A basic question that arises whenever the particular problems of entire groups are examined is, “How many people suffer in this way?” Two distinct points of view usually can be recognized: a maxi- malist alarmist perspective and the minimalist skep- tical perspective. The ongoing debate between these two viewpoints over the seriousness of a particular facet of the crime problem can become especially acrimonious if the two governmental sources of data, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report (UCR) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), do not closely monitor or focus upon these illegal activities and therefore cannot provide any official counts or rates. Other agencies or organizations must be turned to for data in order to derive rough, “ball- park” estimates.

The issues that have generated the most heated exchanges concern the fates of missing chil- dren, the extent of physical child abuse, and the prevalence of incest and child molestation. Victi- mologists can enter into these controversies as objective “claims investigators” and apply the tools of social science research to determine where the truth lies—which is usually somewhere between the high-end estimates of maximalist alarmists and the much smaller numbers offered by minimalist skeptics.

In general, the maximalist position argues that a problem is more widespread and intense than


To recognize how children can be maltreated in a number of ways.

To grasp how maltreatment can cause great and lasting suffering for children as they grow up and become adults.

To appreciate how complicated it is to try to determine exactly how many children endure abuse at the hands of adults, and whether child maltreatment is growing or diminishing.

To recognize the many controversies that surround the issues of recovering memories of child sexual abuse by caretakers and of exposing molestations by members of the clergy.

To become familiar with the many child-centered reforms that have been implemented in the family court and criminal justice system.

To recognize child abuse in all its guises, including attacks by siblings and the statutory rape of minors.

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most people realize. Maximalists often warn that a type of victimization that routinely has been over- looked is reaching epidemic proportions. Dire con- sequences will follow unless drastic steps are taken. This outlook can be characterized as maximalist because it assumes the worst—large numbers of people are experiencing the problem, they are suf- fering greatly, their plight is not receiving sufficient attention and action by government officials, and the situation is spiraling out of control. Maximalists try to mobilize public support and resources to combat what they believe is an emerging crisis or epidemic that was rapidly spreading undetected and “under the radar” until they pinpointed it.

Frightening claims about dangerous condi- tions that are intensifying provoke a predictable response that can be termed the minimalist posi- tion. It is marked by a skeptical stance that tends to downplay the scope and seriousness of the problem. Minimalists consider maximalist esti- mates to be grossly inflated for either some well- intentioned reason or perhaps for a self-serving purpose. The maximalist assessment that massive expenditures and emergency measures are war- ranted touches off bitter clashes with minimalists who question what they consider to be overreac- tions. These sharp differences take the form of acrimonious debates at conferences and hearings, strident denunciations in reports and books, and angry letters and emails to the editors of newspa- pers, magazines, and websites that publish articles espousing the views of the other side.

Just like victim blaming and victim defending, maximalist and minimalist viewpoints actually are ideologies. A person might accept an alarmist point of view on one issue (for example, what happens to missing children) but might take a skeptical stance regarding another (such as the prevalence of stepfather–daughter incest). There- fore, as with victim blaming and victim defending, it is best not to personalize the matters merely as disputes between individuals. It is more construc- tive to view the controversies as the results of different sources of information, opposing assump- tions, clashing political beliefs, and varying socio- economic interests.

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