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.


  • 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.

43 thoughts 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.

  2. Luke Pickell

    The issue of abuse and neglect becomes muddled when the debate focuses on gender. Abuse can occur from a mother or father. The core issue nobody seems to address is the mental wellness of either parent. A high conflict person with a personality disorder is the likely culprit of abuse. Even worse is their ability to present in a charming and likeable way to outsiders while being monsters in private

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I agree. a lot of the problems I see are caused by people with clashing personalities. I am not so sure I would go so far as to say most of them have a ‘personality disorder’ – but their ability to react appropriately and proportionately is often compromised by high levels of anxiety which are made worse by relationships breaking down and an increase in conflict generally.

  3. Angelo Granda

    Luke, I am interested in your comment about ‘high conflict people with a personality disorder’.
    I feel sure you are right that such characteristics can evolve in both genders( or should I say all genders).
    I wonder at what age the traits first emerge and begin to set within one.
    Early childhood,teens or anytime.
    If high conflict begins in childhood then it should be spotted,addressed and subdued early on before it gets out of control.
    Perhaps you know what are the early signs to be looked out for.Then children can be disciplined and set on the right path early?

  4. Sam

    Angelo . In my personal opinion children who are high conflict, do not need discipline, they need uncondtional love, coupled with boundaries. Boundaries are different from discipline as they are flexible and are less likely to lead to conflict or resentment, from the person to whom they are applied. Also a person with anxiety is frightened, very frightened at times , they need to feel stability and it helps to learn coping mechanisms. As I say it is only my experience, I know you will feel free to disagree.

    1. Angelo Granda

      Sam,I respect all opinions .
      Unconditional love to me includes teaching them self-discipline.
      We all need discipline.Ask the Authorities who impose it upon criminals.
      I don’t really know what the jargon ‘high conflict’ means but I am guessing it relates to a child who is hard to control and who becomes violent, fights and perhaps hurts others.Those sort need disciplining,maybe the naughty step or lines,extra lessons etc.
      From my experience boys who bully other children punching and kicking are best disciplined and taught self-discipline.
      This can be done by taking him to the boxing club.Put him in the ring with a bigger boy first time and he learns what it feels like to get a pasting from a larger person and it teaches him a lesson for life. Then channel the boys physical attributes,teach him how to fight fairly,how to buckle down,follow the rules,self discipline himself and succeed.
      All readers should realise that I am probably quite a bit older than most of you.I totally disagree with corporal punishment myself but I can remember when the schools and authorities used to flog children mercilessly with all kinds of nasty weapons.
      The naughty-step is kinder ,I think .

      1. Angelo Granda

        Naturally men’s ideas will differ from women’s and SW’s will have their own answers for everything.
        We all have to show respect to each other as you and I do.
        However,childcare is not the problem.The problem is child a protection system and inhumanity imposed upon citizen’s by an in just ,out-of-control judiciary ( in secret).

        1. Angelo Granda

          Sam, I come to these discussions from a different direction than you do also these people engaged in the male.v.female debate who are generally involved in private law disputes.
          My concerns are for innocent children and their parents in dispute with the authorities.
          Innocent Mums (and Dads) are systematically dehumanised and demonized purposely in order to impose inhumanity upon them and often shortcomings such as alleged ‘personality disorder’ ,depression etc.after a biased witch hunt of files are used to achieve what are illegitimate goals .
          The SW’s are just the small fry used as tools.They have to do what the powerful mutants ( managers and executives) tell them to.
          These awful people must be opposed and the law enforced.

  5. Jamie

    What a biased article, setting out to achieve a desired outcome from the start. A couple of points being:
    – The statistics show right there at the top of your article that women are far more likely to commit violence/murder against a child, but you try to say that its actually quite an even number when you look at it from a different perspective? Maybe if you close your eyes.
    – You say that 0.13% is MORE (yes you typed more in capital letters to highlight the massive difference between 0.13% and 0.12%) than 0.12%. If you are actually looking at things logically, that is a negligible difference, but you have found a straw to hold on to there. So it seems your point is just to try and show that men are worse than women.
    – Which follows into that I think the biggest problem with this piece, is it offers not even the slightest contribution to the problem. You have merely tried to say that men are more guilty than one might realise, and women not so. You have offered excuses as to why women may be more violent towards children, excuses which I’m sure you would not accept as adequate reasons for men being abusive towards women.
    If you’re going to do a piece like this, please try and help the issue, don’t just sling mud.

