In Fathers & Families Board Member Robert Franklin’s recent piece Maine Newspaper’s Statement ‘Most Often Children Die at the Hands of Young Men’ Is False, Franklin, Esq. dissected false claims made regarding fathers, father figures and child abuse. He also contacted both the Bangor Daily News and Dr. Lawrence Ricci of Portland, who had asserted in the article that across the U.S. fathers and father figures are more likely to kill children. A week later the paper has added an Editor’s Note to the top of the article correcting this mistake. The Editor’s Note reads:
Editor’s Note: The following correction was appended to this story, and the online version reflects those changes: A story that ran on Page A1 on March 6-7 about child abuse fatalities requires clarification. A statement by Dr. Lawrence Ricci of Portland asserted that across the U.S. fathers and father figures are more likely to kill children. Ricci said Thursday his statement referred specifically to abused children who died of head trauma. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, mothers and female partners of a parent were identified as perpetrators in 27.4 percent of fatalities involving child maltreatment in 2007, the most recent year for which statistics are available, while 19 percent of perpetrators were identified as fathers or male partners of a parent.
Franklin’s original post is below:
This article weighed in with some disinformation about child abuse, neglect and death. Its headline – “Most Often Children Die at the Hands of Young Men” – gives a taste of what’s to come (Bangor Daily News, 3/6/10). That is, the article itself contains some important misstatements of fact. The piece is all about homicides that have children as their victims. It quotes a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety, Stephen McCausland, as saying that about two children per year are victims of homicide in Maine and that usually they’re under the age of three when they die and that most of the perpetrators are parents. Without knowing the Maine statistics in detail, none of that is surprising, because the same is true nationwide. According to the Administration for Children and Families of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, about 80% of homicides with children as the victim are perpetrated by parents. There are about 1,300 of those nationwide. McCausland goes on to say that,
The vast majority are children who died at the hands of a young man, usually the father or the mother”s boyfriend.
That’s a defensible statement. The facts are these:
- From 2005-2009, 11 children under the age of 18 were the victims of a homicide in Maine;
- Three were killed by fathers, three were killed by mother’s boyfriend; two were killed by mothers; two were killed by other children and one was killed by a step-father;
- One of the boyfriends was mentally incapable of criminal wrongdoing and was committed to a psychiatric institution.
So in Maine, over the years McCausland referred to, seven of the 11 children were killed by a father or boyfriend. This is a very small sample size, easily subject to fluctuation, but it is 63%, and if that constitutes a “vast majority,” so be it. But where the article really goes wrong is with its next expert, Dr. Lawrence Ricci who tries to bootstrap the Maine statistics to the national level by saying,
That”s certainly the case in Maine, and it”s certainly the case nationally.
Actually, that’s certainly not the case nationally. The ACF tracks child maltreatment including homicide yearly. And every year since at least 1997, women have killed significantly more children than have men, regardless of their relationship. For example, in the ACF’s report of state data for 2007, some 56.5% of child homicide was committed by women while 42% was committed by men, with the sex of the remainder of perpetrators being unknown. Ten years before, the figures were about 63%/37%. But Ricci doesn’t stop there. He goes on to claim that nationally,
the perpetrators of serious physical child abuse or homicide are most likely fathers, next are nonbiological father figures such as stepfathers or mothers” boyfriends, and then sitters, Ricci said. Mothers are the fourth-most-likely perpetrators and “well down on the list,’ he said.
Again, that’s just flat-out false. The most likely perpetrator of child injury or death is the child’s mother. Referring to all injury to children, the 2007 ACF states,
Victim data were analyzed by relationship to their perpetrators. Nearly 39 percent (38.7%) of victims were maltreated by their mother acting alone (figure 3–6). Nearly 18 percent (17.9%) of victims were maltreated by their father acting alone. Nearly 17 percent (16.8%) were maltreated by both parents.
The same report found that 27.1% of child homicides nationwide were committed by a mother acting alone while 16.3% were committed by a father acting alone. The figures for all child maltreatment over the years are these:
- 2006: Mother acting alone – 39.9%; Father acting alone – 17.6%
- 2005: MAA – 40.4%; FAA – 18.3%
- 2004: MAA – 38.8%; FAA – 18.3%
- 2003: MAA – 40.8%; FAA – 18.8%
- 2002: MAA – 40.3%; FAA – 19.1%
- 2001: MAA – 40.5%; FAA – 19.3%
- 2000; MAA – 40.0%; FAA – 16.6%
In other words, for none of those years was child abuse by a mother less than twice that of a father. Prior to 2000, the AFC didn’t break down abuse into categories like “mother only” or “father only,” so here are the figures for male and female child abuse for the three years before 2000:
- 1999: Female – 61.8%; Male – 38.2%
- 1998: Female – 60.4%; Male – 39.6%
- 1997: Female – 62.3%; Male – 37.7%
I’ve emailed Ricci to find out his response to these data, but he hasn’t responded. How he figures that fathers commit more child abuse than do mothers is anyone’s guess. If you want to email the Bangor Daily News, the editor-in-chief is Michael J. Dowd and his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to email the article’s author, Dawn Gagnon, go to the article and click on her name. Thanks to Tatyana and Jeremy for the heads-up.