Document Type

Response or Comment

Publication Date


Publication Information

8 Va. J. Soc. Pol'y & L. 205 (2000-2001)


Determining the degree of state intervention into intra-family decision making requires an unhappy choice between allowing abuse to continue or interfering with some families that would be better left alone. Mr. Besharov introduces the possible harms associated with the increased involvement of the state but fails to fully comprehend the circumstances that necessitate such involvement. Evils bracket the phenomenon discussed in Mr. Besharov's paper and this one. The difference in our approach lies in the choice we think is the lesser evil of the two, not that we think that either the harms associated with state involvement or the risk of nonintervention is a good thing. I would like to present two recent cases to illustrate the choice society makes as it selects a family intervention policy. I will also offer some suggestions for reducing the unhappy effects of what Besharov perceives to be undue intervention by social services into intact families.

Mr. Besharov and I present two different aspects of the same picture. The problem stems from society's inability to accurately predict behavior in combination with the conflicting rights and needs of parents and children. Besharov chooses to protect parental autonomy and, in so doing, hopes to benefit the majority. In contrast, I choose to protect child-victims. Rather than limiting the degree of intervention and placing children at risk of further abuse, I offer suggestions for reducing the incidence of error in intervention decisions.


This article was originally published as Margaret F. Brinig, Choosing the Lesser Evil: Comments on Besharov's "Child Abuse Realities," 8 Va. J. Soc. Pol'y & L. 505 (2000), and has been reproduced herein with the Journal's permission.

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