Stereotyping should not be a research method.
Recently a researcher compiled a set of maps that determine which areas of boroughs in Montreal are at high risk for child abuse. According to Jean CarriÃ¨re, a geography professor at the UniversitÃ© du QuÃ©bec Ã MontrÃ©al, history of child abuse, low income, language barriers, drug addictions and even bug infestations are factors that make child abuse more likely.
His maps claim to display areas where physical and psychological abuse and negligence are most likely to occur; sexual abuse does not factor in. CarriÃ¨re provides his maps to their corresponding borough free of charge because he wants to help with the growing problem of child abuse in Canada.
The professor uses a combination of public statistics to map out the areas of highest risk. But child abuse and negligence stems from the psychological state of the people involved; it seems like a bit of a stretch to map a psychological problem using only socio-economic data.
Some of the areas CarriÃ¨re calculated are as small as one specific apartment building. This is discrimination. Even if there is a history of child abuse in a certain place, this is a people issue.
CarriÃ¨re told the Montreal Gazette that his project is not saying that if you’re poor you are likely to be a child abuser, just that the probability increases exponentially when people live in areas where several factors come into play. But the solution to this problem lies in connecting and communicating with people, not in removing them from the equation, or actually turning it into a literal equation.
These maps suggest a poor immigrant with bed bugs who is having a hard time communicating with their children’s school is more inclined to abuse or neglect their child because of the hardships in their life. Someone could just as easily declare that psychological abuse or negligence is risky in high-income families where two educated parents work full-time and don’t hang out at home much, if they had some numbers to back them up.
Still, CarriÃ¨re’s maps have some merit. A combination of the factors he uses in his research does make a family brawl or two more likely. But there is no certainty here. This assumption, this stereotype, should not lead to discriminatory treatment of the flagged areas by boroughs. Statistics ignore the individual and when you’re talking about child abuse, it’s the individual that counts.
Boroughs need to concentrate on filling their schools with motivating teachers and experienced guidance counsellors. Children have to feel comfortable and safe with the adults in their school life to know the difference if their parents’ behavior is abusive. Spending time and money on calculating probability is not going to help any children in need.