Call Out Boston Herald on Misleading, Anti-Father Child Abuse Story

In Marie Szaniszlo’s Abuse: ‘Almost an epidemic” Economy likely tied to caregivers” stress (Boston Herald, 3/8/09) she writes:

As the economy worsens, straining some parents to the breaking point, child abuse in the Hub has soared, statistics show. From Jan. 1 to March 1, the Suffolk District Attorney”s Office had 256 child abuse cases, more than double the 105 it handled during the same period in 2008. “This is, if not unprecedented, then very rare. And there at least appears to be a correlation between the economic downturn and the sharp increase in the number of cases,’ said Jake Wark, a spokesman for the office.
“The financial strain on a young family could very well raise the tension in a household,’ he said. The increase has been enough of a concern that the chief of the office”s child-protection unit and Dr. Alice Newton, the medical director of the Child Protection Program at Children”s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, have conferred to see if there is anything they can do together to influence public policy and better protect children. “It feels like there”s almost an epidemic going on,’ Newton said Friday. The perpetrators the two hospitals have seen so far this year include parents, grandparents and babysitters, Newton said. And the victims have included younger babies with more severe injuries, such as a 3-week-old with a broken arm and multiple rib fractures.

Fair enough, but the story quickly degenerates into anti-male stereotyping. Szaniszlo writes:

Newton cites another instance in which a father shook his baby, causing a serious brain injury. In that case, both parents were educated, employed and had no known history of drug abuse or domestic violence, she said. But the father was at risk of losing his job and the family”s utilities were about to be shut off, she said. “It just shows that no family is immune,’ Newton said. “The increase in stressors is making more and more parents vulnerable.’ Since December, Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating”s office has investigated eight such cases, nearly three times the number it typically sees in a year. A surprising number also have confessed to the abuse – something chronically abusive parents typically do not do, Newton said. In one case, a father who had lost his job admitted stepping on his infant, fracturing several of the child”s ribs.

Men only commit about 1/3 of child abuse, so the odds that two out of the two cases that Szaniszlo covers would both be men is only 11%. The child abuse advocate she used as a source for the story might well have fed her only cases of male abusers, but Szaniszlo should have been aware that her story as written would be misleading and taken steps to correct it. To write to Szaniszlo, click here. To write a Letter to the Editor of the Boston Herald, click here. To comment on the story, click here. [According to Child Maltreatment 2006 (pictured), a report by the Federal Administration for Children & Families, leaving aside killings by nonparents or by mothers and fathers acting together, mothers committed almost three-quarters of the parental murders of children. If one looks only at murders committed by mothers and fathers acting alone, the ratio is over 2 to 1 committed by mothers. Leaving aside child abuse by nonparents or by mothers and fathers acting together, mothers committed almost three-quarters of child abuse. If one looks only at child abuse committed by mothers and fathers acting alone, the ratio is 2.3 to 1 committed by mothers. The data cited here are raw statistics, and all raw statistics are subject to various biases and influences. However, they do very much contradict the Boston Herald’s implication that it’s fathers who are the principle threat to their children.]

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