Do Google Searches Reflect The Real Child Abuse Epidemic?

child abuse

Sometimes, your gut’s just right.

With the Great Recession came millions of job losses, business closures, bankruptcies, home foreclosures and forced housing short sales, resulting in tremendous stress and financial burden on families hardest hit by the economic crisis. History has shown that children with unemployed parents or those who are in lower socioeconomic groups are 3 times more likely to be victims of child abuse.

So, why in the world did child abuse statistics drop during the Great Recession? A 2010 story in USA Today reported that between 2008 and 2010, cases of reported child abuse had declined slightly with child death rates dropping an amazing 8.5%. To many of us in the child advocacy field, these stats simply didn’t make sense.

Researcher, economist and recent Harvard Ph.D. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz also questioned this decline… and decided to harbor his vast talents and look into it. In a story released by The New York Times earlier this week, Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz began researching the validity of these statistics by examining child abuse and neglect numbers that were “least susceptible to reporting pressures: child fatality rates”. He writes,

“During the downturn, there was a comparative increase in (child fatality and neglect) rates in states that were hardest hit by the recession. From 2006 to 2009, Nevada’s fatality rate from abuse or neglect rose 50%.”

Drawing a yet-to-be-proven correlation between fatality rates and reported child abuse cases, he began looking at Google searches. Searches that seemed to “unmask” the primal fears and unshared horrors for which many were seeking answers or at least relief. He searched terms such as, “My dad hit me” and “Why did my father beat me?” which revealed a whole new world of information… data that showed these Internet searches dramatically increased as soon as the Great Recession began. He also discovered those search numbers rose during weeks when higher numbers of unemployment claims were filed. Pretty telling stuff.

In his research, Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz writes:

“The results imply that a 1% increase in the unemployment rate increases actual maltreatment by roughly 2.5% but decreases referrals by roughly 3.3%. In other words, a 1% increase in the unemployment rate decreases the percentage of actual maltreatment cases that are referred by 5.8%.”

Over time, it’s roughly estimated that only about 50% of abused children actually tell someone they are being abused. An alarming 73% of child victims do not tell anyone they have been abused for at least a year. 45% of victims don’t tell anyone for at least 5 years, while others never disclose their abuse (Smith et al., 2000; Broman-Fulks et al., 2007). Thanks to Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz’s research, a new spotlight now shines on the vastness of this tragic epidemic.

So, does Google, in fact, more accurately reflect the true level of child abuse than numbers reported by government and other child advocacy organizations? Possibly so.

On a personal note… I’d like to thank Dr. Stephens-Davidowitz for his dedication, commitment and enthusiasm to uncovering facts for which, dare I say, all child advocates, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, victims advocates and others involved in the protection and care of children are grateful. Your research should help all of us better address the scope of this world-wide issue and, hopefully, secure additional resources to measurably assist and ultimately protect the seemingly countless silent victims of child abuse and help them come forward for refuge and support. Thank you so much for your work!

 About Ginger





Working to improve the world one child at a time, Ginger has made it her life mission to raise awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger can be contacted via her website “Ginger Kadlec: 4UrKids™” at




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