opposed to 21 out every 1,000 Whites.

Developmental and Psychosocial Predictors

Early victimization and history of abuse, exposure to domestic violence, emotional distress, and psychological problems are among the developmental and psychosocial predictors of victimization. The most well documented predictor of interpersonal violence victimization is childhood victimization. When children are maltreated early in life, they are also at greater risk for suffering from emotional distress and other psychosocial disorders that further increase the risk of victimization. For example, a 20-year prospective study showed that children who were exposed to domestic violence between parents were also at high risk for victimization of any type of interpersonal violence later in life. It appears that early violence exposure, either through direct maltreatment or indirectly through observation of family violence, is a significant risk factor for subsequent victimization. The effects of early violence exposure on subsequent interpersonal violence victimization may also be linked to corresponding emotional distress and psychological maladjustment.

Situational Predictors

Alcohol and substance use are among the most frequent situational predictors of interpersonal violence victimization. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that heavy alcohol and drug use is considered a risk factor for intimate partner violence. The CDC also notes that women who use drugs and/or drink heavily in high school are at greatest risk for victimization of sexual assault while intoxicated. More specifically, a study of rape victims revealed that 51% of all participants reported substance use immediately before victimization by rape.

Contextual Predictors

The National Crime Victimization Survey reports that the likelihood of victimization increases as an individual’s income decreases. In 2004, 51 out of every 1,000 individuals with an annual household income of less than $7,500 were victims of violent crime compared with 18.5 out of every 1,000 individuals with annual incomes over $75,000. Sociological studies examining the influence of neighborhoods and communities on victimization suggest a relation between low income and victimization, particularly in communities with a high concentration of poverty and limited opportunities. As violence and victimization in a community increase, these contexts become increasingly dangerous. Residents and businesses may move to safer communities, buildings and community spaces may deteriorate, and the willingness of neighbors to intervene to stop violence victimization may decrease.

Interpersonal violence victimization also occurs in specific settings where individuals have repeated contact over time. Schools and workplaces are two important settings where interpersonal violence victimization occurs. Although extreme violence such as school shootings is rare, studies have found that bullying and fighting are relatively common in schools. For example, although the BJS reports in 2004 a declining trend in incidents of violence in U.S. schools, 13% of all high school students ages 12–18 recently surveyed reported involvement in a physical fight while on school grounds, 18% reported being threatened with violence at school, and 7% reported being the victims of bullying on school property. Thus, the context of being in high school can carry an increased risk of victimization of interpersonal violence. The workplace is another setting where violence is common. The BJS reports that an estimated 18% of all violent incidents in the United States between 1993 and 1999 occurred in the workplace. Correctional officers, taxi drivers, private security guards, and bartenders are the occupations at the greatest risk of violent victimization in the workplace.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2006). Understanding intimate partner violence fact sheet. Retrieved from
  2. Ehrensaft, M., Cohen, P., Brown, J., Smailes, E., Chen, H., ; Johnson, J. G. (2003). Intergenerational transmission of partner violence: A 20-year prospective study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 741–753.
  3. S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2004). National crime victimization survey. Retrieved from

Social Choice Theory Essay

Social choice theory is as old as ancient Greek times. Social decisions, involving “diverse interests” and “concerns,” were explored by Aristotle and Kautilya around the fourth century BCE. It grew into a systematic theory around the time of the French Revolution (1789–1799). The intellectual climate during the European Enlightenment provided the necessary boost to the “reasoned construction of social order.” The subject of social choice was pioneered by the French mathematicians in the late eighteenth century, such as J. C. Borda (1781) and Marquis de Condorcet (1785). Some of the early social choice theorists were also the “intellectual leaders” of the French Revolution, as observed by Amartya Sen in 1998.

Social choice refers to judgments about the society, such as social welfare, public interest, or aggregate poverty, in view of available diversity of preferences, concerns, and predicaments of different individualizers within a society. It became popular in the context of welfare economics. It focused more on distributional justice than on utilitarianism. Social choice theory has broad relevance, including judgment about the well-being of the society as a whole; measurement of aggregate poverty; rights and liberties of persons; and social valuation of public goods, such as the natural environment.

