Sunday, November 19, 2006

More on murderous mothers and fathers.

Today, in the Sunday Telegraph we read:
"Crime statistics show that in the decade from 1992 to 2002, an average of 78 children under 16 were murdered each year in England and Wales. In roughly 70 per cent of cases, the killing was carried out by a parent, almost always the father."
And last weekend, there was a letter to the Sunday Times:
"We rely on Home Office figures for the number of homicides of children aged under 16 recorded by the police in England and Wales. These show that killings of children by a natural parent are committed in almost equal proportions by mothers (47%) and fathers (53%)"
How are we to reconcile the two? They're pretty clearly contradictory. The latter was written by Diana Sutton, the NSPCC Head of Policy and Public Affairs in London, the former by Olga Craig, Journalist. Somebody's telling porkie-workies, aren't they? (Translation: porkie-workies = pork pies = lies). It doesn't seem likely it would be Diana Sutton, a big-wig in the NSPCC, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, but Craig seems to have done at least some legwork (but does not cite her source).

Curiously, Craig also writes: "Psychologists agree that the majority of women who kill their children are seriously mentally ill, but fathers who do so rarely are." Why is it that so many absurd claims are begun with the claim "Psychologists agree..."? Absurd? Well, I would have thought that murdering your own children, whether you were the mother or the father, more or less by definition means that the murderer is mentally ill. How does the Telegraph justify the distinction? The mothers do it because they're ill, we don't need to know any more.

But, we hear, the fathers do it out of some need to revenge themselves on the mother. There's plenty of discussion about "troubled childhoods", "histories of violent and abusive behaviour", all the usual things to tell us that these murdering fathers are very screwed up, as if we didn't know that already. However "almost all are the sort of men who place enormous value on their role, or perceived role, within a family" which is a bit of a Catch 22 given that the responsible father used to be a good thing. Of course, too much of anything good can become something bad, even pathological, which is a word often used to describe mental illness, and is presumably the relevant case here. If that is the writer's point, then they should say as much, but they don't and another brick gets added to the wall against which we shoot fathers.

The imminent or ongoing failure of a marriage is cited as a primary trigger, but there is no analysis as to why it should have such radically different consequences between the genders. There is no discussion of the very different worlds that men and women face when their marriages fail. That mothers can find exceptional support in all walks of life from the courtroom to the garden fence and no-one will even think to take their children away from them. But fathers? 40% of them will lose all contact with their children within a couple of years, sooner, much sooner, if the mother gets uppity, and no-one will care, no-one will come to their aid. Indeed, they will be expected to "man-up", "take it on the chin", or just roll over and let it happen. Is it any wonder that once in a while a father is driven off the rails?

On the other hand, what if the NSPCC are to be believed and there really is not much difference in the numbers of murdering mothers versus fathers, then I can't exactly have my cake and eat it, can I? I'd have to admit that society's bias is not a relevant factor and these people are just crazy or evil regardless of their gender. And Craig and her interviewees would also have to retract that comment about the murdering fathers as over-valuing their roles, would they not? Or at least extend the observation to the murderous mothers. (Although I think I could still give them a run for their money over society's undervaluing of fatherhood and overvaluing of motherhood - because that's the question, really, whether society is to have the last word in the value of one parent or the other, or the parents themselves.)

If, instead of giving the patriphobes more excuses to kick a normal man out of his kids' lives and pathologize his attempts to fight back, we took an intelligent approach to the whole problem, we'd probably find that these incidents are so rare that general conclusions are just about impossible anyway, or at least we'd be careful to make that point. By the Telegraph's numbers, in the UK, there is roughly one murder of a child by a parent per year per million population and, in the USA, one "annihilated family" per year per 2.5 million. It seems unlikely that the people concerned make a representative sample of the population at large. That while the murdering father might have strongly valued in his role as a father as do, one hopes, the great majority of the rest of the country's fathers, it is not a relevant point in these sad, tragic, fortunately very rare and highly unrepresentative cases.

Before I sign off, a final note about the UK national newspapers' inability to get the story straight. The letter from the NSPCC was an attempt to set the record straight with another journalist who had published a piece about murderous fathers the week before. Both the Sunday Telegraph and the Sunday Times published misleading pieces on killer fathers just two weeks apart. Do we smell a rat?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

According to the following study

"Paternal Filicide", Marleau, Poulin, Webanck, Roy, Laporte, Can J Psychiatry, Vol 44, February 1999

All fathers who killed their children were mentally ill. 40% were psychotic at the time of the killing. Only in 10% was the motivation revenge.