    1. Angelo Granda

      Jamie, Let me assure you that the writer of this post is trying to help and solve problems.She works tirelessly to write them,tirelessly to conduct this resource which Is dedicated to reform and spends hours. of her own spare time reading and moderating our comments.
      One measure of the CPR is its impartiality and as part of that you or any other person interested professional can,if you feel so inclined,submit a post of your own.
      Thanks for your comment but if you do send in a longer post,bear in mind that I find statistical arguments such as we see here are off the point for me.
      No-one should be violent towards children .
      Smacking by Mum is not violence or neglect,it is a responsible child-training technique and acceptable in England at least.
      I hear lots of ‘stories’ and read lots of ‘statistics’ about male and female violence and abuse of children but long in the tooth as I am ,I have see very little if any except that dealt out by schoolteacher and authority figures including those who run care-homes both men and women.
      Our main problem is institutional abuse.

    2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Jamie, similarly if you are going to comment, maybe row back from being so rude and impatient? This post was written in response to someone who was very keen to say that women do X Y and Z MORE THAN men. The statistics don’t actually show that. I am well within my rights to point this out. No debate can flourish or have any positive outcome if we are making false factual claims. So when I see them, I will attempt to debunk them. I didn’t wave this post under your nose and demand you read it, if you don’t find it helpful you don’t have to dwell on it. Or write your own response?

  6. Ryan Dube

    “You have offered excuses as to why women may be more violent towards children, excuses which I’m sure you would not accept as adequate reasons for men being abusive towards women.”

    This is an excellent point from Jamie – and it’s par for the course on issues like this one. Seems that when the statistics don’t match the “men are inherently evil” belief system, all form of excuses are made to try and evade cognitive dissonance.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I haven’t offered excuses. I have analysed statistics and talked about actual facts. Women are overwelmingly the majority of lone parents and overwhelmingly more likely to be in poverty. This is a fact. Sorry it doesn’t chime with your narrative of ‘men as victims’ but tough. There it its.

      1. Nic

        Interestingly enough, women are majority lone parents because men are victims of family court, and child support abuse. If you look at the cause of your stats, then things get a clearer.

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          Interestingly enough, you don’t care to provide any statistics to back up this pretty astonishing claim? Many single parents don’t go anywhere near the courts. Men who father children then disappear are a perennial problem and nothing at all to do with any court system. Rather a culture that seems to find this acceptable and does not dish out the appropriate moral or legal condemnation.

          1. Danielle

            Sarah- this is not the case. To begin with single women living in poverty is more closely associated with having a child outside of marriage than it is with being a divorced single parent. Secondly, I’d bet if you took the group of single moms living in poverty, and took the kids out of the mix, almost all those same women, would still be in poverty. There’s endless articles on what actually causes the poverty, and it’s quiye complex. And research shows child support payments increase, when men are given the chance to see there kids and were allowed to be involved with those kids, and when they had a decent relationship with the mother.

            I know this goes both ways, but point is, if you are a broke, sleep with some broke dude who hasn’t made a lifelong commitment to you, and then you get pregnant, having a kid isn’t going to help you get out of poverty. As for guys bailing, well he didn’t want a kid, and guess you did. Then you whine about not having the money for the kid you solely decided to have.

          2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            Sorry, don’t understand the point you are making. Single mothers are overwhelmingly more likely to be poor than women in partnership with others. This isn’t a moral judgment – i am not unpicking their bad choices in men etc – its a fact.

  7. Nic

    It would be interesting to see how equal shared parenting might alleviate some if these abuses. If society and courts expected both parents to take an equal role. Stress would be reduced greatly, money is great but what allot of single parents need is a break, time for themselves and free time for a life beyond being a parent.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Yes shared parenting is best – IF you can achieve it both emotionally and practically. Insisting on dividing a child’s time ‘equally’ down to the last minute (as I have seen some parents try to insist upon) is unlikely to be in the best interests of any particular child. And unless parents are rich enough to provide two homes of comparable status within easy reach of child’s school and friends, the practical problems can be big too. Better than talking about ‘equal’ shared parenting is to talk about ‘shared parenting’ with both parents having the emotional intelligence to realise and accept that sometimes ‘shares’ are not of equal division and this will fluctuate as child grows and his/her needs change.