The discipline of social choice was revived in the twentieth century by Kenneth J. Arrow. His book Social Choice and Individual Values (1951) became very popular for his “impossible theorem.” Arrow argued that even the mild conditions of reasonableness could be satisfied on the basis of social choice theory. To him, only dictatorship could deal with the inconsistencies involved, sacrificing “participatory decisions in politics” and “by being insensitive to heterogeneous interests of a diverse population” in welfare economics. In the eighteenth century, it was believed that social appraisals, welfare economic calculations, or evaluative statistics could only be “arbitrary” or “irremediably despotic” (Sen 1998, 181). Arrow’s impossibility theorem drew a major response and had a devastating effect on welfare economics as a discipline.

As A Negation Of Utilitarianism

Traditional welfare economics was developed by utilitarian economists, such as Francis T. Edgeworth, Alfred Marshall, and Arthur C. Pigou. Their approach was different from vote oriented social choice theory and garnered inspiration from the philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill pioneered the utilitarian theory based on judgments about the social interests by “aggregating the personal interests of different individuals in the form of their respective utilities” (Sen 1998, 182).

Bentham’s concern was more with the “total utility” of the community. Utilitarianism served as the backbone of welfare economics, pursuing maximum benefit for the collective whole, irrespective of individual gains or losses. He neglected distributional issues and came under criticism by authors such as John Rawls (1971) and Lionel Robbins (1938). They found the logic of utilitarian welfare defective and without any scientific basis. While Rawls rejected it on the basis of lack of concern for social justice, Robbins rejected it on the grounds that there could be “no common denominator of feelings” (636). From the 1940s onward, the focus shifted to Pareto efficiency (optimum gains). Arrow had demonstrated that Pareto efficiency, “nondictatorship,” and “social choice with a complete ordering” could not be achieved simultaneously. Nor could a purely mathematical or formal approach be relied upon.

Contemporary social choice must deal with real-world problems and cannot ignore any conceivable cluster of individual preferences. Some preferences are bound to result in inconsistencies and incoherence in social decisions. When one prefers increasing one’s own share without bothering about others, then the majority rule is bound to be “inconsistent.” Voting may be considered as a viable choice for general elections, referendums, or committee decisions, but it may not reflect actual choice due to manipulation by the leaders, political parties, or media. It cannot help in arriving at some aggregative index of social welfare (Sen 1998).

There can be two obvious reasons. Voting requires active participation, and the opinion of someone who decides not to participate may not get any representation in social decisions. Additionally, even if one decides to participate in the voting process, there is no direct method of getting interpersonal comparisons on the basis of voting data. Because we cannot arrive at any meaningful interpersonal comparisons on the basis of choices made through voting, it is necessary to reject the consensus arrived at through voting systems in laying the foundation of a constructive social choice theory.

In Economic Theory

Economic theory draws on law and philosophy in evaluating rational decision-making. In economics, the focus is usually on maximization of utility, whereas under law an opinion may be based on shared understanding without any comprehensible reasons for which a shared understanding would lead to a shared preference. The same applies to majority voting behavior. The individual members of the decisive majority need not share the same reasons for voting or making social choices in a particular way. It is like saying that one wants to buy a white car because it is a sports car or just because it is a white car and vice versa.

According to Richard McKelvey (1976), an individual may make choices on the basis of one decisive dimension, making it difficult to organize rationally the different or plural dimensions of social choice. Two parties might form a coalition and say, “given a sports car, we would like to have it black.” An alternative pairing can form another coalition and say, “given that it is white, we would like to have a sports car.” Hence coalitions can stick to generic preferences without any stable or rational basis. Much remains unresolved, yet we find adherence to common understanding of doing a thing in a particular way. It makes it rational for players to achieve certain shared goals. Such shared understanding comes through effective communication, accessibility, and intersubjectivity. Public reason can lead to collective action and social choices, though not necessarily on utilitarian basis.

As such, interpersonal comparisons of utility cannot really help in making interpersonal comparisons of social choices. We may find variations in terms of personal heterogeneities, environmental diversities, and variations in social climate or differences in terms of relative deprivation. It is not enough to know how many people are below the poverty line for the purposes of making social choice. It is also important to understand how deprivation is shared and distributed among the poor (Sen 1998). The same logic applies to gender-based inequality and deprivation of women in traditionally unequal societies. It is not enough to have liberty; it is important to make it effective.


