Facts and Satistics
"Among children under age 5 years in the United States who were murdered in the last quarter of the 20th century, 61% were killed by their own parents: 30% were killed by their mothers, and 31% by their fathers. Estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 1994 indicated that homicide was the fourth leading cause of death for preschool children and the third leading cause of death among children from ages 5–14 years. In the United States, the incidence of homicide of children less than 1 year old has increased over the past quarter-century. Compared to other developed nations, the United States has the highest rate of child homicide: 8.0/100,000 for infants, 2.5/100,000 for preschool-age children (age 1–4 years), and 1.5/100,000 for school-age children (age 5–14 years). In contrast, Canada’s reported rate for homicide of infants was less than half that of the United States: 2.9/100,000. Furthermore, multiple authors have suggested that rates of child murder by parents are underestimated in epidemiological studies of child death."-- Child Murder by Mothers: A Critical Analysis of the Current State of Knowledge and a Research Agenda Susan Hatters Friedman, M.D.; Sarah McCue Horwitz, Ph.D.; Phillip J. Resnick, M.D. Am J Psychiatry 2005;162:1578-1587

Parents who Kill - Interesting reading

Post Guest on Wed 14 Jan 2009, 6:36 am

Parents Who Kill - From US Time website circa 1994 (I have omitted the more horrifying details)

The drama was familiar, and so, tragically, was its conclusion. Three days before Susan Smith reported her children abducted, 24-year-old Pauline Zile told police that while she and her daughter Christina Holt were at the Swap Shop flea market just west of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the seven-year-old had disappeared from a stall in the ladies' room. For five days, Zile played the terrified mother on television, weeping and running her fingers through the hair of one of her daughter's dolls. A massive hunt for the little girl commenced.

Then on Oct. 27, the truth emerged. Police had searched Zile's apartment and discovered blood. She had implicated her husband John, who led them to a 5- ft.-deep grave behind a local K Mart. Christina had never been to the Swap Shop. One night six weeks before her "disappearance," police affidavits report, John had beaten her on the body and face as her mother watched. John later added that Pauline joined in the beating. When Christina started screaming, he stopped her mouth with a towel. When she choked and went into seizures, he says, he tried to perform CPR, unsuccessfully. The couple kept her corpse in a closet for four days. Last Friday, just 17 hours after South Carolina police shocked the nation with the announcement that they were taking Susan Smith in for murdering her children, Pauline Zile, like her husband, was also charged with murder.

If only to maintain our faith in ourselves and our families, we are honor bound to believe each tearful young mother, to pray for the dog-and-helicopter searches and to wear psychological, if not literal, yellow ribbons. But even as we do so, again and again, we are coming to realize that the climax of such searches is seldom a tearful reunion or even an apprehended bad guy. Far more often, it is a recanting, a tormented regression from "she was stolen" to "she fell" to "I may have dropped her" to "I hit her with a big rock."

Not all abduction stories are fiction, of course. Seared in the memory of America is the kidnapping nightmare that ended in the death of Polly Klaas in Northern California last December. But we also remember the story of Paula Sims, who went public in 1986 about the "disappearance" of her daughter Loralei and, three years later, her daughter Heather, and is now serving a life sentence in connection with their murders. And then there was the case of Diane Downs, the Springfield, Oregon, mother who claimed in May 1983 that a stranger waved down her car on a deserted road and shot her and her three children, killing seven-year-old daughter Cheryl Lynn. She too is now in jail for life, convicted of murder.

The statistics on parents who kill their kids vary, measured on different scales, gauging not only infanticide but other social ills as well. The FBI's most recent statistics indicate that in 1992, 662 children under the age of five were murdered. Ernest Allen, president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, estimates that about two-thirds of those victims were killed by one or both of their parents. These figures, however, do not tell the whole story. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services calculates that in 1992 about 1,100 children died from abuse or neglect. Far more common than the sensational murders in Union County are the smaller deceptions practiced by mothers who claim that abused or neglected children died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or accidents. They are also far more perfect crimes. Charles Ewing, a law and psychology professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, estimates that only half the country's abuse deaths are uncovered.