  8. Andrew Shapiera

    you are rationalizing behavior for people who kill their own children? I think the overall point should be that the incorrect narrative which exists in society is that fathers are almost always the abusers and that the perception of mothers as only the nurturers in the family could not be guilty of abusing/killing their own child. Care to take that one on?

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Eh? Not sure I understand your point. I am trying to analyse statistics. Facts are facts. You don’t ‘rationalise’ them into or out of existence. They are what they are. I have no where supported any narrative that claims women don’t abuse or kill their children. Of course they do. But overwhelmingly, perpetrators of violence across the board are men. Sorry if that stings, but facts are facts.

      1. revspinnaker

        Sorry if this stings but show me a child burned with cigarettes, starved, chained to a bed, pimped, trafficked… and I’ll show you a woman in the house. I have yet to have a professional in mental health disagree with that assessment. You are obscuring facts to protect abusers to save face for the evil YOUR gender does. Crimes against children are gendered, most are committed by women, usually natural mothers, and most is perpetrated against boys, 60%. Same citations as yours. Facts are facts. Now go tell me why ALL Munchhausen By Proxy cases are perpetrated by YOUR gender.
        You go girl!!!

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          The criminal justice system will differ I am afraid. Please do share with me the source for your assertion that no man has ever been involved in a fictitious illness case.

  9. Angelo Granda

    FACT: Statistics are not facts and aren’t intended to be. They are propositions.
    FACT: Not many women abuse their children and not many men abuse their children.
    FACT: The Authorities often allege falsely for political reasons that natural parents abuse their children and the system denies those parents their civil rights to a thorough investigation of facts.
    FACT: No publicity is given to cases and hearings are held in closed courts .There are no charges laid and no fair hearing of facts considered by a public jury.
    FACT: We have a ‘culture’ where children are neglected, starved, confined under guard, pimped, trafficked etc. whilst in the ‘care’ system; see various public inquiries and criminal court findings.
    FACT: The Authorities are generally the source of statistics re- abuse which consequently cannot be fully relied upon even as a rough indicator.Neither can Court findings or figures.Particular any American ones.

    In my opinion Reverend Spinnaker, gender arguments are pointless.

  10. Angelo Granda

    FACT: When compiling statistics ,when targeting ‘troubled’ families, when both considering and taking court action aimed at procuring children into the care- system AND when later on taking action to remove newborns from former looked-after children , the Authorities continually and probably deliberately refer to the ‘ likelihood’ of child abuse within a family based on conjecture with ACTUAL CHILD ABUSE within a family.

    No-one actually sees any child-abuse,often there is not a shred of physical evidence of it ,no-one is accused of it thus parents cannot defend themselves in a fair court hearing . Alas ,despite their human rights not to have their lives interfered with without a fair trial of circumstances and facts, we have an inferior civil family court masquerading as a fair one where decisions are taken based on information and ‘data’ which is not validated.

  11. Pete

    Did anyone else read this: “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.” and think: thats not at ALL correct (the conclusion)?

  12. Danielle

    There are several big issues with drawing conclusions based off the data collected. My main issue would be is that this information is based off the small percentage of cases that were reported. Since a Lot of child abuse is not reported, it makes it difficult to conclusively know much for that matter. All the data actually shows us is what percentage of mothers or fathers abused their children and got caught, and then abuse was reported and analyzed.

    The awful truth is both fathers and mothers are capable of abusing their children. However, we have no way of actually knowing the “Real” Numbers of who’s doing what, so we can’t confidently say we know who’s more likely to do what, based of this data. There seems to be an underlying issue at play… where there’s this divide of us versus them, Mom vs Dad, and this desire to display some superiority to the other ( I honestly see this much with Moms than Dads, however I know it can go both ways). At the end of the day, every parent should strive to be a good parent, and kids need both parents, preferably parents who won’t abuse them, who will support their child having a relationship with the other parent, and to share parenting as equally as possible.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Of course. I accept all you say about data. All we can ever do is analyse the data before us. That allows us to form some tentative views about how that data is represented in the world at large but it can never be offered as a definite absolute about ‘this is what happens’. And I have seen how readily people misinterpret or ignore data in order to arrive at a pre formulated conclusion.

      FWIW my life experiences tell me that men and women abuse and hurt children. But a clear majority of sexual and physical abusers are men.