  1. Arrow, Kenneth J. Social Choice and Individual Values. New York: Wiley, 1951.
  2. Atkinson, Anthony B. “On the Measurement of Inequality.” Journal of Economic Theory 2 (September 1970): 244–263.
  3. Chapman, Bruce. “Public Reason, Social Choice, and Cooperation.” Paper presented at the Eighth Conference on Theoretical Aspects of Rationality and Knowledge, Department of Economics, University of Siena, July 2001.
  4. McKelvey, Richard. “Intransitivities in Multidimensional Voting Model and Some Implications for Agenda Control.” Journal of Economic Theory 12 (1976): 472.
  5. Pauly, Marc. “On the Role of Language in Social Choice Theory.” Synthesis 163 (2008): 227–243.
  6. Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971.
  7. Robbins, Lionel. “Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility: A Comment.” Economic Journal 43 (December 1938): 635–641.
  8. Sen, Amartya. “The Possibility of Social Choice.” A talk delivered at Trinity College, Cambridge, Great Britain, December 8, 1998.
  9. Published in American Economic Review 89, no. 3 (June 1999): 349–378.

Predictive Policing Essay

The professionalization of America’s police forces that began in the early 1900s has had as an obvious consequence an increasing reliance on science and technology to address the crime problem. To this end, police have utilized crime mapping and criminological theory to complement foot and random motor patrols in order to suppress crime. More recently, police are turning to predictive analytics—or sophisticated computer generated algorithms—to predict (and hopefully prevent) crime. The allure of predictive policing to divine and prevent crime may at first glance seem free of potential pitfalls. Unfortunately, a closer inspection suggests that several ethical dilemmas are present that must be acknowledged and addressed by implementers if the ideals embraced by its architects are to be achieved.

History and Origins of Predictive Policing

The arrival of the 20th century marshaled with it an increasing reliance on science and technology to rationally structure police operations. To be sure, police abandoned beat foot patrols in favor of random motor patrols while emphasizing rapid response and retroactive investigations to deter and solve crimes. In this sense, policing was largely reactive. In subsequent years, police began to consult emerging theories on crime and delinquency to identify environmental and structural factors that revealed where crime was concentrated—sometimes referred to as “hot spots”—and through the analysis of statistics realize that crime was not evenly distributed over time (e.g., home burglaries are more likely during the day when residents are at work). In response, police began to allocate resources accordingly to become more proactive in their approach.

Contemporary predictive policing is a product of this natural evolution of proactive policing. It has, however, a defining characteristic that distinguishes it from its ancestors. Generally speaking, predictive policing relies on “big data” and computer algorithms to derive predictive statistical models suggesting where and when crime may occur. To this end, police may be told, for example, that an automobile theft has a 30.2 percent chance of occurring in a particular geographic area (say one or two city blocks) between, say, 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m. It is the generation, interpretation, and application of these probabilistic models and subsequent police responses that create ethical dilemmas and potential legal issues that deserve consideration.

Reliability and Validity of Data and Models

The derivation of probabilistic models using sophisticated computer algorithms and official police records to shape police actions calls into the question the reliability and subsequent validity of these models. To be sure, the models are only valid to the extent that they are actually able to predict crime. It doesn’t matter which variables are used (e.g., day of the week, moon phase, local events) to predict that crime, only that the model “significantly” increases the likelihood of accurately divining the event than would otherwise be expected by chance alone. The chosen statistical criteria aside (i.e., levels of statistical and substantive significance used to establish that validity), it is well known that the data used to generate these models may not be reliable. This is problematic in that reliability is a necessary condition for validity. Stated differently, if the data used to derive the model are not reliable, then the model is (in theory) incapable of making accurate predictions.

Perhaps the greatest threat to reliability experienced by police agencies is the underreporting of crime. In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that 52 percent of all violent crimes committed between 2006 and 2010 were not reported to the police. What is more, the accuracy of the data may also be imperiled as a result of inaccurate classification and/or input into computers by police. Unfortunately, there are two potential pitfalls associated with this reliability issue. First, inaccurate predictive models lead to the ineffective distribution of resources. The consequence is not only that police resources are directed in an ineffective manner and, thereby, potentially not reducing the aggregate crime rate, but also that reliance on faulty predictive models runs the risk of actually increasing individual risk. Stated differently, subordinating police intuition to invalid predictive models runs the risk of increasing risk for people and property that may not otherwise have occurred.

Relatedly, many of the algorithms that have been used to forecast crime are either proprietary—and therefore not likely to be validated through a peer-reviewed process to protect the intellectual property of the firms that developed them—or cloaked in secrecy to protect police operations. This may contribute to the CSI effect (named after the television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation), where jurors ascribe more legitimacy to these probabilistic models not only because they are a product of “science,” and therefore perceived to be more legitimate than an officer’s intuition, but also because defense attorneys may be incapable of fully exposing their potential limitations in the absence of external scientific review. Finally, because predictive policing has largely been applied to property crimes (e.g., burglary and car theft), where reporting rates are higher presumably because of insurance incentives to commit crime, extension of predictive policing to violent or gang crimes may present challenges to achieving statistically valid models.

