Life with Mom is often violent.
It's a sad reality, but few talk about it very much. Why not?
More deadly than the male
Media hide the fact women are far likelier to kill their children than are men.
A New Jersey woman who tortured and abused her 11-year-old son, and was caught on tape bragging about it, was sentenced to 10 years in prison December 17. Tonja Chamberlain, 32, of New Egypt, forced her son, Rob, to sleep in a locked, alarmed room along with a parakeet and a potbellied pig. She beat him brutally and would not allow him to go to the bathroom. He went to school smelling of urine. A neighbour who had previously tried unsuccessfully to alert authorities finally captured the mother on tape boasting, "I lifted his feet right up off the floor," referring to the impact of her blows. At another point, she talked about the colours of the bruises she was leaving on the boy. "I was hoping for purple, but all I got was red," she said. Ocean County Assistant Prosecutor William Cunningham stated that Chamberlain dotes on her two daughters and loves animals but terrorized her only son.
Although the story was reported by the Associated Press (AP) wire service, it was disseminated only on its "state" wire service to New Jersey rather than on its national wire, thereby virtually ensuring it would not be picked up by the national media, and also rendering the story difficult, if not impossible, for the average person to access from the Internet. Critics say this is the fate of many stories carried on the wire services about the brutal, often fatal, violence committed by women, and points to a society which has difficulty accepting the fact that women are capable of brutality. Some say it also points to self-censorship by the press.
A spokeswoman for AP, Susan Clark, says the decision regarding whether stories are run nation-wide or merely state-wide is left up to AP editors, but requests for an interview with an editor were ignored. University of Alberta philosophy professor emeritus Ferrel Christensen, who specializes in social ethics, says he doubts editors have a policy in place regarding which stories will be thus consigned to obscurity. "It's just lots of individuals making biased judgments, and I have books' worth of evidence that there are many people in the media suppressing information constantly, not so much by refusing to run stories, but by telling half the truth to distort people's perception. It's got to be stopped."
Even when a news item about women's violence is picked up from the wire service and disseminated through the media,
A photo illustration by Paul Wodehouse was shown here.
It showed a woman using a skillet to beat up a prostrate man.
Woman hits man: Now that's not newsworthy.
it is often in the form of a brief, one paragraph story, and often includes excuses such as "The woman was distraught" or suffering from the disorder, Munchausen syndrome by proxy, the allegedly "extremely rare" yet surprisingly ubiquitous affliction that compels parents to intentionally harm their child to bring attention to themselves. Despite the cover-up, however, the grim truth is that women are actually many times more likely to kill their children than men.
Of 1,262 American children murdered in families in 1996, women murdered 984 and men murdered 278; biological mothers murdered 768, natural fathers murdered 30. By far the greatest perpetrators are mothers who are living with a man who is not the father of her child. Because of the way in which statistics are reported in Canada, the perpetrators of the crime are more difficult to sort out. What is known is that although violent crime generally is on the decline, violent crime against children is on the rise, with homicides against children under 18 increasing from 17.5% of all homicides in 1994 to 21 % in 1998. Of those homicides, 52% were boys. A 1986 study by Dr. Cyril Greenland of McMaster University found that in Ontario, of the natural parents involved in child abuse and neglect deaths, fathers were involved in 13 deaths, mothers in three times that number (38 deaths) and both parents in 12 deaths. Infanticide is a category of crime that can be claimed only by women, and is generally punished by a jail term of two-years-less-a-day. When men kill infants, they are tried for murder.
The public perception, however, is that most women are incapable of violence. In her book, When She was Bad: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence, author Patricia Pearson illustrates this attitude with the American case of Marybeth Tinning, who from 1972 to 1985 killed nine of her children in Schenectady, New York, and incredibly came under suspicion only after she killed her ninth. The assumption of female innocence is encouraged by the media, as Jim Boyce documented in his 1994 master's thesis at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. Under the title of Headline Coverage of Male and Female Victims of Violence in Canadian Newspapers, 1989 to 1992, it reported that "Statistics show that men and women suffer roughly equal rates of violence. Media coverage of male victimization, however, is virtually non-existent in contrast to that of female victimization." Of headlines which directly referred to the gender of victims, Mr. Boyce found 97.2% referred to women as victims, and 2.8% referred to men, a ratio of 35 to one.
Paul Goetz, a carpenter in St. Paul, Minnesota, has followed articles on violence by women over the past three years and discovered what he believes to be a "sanitation process" even in search engines. "I was thrilled when I came across the news search at Excite because it claimed to scan the articles from over 300 newspapers," he reports. He became suspicious, however, when he found by himself a lengthy article about a woman's violent act in a newspaper Excite claimed to scan, "but the article would not appear on a search even when I used the words in the actual headline! So I wrote to Excite. Some guy wrote back and explained they use a spider to scan the articles, but they are first put into a data-base at Excite before they are made available for searchers. Obviously some of the articles were getting censored. When I started to get down to the nitty-gritty of why some articles would not show up that were at the newspapers they claimed to scan, he never wrote back."
Despite the best efforts of many levels of information disseminators, however, Senator Anne Cools believes that in the past few years there has been a "paradigm shift" in the public's perception of the violence of which women are capable, due to their increasing first-hand knowledge of the violence which is frequently part of divorce. According to Sen. Cools, "Although in the past women's violence against children was overlooked by Canadian society, people now have a clearer perception that the propensity to be violent is not something that is wholly owned by the male of the species."
© The Report
It had been planned to include the following graph in the article, but the graph didn't make it into the print edition.
Source: Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-3)
National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, Administration on Children,
Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families, U.S.
Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC 20201, May 1997