Mothers are more likely to abuse children than fathers. Fact?

I recently had a bit of a heated debate with a anonymous tweeter ‘Preserved by Faith’ who was very sure that 71% of children killed by a family member are killed by their mother. She relied upon statistics provided by Mark Rosenthal’s ‘Breaking the Science’

These appear to be credible and are taken from the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Data from U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services “Child Maltreatment” reports, 2001-2006*
Victims by Parental Status of Perpetrators

Child abuse and neglect Child fatalities
2001-2006 2001-2006
Mother Only 1,452,099 1,704
Mother and Other 222,836 565
Mother total (alone or with someone other than the father) 1,674,935 2269
Father Only 661,129 859
Father and Other 37,836 77
Father total (alone or with someone other than the mother) 698,965 936
Both total (Involving one parent acting alone or in concert with someone not the child’s other parent) 2,373,900 3,205
Percent of cases involving one parent acting either alone or in concert with someone other than the child’s other parent
Mother Involved But Not Father 70.6% 70.8%
Father Involved But Not Mother 29.4% 29.2%

What I don’t know because the table doesn’t make it clear, is how many of these mothers and fathers were living together at the time the child died. Is part of the reason that more children are killed by mothers because more women than men are primary carers of children? The vast majority of lone parents are mothers. In the UK in 2014 for example 91% of lone parents were women.

But probably a more interesting percentage that can be gleaned from these figures is that children killed by parents acting alone. I haven’t analysed those figures when a parent ‘acted’ with another because no explanation is given of what that means or what degree of culpability was afforded the parent as opposed to the ‘other’.

1,704 were killed by a mother acting alone. That represents only 0.12% of the1,452,099 children who are neglected by their mother alone.  For fathers, who by themselves neglected 661,129 children, they killed 0.13% (859). So in terms of parents acting alone, fathers kill MORE children than mothers.

She then moved on to assert that mothers were more likely to abuse children than father’s full stop, referring to an Australian article ‘Why aren’t we talking about abusive mums?‘. Again I wonder to what extent this is reflection of the fact that women are overwhelmingly more likely to be lone carers, and considerably more likely to be poor.

Half of all absent fathers in the UK pay nothing towards their children. Women are also more likely than men to be victims of violence and abuse from intimate partners.

Lets look at this article. It has a link to its claim that ‘children are far more likely to suffer abuse or neglect at the hands of mothers – but that link is simply to another article offering the experiences of ‘Sarah’ who was sexually abused by her mother and I couldn’t find any reference to statistics there.

It does however quote this study

The Child Family Community Australia reports, “A British retrospective prevalence study of 2669 young adults aged 18-24 (May-Chahal & Cawson, 2005) found that mothers were more likely than fathers to be responsible for physical abuse 49 per cent of incidents compared to 40 per cent).”

So no 70/30 split in terms of physical abuse.

It then says this, but provides no link to any published statistics in support

DHHS data in the UK shows that of children abused by one parent between 2001 and 2006, 70.6 per cent were abused by their mothers, 29.4 per cent were abused by their fathers.

I wonder if that is actually a reference to the statistic quoted by Mark Rosenthal given the reference to ‘DHHS’ which isn’t a UK body. With such precise statistics quoted, the lack of any link is odd.

‘Preserved by Faith’ also referred to this data from the American Society for the Positive Care of Children. But this doesn’t seem to break down the figures to show what proportion of the abusers were mothers and what proportion fathers or step fathers. However they are a shocking light shone on just how dangerous parents are for children.

NATIONAL CHILD ABUSE STATISTICS

  • 4 million child maltreatment referral reports received.1
  • Child abuse reports involved 7.2 million children.1
  • 3.4 million children received prevention & post-response services.1
  • 207,000 children received foster care services.1
  • 75.3% of victims are neglected.1
  • 17.2% of victims are physically abused.1
  • 8.4% of victims are sexually abused.1
  • 6.9% of victims are psychologically maltreated.1
  • Highest rate of child abuse in children under one (24.2% per 1,000).1
  • Over one-quarter (27.%) of victims are younger than 3 years.1
  • Annual estimate: 1,670 to 1740 children died from abuse and neglect.1,3
  • Almost five children die every day from child abuse.1,2
  • 80% of child fatalities involve at least one parent.1
  • 74.8% of child fatalities are under the age of 3.1
  • 72.9% of the child abuse victims die from neglect.1
  • 43.9% of the child abuse victims die from physical abuse.1
  • 49.4% of children who die from child abuse are under one year.1
  • Almost 60,000 children are sexually abused.1
  • More than 90% of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator.6
  • Estimated that between 50-60% of maltreatment fatalities are not recorded on death certificates.5
  • Child abuse crosses all socioeconomic and educational levels, religions, ethnic and cultural groups.1

 

But what is the point of all of this?

I don’t think the statistics show that mothers are more evil and more prone to abuse children than fathers. I think the statistics show that mothers are more likely to be in a situation where they will be poor and under stress. I really don’t know what ‘Preserved by Faith’ was trying to argue. She seemed to have a pretty clear animus against her step children’s mother but it wasn’t clear if she was trying to argue that the mother was therefore more likely to murder her children so custody should be given to their dad, now married to ‘Preserved by Faith’.

I could see that ‘Preserved by Faith’ was pretty angry and upset at what she perceived to be the situation. And yes, if its true what she set out, that’s a hard road to travel.

But does the path get any easier by relying on partial statistics to make some general point that as mothers are 70% of child killers, then HER step children should spend 50% of their time with their dad?

The tragedy of these cases is that the adults involved often cannot look beyond their own anger and they fall back on tired generalisations about ‘men’ versus ‘women’. If their rage is palpable to me – a complete stranger they ‘meet’ on the internet, I wonder what is is like for the children in their lives who presumably have a much more immediate and proximate exposure to such negative emotions. Their mother and father are not statistics for them.

One thought on “Mothers are more likely to abuse children than fathers. Fact?

  1. Angelo Granda

    It is an unpleasant but it is a fact that children are subjected to much trauma and emotional disturbance when taken from family by LA’s and that by many reports of findings following Public and Police enquiries they are also stand much more chance of suffering abuse of all kinds and emotional neglect in care than with either Mum or Dad.
    Life for children in care is degrading and abysmal according to many care leavers also.

    Reply

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