One consequence of the rational distribution of police resources based on criminological theories and aggregated statistics has been increased tensions between community members—typically poor minorities—who live in areas where crime is concentrated. Unfortunately, focusing police resources in specific areas produces a discriminatory effect by increasing the likelihood of detection and arrest of individuals living in those communities that is not experienced in places where there are fewer police resources, ceteris paribus. Here advances in predictive policing using algorithms offers the potential promise of improving community relations by narrowly tailoring areas and time, rather than designating broad areas at all times as “high crime.” Unfortunately, directing resources into a particular area creates the potential for a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby a concentration of police resources—even if narrowly tailored—leads to increased arrests in these areas, which serves to perpetuate existing models.

Probability and Reasonable Suspicion

The courts have historically relied on probability in determining the constitutionality of police-initiated contacts with citizens. In fact, the courts have ruled that the existence of any fact that makes an event more or less likely may serve as a basis for a police-initiated contact. To be sure, Terry v. Ohio (1967) acknowledged that an articulable fact combined with an officer’s experience that would lead a reasonable person to believe a crime had been, or was about to be committed, served as the basis for a police-initiated contact.

This recognizes that the presence of a fact that increases the probability of a crime serves as the legal basis for a stop and possibly a frisk. Application of these probabilistic models as a basis for police-initiated contacts poses complex issues for courts to consider. For example, a patrol officer is directed to a particular city block at a particular time whereby the algorithm has predicted the likelihood of a motor vehicle theft to be 10.5 percent.

If the officer observes a person carrying a screwdriver, does the officer—based upon the predictive model—have the right to initiate a contact based upon the statistical model? In other words, does the model serve as probabilistic evidence, and if so, what is the minimum acceptable threshold? Should officers be able to initiate a contact based upon a 10.5 percent increase in the chance that a crime will be committed, or upon some higher standard, such as 30 percent or 40 percent? These are issues that will be addressed as legal challenges are brought before the courts. Finally, one potential consequence of using these predictive models is that they may actually serve to relegate police intuition to probabilistic models in the courtroom and weaken justifications for stops.

For example, an officer is dispatched to a location at a particular time as a result of a prediction but witnesses no crime; then, after leaving the identified location he sees nearby an individual matching the profile generated by the algorithm (e.g., an individual walking aimlessly in front of an automated teller machine). Because the algorithm no longer matches the place predicted by the model, initiating the contact may actually be weakened by the failure of the algorithm to predict a crime in that area. What is more, courts, which have generally deferred to an officer’s professional judgment in determining the likelihood of a crime, may begin to rely instead on these probabilistic models.


The professionalization of the public police force has resulted in an increased reliance on science and technology to more rationally structure police operations and distribute scarce resources. Contemporary predictive policing is a natural outgrowth of efforts to make policing more efficient, effective, and proactive. The allure of divining crime to intercept criminals before they act is seductive but not without potential ethical dilemmas. Specifically, predictive policing presents issues and challenges related to reliability in measurement—and therefore subsequent predictive validity—while at the same time relegating officer intuition to potentially faulty probabilistic models that serve to increase citizen risk, adversely affect crime rates, and perpetuate the proliferation of subsequent invalid models.

Courts will also have to determine if these predictive models can be used to establish a legal basis for an officer-initiated contact and what level of precision these models must achieve to do so. Finally, police may wish to consider the potential for these models to undermine their efforts should the models begin to supplant officer experience and intuition in establishing reasonable suspicion in the courtroom, while considering the impact of defense attorneys who will likely highlight their inappropriate application and limits.


  1. Ferguson, Andrew. “Predictive Policing and Reasonable Suspicion.” Emory Law Journal, v.62, (2012).
  2. Short, M. B., M. R. D’Orsogna, P. J. Brantingham, and G. E. Tita. “Measuring and Modeling Repeat and Near-Repeat Burglary Effects.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology, v.25 (2009).
  3. S. Department of Justice. “Victimizations Not Reported to the Police, 2006–2010.” content/pub/pdf/vnrp0610.pdf (Accessed May 2013).

