Monday, January 05, 2004

Parents are greatest peril to children

It has happened again. Another baby will not live to see her first birthday and her mother appears to be at fault. The Associated Press reported the details.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) - A woman has been charged with murder in the death of her 10-month-old daughter, who deputies say was bitten and violently shaken because she was crying.

Sashine Howell, 23, was being held without bail Sunday.

Broward County sheriff's deputies said Howell gave conflicting stories, first saying a boyfriend shook her daughter, Faith, and then admitting that she didn't have a boyfriend and that she shook the child herself.

According to sheriff's reports, Howell shook the baby and bit her because the infant was crying and had bonded with her father during a recent visit.

The infant had a bite mark on her back, intercranial bleeding and a swollen bruise on her head. She died Saturday at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Why am I blogging about an occurence so commonplace? Because, I was recently reminded the message that family members, friends and acquaintances are more likely to abuse children than strangers has not sunk in with many Americans. David Flanagan, a blogger with ties to Free Republic posted an entry lauding women for being naturally good parents.

. . .Even more impressive is the fact that Moms everywhere seem to have formed this unofficial child safety pact that I never knew a thing about until just recently. That was the day my wife, Julie, was in a children's clothing store in our local mall and lost sight of our oldest for about ten seconds. Julie called out, no response. Then, with the slightest edge of panic in her voice, she called out again for our daughter. Immediately, every woman in the store stopped what they were doing and began looking for our daughter. Suddenly, all those Moms of various ages, races, and creeds were as unified and focused as any military force preparing to do battle.

It took only about 15 or 20 seconds before a woman from the back of the store called out that she had located our daughter. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, then went back to whatever it is they were doing just seconds before, almost as if nothing had happened.

In a sense, nothing had happened. A fellow Mom needed help locating her child, and the other Moms responded as instantly as if it were their own child. Once the child was successfully located, they all went back to what they were doing. This extraordinary community of women acted naturally, responding in a coordinated fashion to help protect a child. When my wife told me about this incident I was, to say the least, impressed. More than that, it underscored to me one of the wonderful differences between men and women.

Do you think a bunch of guys would have reacted in the same manner if it had been a shop mostly filled with men? I think not! What you'd probably see is that the men who heard my wife's slightly panicked call for our daughter would just continue doing what they were doing. A few fathers might slow down a bit and glance quickly around them before resuming. Maybe one or two out of a dozen might have begun to look around actively. But, unless it were their child, I don't think the majority of men would have acted in the same coordinated way as those women did on that day.

Women, I believe, are the nurturers of society. Whether its social, biological, or both, they feel compelled to comfort and protect in a way that men do not. I'm not saying that men can't do it, but I don't think its a skill that comes as naturally to us. . . .

And so on. He titled the entry "The League of Extraordinary Women." When I first glanced at the title, I thought I was going to read about women who had accomplished impressive feats in politics, industy or the arts. Instead, I learned that if I hear someone yell, 'Erin, get back here this minute!' at Target and look behind the display of towels I'm examining in case a kid is hiding there, I am extraordinary. Thanks, dude, but I'll pass. If someone is going to give me props, I would prefer it be because I've really done something superb, not because I was born without a Y chromosome and some people believe that makes me a natural nurturer.

But the condescension toward women is not what bothers me most about Flanagan, and others, urging on this myth. I told him so in a comment.

David, I guess you intend this entry as what we called a 'bright' when I was in the newspaper business. But, I think we need to look at the issue of child abuse in a more balanced way. Most child abusers are women. That is mainly because women do most childcare, I guess. Believing women are natural nurturers can actually make child abuse less likely to be recognized. I watched a woman verbally abuse her two young daughters on MAX (our train system) a few days ago. She didn't do anything severe enough to have the police intervene. But, if I had been wearing 'Mommies are all good people,' blinders I would not have recognized the abuse for what it was. I fear the kind of piece you've published may actually do harm to the cause.

The National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect has the most recent data on child abuse and neglect.

In 2001, 3 million referrals concerning the welfare of approximately 5 million children were made to CPS agencies throughout the United States. Of these, approximately two-thirds (67 percent) were screened in; one-third (33 percent) were screened out. Screened-in referrals alleging that a child was being abused or neglected received investigations or assessments to determine whether the allegations of maltreatment could be substantiated. Some of the screened-out reports were referred to the attention of other service agencies.

. . .Approximately 903,000 children were found to be victims of child maltreatment. Maltreatment categories typically include neglect, medical neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and psychological maltreatment. More than half of child victims (57 percent) suffered neglect; 2 percent suffered medical neglect; 19 percent were physically abused; 10 percent were sexually abused; and 7 percent were psychologically maltreated.

. . .Most States define perpetrators of child abuse or neglect as a parent or other caretaker, such as a relative, babysitter, or foster parent, who has maltreated a child. Fifty-nine percent of perpetrators were women and 41 percent were men. The median age of female perpetrators was 31 years; the median age of male perpetrators was 34 years. More than 80 percent of victims (84 percent) were abused by a parent or parents. Almost half of child victims (41 percent) were maltreated by just their mother, and one-fifth of victims (19 percent) were maltreated by both their mother and father.

According to the data, 12.4 per 1,000 children were reported as victims of abuse in 2001. About 1,300 children died of abuse that year. More than eighty percent of abusers were family members. Nearly 60 percent of abusers reported were women.

People may find two myths, the naturally nurturing nature of women and the evil stranger who lures children away and harms them, reassuring, but neither is well supported by research. An estimated 4,600 children per year are abducted by strangers. Most are returned very quickly unharmed. The other 300,000 children kidnapped each year are taken by family members, friends or acquaintances. Law enforcement pays particular attention to stranger abductions because they are more likely to result in murders, but, obviously, many children live in homes where they are more imperiled.

If the epidemic of parental child abuse is ever to be stanched, we must acknowledge it exists. I hope publishing factual information on the topic will help achieve that goal. But, I was unable to pierce Flanagan's armor of self-satisfaction. He assured me that I didn't know what I was talking about in that 'get on with you, gal,' tone so many Right Wing men have. That's life.

Note: This entry also appeared at Mac-a-ro-nies.

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