Miami mother is drowning her six month-old baby in an apartment
swimming pool when a maintenance man stops her and rescues the
child. A Jacksonville woman asphyxiates her three children with
car fumes. A
Houston woman drowns her five children in a bathtub. A San Diego
toxicologist poisons and kills her husband after he discovers
of these crimes shocked the nation during the past week. But should we really be so surprised?
truth is, female violence in American families is anything but
rare. For example:
According to the US
Department of Justice, 70% of
confirmed cases of child abuse and 65% of parental
murders of children are committed by mothers.
Police investigators and academics believe that 15% of
the roughly 7,000 Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) cases
reported each year in the United States are really cases of
suffocation, primarily committed by the mother. This alone
accounts for at least 1,000 homicides a year.
Criminologists point out many if not most cases of SIDS
aren’t reported and, because autopsies are rarely able to
distinguish between suffocation and SIDS, the actual number of
murdered infants is probably much higher.
Female juvenile crime rose 75% from 1980 to 1999, and
female crime rose 200%. At the same time, violent crime nationwide declined.
Infanticide in the industrialized nations is as common or
more common as the killings of adults, and the vast majority of
these infants are killed by their mothers, according to the
World Health Organization
A custodial mother is five times more likely to murder
her own children as a custodial father, adjusting for the
greater number of single mothers, according to the US Department
of Health and Human Services.
women are getting away with it. Among women convicted of killing
their infants, two-thirds avoid prison completely and the rest
serve an average of only seven years. The average prison
sentence for females in the U.S. is only about 70% that of males
for most violent crimes. A man convicted of murder is 20 times
more likely to receive the death penalty than a woman.
How do women get away with it? For one,
their victims tend to be the helpless, or semi-helpless, such as
children, the elderly, and infants. Thus there’s less struggle
in their crimes, and less evidence left behind. As noted by
author Warren Farrell, a high profile expert witness in domestic
violence cases, women tend to use “hands off” methods such as
smothering and poisoning, which are less traceable. When killing
husbands or other adults, women often hire others to do the
killing. Female murderers tend to be older than male murderers,
and thus are looked upon with more trust and less suspicion.
according to crime journalist Patricia Pearson, author of
When She Was Bad: How and Why Women Get Away With Murder,
the reasons women escape punishment go far beyond the evidence
(or lack of it) left at the crime scene.
Female killers, Pearson says, are often successful at
turning their violent crime into victimhood by citing, among
others, defenses such as Postpartum depression, Pre-Menstrual
Syndrome, and Battered Wife Syndrome. According to Pearson:
operative assumption is that the violent woman couldn’t have
wanted, deliberately, to cause harm.
Therefore, if she says she was abused/coerced/insane, she
also blames male judges and law enforcement personnel and men in
the media who don’t take women’s capacity for violence
seriously and tend to make
excuses for, and cover up for, violent women.
case of Russell Yates illustrates Pearson’s point. His wife Andrea murders their five kids and he, while
commenting on the horror of her crime,
seeks to protect her from harsh punishment.
During the week after the murders, writers, talk-show
hosts, and talk show callers rushed to make excuses for Ms.
Yates. One caller suggested that Russell Yates is the real
perpetrator for allowing Andrea to be alone with the kids in her
condition and that he should be charged with manslaughter.
Another caller compared the murders committed by a pair of 10
year-olds to the Andrea Yates killings, saying that all three
perpetrators need sympathy and understanding.
The insulting infantilization of the mother--as if a
grown woman is no more accountable for her actions than a 10
year-old--went unnoticed by both the conservative male talk show
host and his feminist co-host.
After the Miami near-murder, one prominent internet news
service posted the story and asked readers to sound off on the
question: “Should children be permanently removed from their
mother if she tries to kill them?”
the violent woman as if she were a child, or insane, or a victim
worthy of sympathy--is this the way to protect society and our
children from violent criminals?
This column first appeared in the Pasadena Star-News &
Affiliated Papers (7/5/01).
Sacks' columns on men's and fathers' issues have appeared in dozens of America's
largest newspapers. Glenn can be reached via his website at
via email at Glenn@GlennSacks.com.