Foster Care Essay

Foster care is a social service providing temporary care to children whose homes are unsafe because of child maltreatment or parent or caregiver incapacity. When the substitute caregiver is related to the child, foster care may be referred to as kinship care. Typically, the term foster care includes only children in the legal custody of the state or county child welfare agency, while kinship care may refer to any child in a relative’s care, whether or not the state or the relative has legal custody.

If a child welfare agency has placed a child in foster care, it must justify to the dependency court that the child would be at imminent risk of harm in the home from which he or she was removed. The state is required to make “reasonable efforts” to prevent the need for foster care, to reunify the family, and to find permanent family alternatives for children who cannot return home. Rules about circumstances that make foster care placement justifiable, as well as criteria for licensing and monitoring foster homes, are established through state laws and regulations. In most states, a parent may also place a child in foster care voluntarily. Federal law provides a national framework regarding the care of dependent children in foster care.

The foster care system has its roots in colonial period practices in which impoverished or orphaned children were indentured to families who could care for them and teach them a trade. Systems of indenture were later replaced by orphan asylums and then succeeded in the late 1800s by systems of “placing out” impoverished children from urban slums to host families in the countryside. These systems evolved with changing societal standards regarding appropriate living conditions for children and accepted practices related to child labor, as well as with the professionalization of the social work field. Over time, the focus of foster care shifted from orphans and destitute children to maltreatment of children by parents and caregivers.

Foster Care Settings and Foster Parents

Nearly half of children in foster care in the United States live in nonrelative family foster homes and another quarter live in foster care with relatives. The use of relatives as foster parents varies widely by state. About one in ten foster children live in institutions and a similar proportion live in group homes.

Foster parents are usually recruited, licensed, and trained by state or county child welfare agencies. They are paid a stipend as reimbursement for the child’s room and board, but are not salaried employees. Foster care payment rates vary with the child’s age and needs for specialized care. Foster parents tend to be older than biological parents and about 40% are employed full time outside the home. While the median level of experience of foster parents is about 3 years, there is a great deal of turnover in the population of foster parents, and state and local agencies face difficulties recruiting and retaining them.

Children in Foster Care

At the end of 2004, there were 518,000 children in foster care in the United States and 800,000 had spent some time that year in foster care. The number of children in foster care in the United States has risen nearly every year since national data collection began in the 1960s. Foster care is intended as a short-term service for families in crisis, although some children experience extended foster care stays. The median length of stay of children in foster care during 2004 was 18 months, and the median age at the time of entry to foster care was 8.3 years. Approximately half of children in foster care have a case goal of reunification with the parent or principal caretaker. Another fifth have adoption as their case goal, with the remaining children having case goals such as guardianship, long-term foster care, or emancipation.

Most children who enter foster care do so after a state child protection agency verifies or “substantiates” a report of child abuse or neglect, although relatively few substantiated maltreatment reports result in children’s placement in foster care. The National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-being (NSCAW), a nationally representative, longitudinal study of children in foster care and children investigated by child protective services, reveals that of children in foster care for 1 year, 60% had entered foster care primarily as a result of child neglect. Ten percent of children in foster care had experienced physical abuse as their most serious type of maltreatment, and 8% were victims of sexual abuse. Approximately 8% of children in foster care had not experienced abuse or neglect, but had been referred for reasons such as their own mental health needs or domestic violence in their families. Parental mental illness, substance abuse, and other serious impairments are associated with many children’s foster care placements.

Rates of entry into foster care are highest for infants. The rates drop dramatically for 1-year-old children, and the risk of entry continues to decrease until children reach adolescence, at which point the risk rises again. Entry rates are higher for African American children than for White or Hispanic children. Children living in poor and urban communities are also much more likely to enter foster care than children living in other environments.

Many children in foster care have physical, emotional, and behavioral issues that warrant specialized treatment. The NSCAW study found that, on average, children in foster care scored somewhat below national norms on a variety of developmental measures. Of particular concern was that one third of children in foster care for a year demonstrated significant cognitive and/or behavioral problems.


  1. Mallon, G. P., ; Hess, P. M. (Eds.). (2005). Child welfare for the 21st century. New York: Columbia University Press.
  2. NSCAW Research Group. (2005). National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being research brief no. 1: Who are the children in foster care? Retrieved July 7, 2006, from NSCAW_Research_Brief_1.pdf
  3. NSCAW Research Group. (2005). National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being research brief no. 2: Foster children’s caregivers and caregiving environments. Retrieved May 27, 2017, from