  13. Adrian

    Last I checked, 1,704 is MORE than 859, no?

    “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.”

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Sorry don’t understand your point. the percentage of lone fathers who kill is greater than the percentage of lone mothers who kill. By sheer weight of numbers more children are killed by lone mothers – as 90% of lone parents households, in the UK at least, are lone mothers.

  14. Adrian

    You did not write in your article above that the percentage of lone fathers who kill is greater than the percentage of lone mothers who kill. (Never mind that the difference is 1/100th of a percentage point). What you wrote in your article was: “So in terms of parents acting alone, fathers kill MORE children than mothers.” That statement is not correct. 859 children is not more than 1,704 children.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      The point I was making that the statistics for lone parents at least did not support the assertion that MORE mothers kill than fathers, simply by virtue of their motherhood. The truth, as ever, is a bit more complicated than that. Feel free to disagree with me but please don’t think the simple fact of your disagreement is of any interest or relevance to me.

  15. Adrian

    In fact, one could accurately write that mothers acting alone kill nearly twice as many children as fathers acting alone. Or that 66% of children who are killed by a parent acting alone were killed by a mother rather than a father.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      yes. That would be accurate. What is also accurate is when you boil it down to percentage terms – because MORE mothers have sole care of children than fathers – it is the FATHERS who are more likely to kill. This is why data needs to be interpreted from a number of perspectives. Sheer weight of numbers tells you one thing. But you also need to look at the proportionate representation of individuals in groups.

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          No Adrian. You are being wilfully obtuse. Let me put it this way. In a group of 100,000 – 5,000 do an awful thing. This is a percentage of 5%. In a group of 100, 50 do an awful thing. Now I agree, 50 is numerically a lot less than 5,000! but as a percentage of the group it is 50%. Are you not a bit more worried about a group where 50% of its members do a horrible thing than the group where only 5% of its members do the horrible thing? Can you really not see the point and value of interpreting data in this way?

          1. Adrian

            You cite a difference of 45 percentage points (5% vs 50%) as your example to support your point. But the reality is the difference is not 45 percentage points, it’s 1/100th of a percentage point. You pretend a 45 percentage point difference is comparable to a 1/100th percentage point difference, but I’M the one being obtuse? That’s actually pretty funny.

          2. Sarah Phillimore Post author

            Sigh Adrian. I was trying to help you understand a basic point which you seem to have missed. I am glad to learn that you do in fact understand it.

            One more rude and aggressive comment from you and I shall simply delete all your comments. That’s 100% my rule.

  16. Adrian

    The thing about the percentages you came up with is that they don’t say what you think they do. You’re comparing the number of kids who are killed to the number of kids who are neglected.

    The only thing that those percentages tell us is that When comparing women who acting alone to click their children and Men Who acting alone neglect their children, the likelihood of either group killing that child is almost identical. These numbers do not include those parents who do not neglect their children and so they do not reach the conclusion you claim they do.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      Adrian. Let me break it down for you. I think men and women are equally capable of doing horrible and abusive things to children. But as all statistics, criminal convictions and reporting shows me it is overwhelmingly men in all areas of life who are violent and sexually abusive to women and girls. I don’t know why that is but I suspect a toxic mix of testosterone and social conditioning.

  17. Angelo Granda

    No,No. YIt,s primarily caused by moral depravity nothing to do with testosterone or ‘social conditioning’ if by that you mean the extent of wealth,poverty and environmental influences.
    I don’t know the exact stats but I have noticed that both rich and poor men(and women) are alleged to abuse children and that despite obvious improvements in material wealth over the past 60 years,plus improved housing,hygiene facilities and healthcare,child abuse allegations rise and the child protection workers are apparently overwhelmed.
    In my opinion,it is caused by a toxic mix of ‘lack of moral training and example’ at school, idleness ,joblessness and shame induced when many men these days sponge off women,rely on them to get accommodation and then move in with them not save up for their own AND when Jo less,they send the women out to work and live by cadging off them for smokes,beer,drugs etc.
    Then when they are inevitably disrespected for it. Bash ,thump.
    Unless we discuss the causes more realistically and teach moral standards from an early age,human beings are bound to go astray and commit their various misdeeds.
    We all have our own faults and but for the grace of God,we could all kill,in theory.
    Arguments about gender will not help.


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