Dr. Michael Durfee, a child psychiatrist with the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services and a leading expert in the area, believes that men are more often responsible than women for killing offspring under 12 -- a contention borne out by state and local statistics. Durfee and other experts agree that the younger the victim, the greater the chance that his or her mother is the culprit, if only because mothers are still America's primary care givers during infancy. The Smith case is typical in that, says Dr. Randell Alexander, a child-abuse expert at the University of Iowa Medical School, "if you get a more elaborate cover-up, that's mainly a female domain."

One of the most disturbing aspects of these deaths, experts say, is that they are preventable. After the Zile murder was revealed, Palm Beach County assistant state attorney Scott Cupp, who heads the Crimes Against Children Unit, exploded: "We're burying too many kids who died at the hands of their parents. We need to be taking more of them out of these homes before this happens. I'm tired of it, sick of it. A lot of these kids could have been saved. Yet so often society doesn't pay attention to the signs." Murder "is usually not the first assault on the child," explains Jill Korbin, an anthropology professor at Case Western Reserve University and author of a study of women incarcerated for deadly child abuse. "These women often let others know about incidents of abuse prior to the fatal incident. But many times, the seriousness of the incidents isn't recognized."

Yet for all the cases of prior abuse, premeditation of the sort Smith is accused of is atypical. Says Suzanne Barnard, a social worker with the $ children's division of the American Humane Association: "I don't think most parents who murder children wake up in the morning and say, 'This is the day I'm going to kill my kids.' " Dewey Cornell, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia, says, "Usually one thing leads to another, and the problem escalates to the point where eventually the person caves in under the pressure and stress."

That leaves plenty of room to speculate, however, about what the "one thing" and "another" may be. On a psychological level, there are as many preferred diagnoses as diagnosticians. Says Cornell: "Most typically this is in the context of a woman who is severely depressed and may also be suicidal." Indeed, that seems to be the case with Smith. Other doctors are inclined to cite psychosis or postpartum depression.

The genre's more gothic cases include that of an Atlanta woman who smothered four of her children, one each time her husband threatened to leave her. Her behavior has been ascribed to Munchausen's syndrome by proxy, in which mothers secretly make their children sick to win attention. Originally the authorities had concluded that the deaths were caused by SIDS.

When the social roots of parental killing are at issue, however, the experts speak nearly unanimously. Susan Hiatt, the director of the Kempe National Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect in Denver, explains that "generally parents who kill their children tend to be under a lot of stress. They may be very young and not ready for the demands of parenthood. In all likelihood they are socially isolated and do not have a large social net. They may have been victims of violence themselves." Says Durfee: "The parents commonly have a history of previous violence, social isolation, substance abuse and poverty."

It is this consensus on the problem's social causes that enables those who study it to attain a sympathy for potential Smiths and Ziles that may elude other Americans. For every infant murdered, they say, there is another saved by the intervention of community health professionals and protective-services workers. Says Cornell: "The major message from this is to try to appreciate how important it is to educate people and help them to become better parents." Barnard remembers meeting with a woman in Colorado who had killed her infant child. "She had substance-abuse and mental-illness problems. Her husband had left. She felt that she had no future and that the child had no future. I asked if she knew about all the ways she could get help, from public assistance to family members. She didn't know. She had been abused herself." Barnard sighs. "I felt profound sadness and helplessness. I had access to lots of resources, but we hadn't connected in time."

Last week's arrest in South Carolina may have been shocking, but the fact is that infanticide is not new to this country. What is remarkable is that America, which 30 years ago did not talk openly about cancer and 15 years ago was leery of the subject of abuse, is still reluctant to believe that such tragedies can happen. Says Hazelwood: "It happens in families where there's no history of violence and where there's a long history of violence. It crosses racial lines, socioeconomic lines. It's not black, Hispanic or white, rich or poor. It's a horror that we as a society are going to be confronted with again and again."

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