Facing up to child abuse

The repeal of Section 59 of New Zealand Crimes Act 1961 sparked a lot of debate here about the use of violence against children. I feel this discussion concentrated on parental rights and often ignored the results of parental violence on children. Sad, because child abuse is a problem in New Zealand.

Triple abuse

I think the victims of child abuse suffer three times over (if they survive the original abuse).

  1. There is the abuse itself. This is not always physical. Psychological violence and just plain neglect are common forms of child abuse.
  2. Victims of child abuse suffer lifelong psychological problems. Not surprising once we realise that the brain is undergoing important changes and development at this young age. Research has shown physical changes in the brain arising from the abuse and neglect of children (see The enduring effects of abuse and related adverse experiences in childhood).
  3. Society’s refusal to recognise, or even deny, the abuse – both that experienced by the individual in the past and similar abuse of other young children today – is a painful put-down to victims, especially those still suffering the psychological results of the original abuse.

Female violence

One form of family violence society tends to ignore, or even deny, is that perpetrated by women. There is the widely accepted assumption that the perpetrators of violence are always male. Females usually figure, along with children, as only the victims of violence.

For example, The National Network of Stopping Violence has the slogan “The safety of women and children is paramount.” Their website considers men as only the perpetrator of violence and women as almost always only the victim. (Although it does have a very small note on Women’s Anger). Similarly a writer of a letter to the editor of the NZ Listener stated:

“It is clear that 95 percent of domestic violence is done by men to women and children. And it is obvious that male violence is much more destructive than women’s. Targeting men who are violent is the most effective use of limited resources to get the most behavioural change.”

Unfortunately this view is myopic. Research on family violence is confused by the qualifications and interpretation around statistics for female violence. This is particularly true when the victims are male – incidents are often not even reported and their significance is very often downplayed by authorities and researchers.

However, there is agreement that a major proportion of child abuse incidents are perpetrated by women. New Zealand police statistics indicate that in about 40% of cases children were murdered by women (Family Violence Statistics.pdf (size 191 Kb)). It’s important to acknowledge this for the sake of the children as abuse or neglect of a child by a caregiver (and the main caregiver is usually a women) is particularly damaging psychologically.

For a survivor of abuse perpetrated by one’s mother this is a slap in the face – a refusal to recognise the abuse or even to deny it. This is abuse of the survivior – perpetrated by society itself!

See also:
Smacking debate has moved on
US data on family violence

Similar articles:
Exploiting the vulnerable
Psychological and religious abuse of children
Religion and children

32 responses to “Facing up to child abuse

  1. The New Zealand statistic that you cite shows that 36.6% (that’s not “about 40%”) of adults who murdered children are women (15 women vs. 26 men). That is based on a total of 41 cases over a four year period – that’s a very small sample and would not be considered statistically reliable (although I hasten to add it is horrible that even one of these kids had to die). In the next table, the gender of the offender is also reported for family violence apprehension: 25,356 male vs. 4,135 female over a 1-year period (14% female; 86% male). This is a much larger number and thus more statistically reliable. I do not want to deny that there are women who are abusive to their spouses or partners. But the numbers you provide seem to point toward a much higher proportion of male perpetrators.

    There are A LOT of false statistics out there (see here for a debunking of many of them). BUT, one of the co-authors of the often cited studies on “battered men” (to which your link “US data on family violence” leads), Richard Gelles, writes: “To even off the debate playing field it seems one piece of statistical evidence (that women and men hit one another in roughly equal numbers) is hauled out from my 1985 research – and distorted – to ‘prove’ the position on violence against men. However, the critical rate of injury and homicide statistics provided in that same research are often eliminated altogether, or reduced to a parenthetical statement saying that ‘men typically do more damage.’ The statement that men and women hit one another in roughly equal numbers is true, however, it cannot be made in a vacuum without the qualifiers that a) women are seriously injured at seven times the rate of men and b) that women are killed by partners at more than two times the rate of men.” (my emphasis; his full article is an interesting read).

    I agree with you that we should not deny the fact that there are women who commit hideous crimes against children and their partners. However, most of family abuse is still perpetrated by men.


  2. Thanks for your useful response Rachel. A few points in reply:

    My figure of 40% of children murdered by female adults was based on the NZ Police figures (admittedly not rigorous) and other research results in this area. For instance Download .pdf (size 165 Kb) quotes one report finding “A New Zealand review of all child homicides between 1991 and 2000 found that in cases where a child was killed by their parent – 54% of perpetrators were fathers, 40% were mothers, and 6% of cases involved both parents.” and “Another study of New Zealand child homicides looked at a non-random sample of cases between 1980 and 2003 and found that equal numbers of women and men killed children.”

    A 60%-40% distribution is only an approximate one (in that sense 36.6% is about 40%) – such accuracy is not warranted with small numbers).

    Male/Female violence in general is a side issue (although an important one) to my post. However, my familiarity with the use of statistics in the natural sciences does give me some warning alarms about the stats. Sure the large number do allow more accuracy in in apportioning seriousness by gender. But there is still the problem of collection of these statistics. There is at least anecdotal evidence in NZ of complaints of female violence against male adults not being accepted by police – the attitude that you are “not a man” if you complain. And, of course, there is the qualification and interpretation that researchers place on the seriousness of complaints. I suspect that the published stats do underestimate the problem of female violence within families. Inevitable considering social attitudes.

    Having said that I have not doubt that many conclusions such as injuries resulting from male violence against females are usually much greater than vice versa.
    I am sure that the nature of violence perpetrated by the different genders is also different.
    I am sure that serious family violence is perpetrated by men in the majority of cases.
    I am convinced that male violence (which probably has evolutionary origins reinforced by social conditioning) is a particular problem which modern societies need to address.

    But the prevailing attitude that only males commit violence within families has led to (in my view) some unjust and dangerous policies in NZ. For example, we now have a government-promoted policy of medical doctors asking only women and children about the possibilities of violence in there home – to be fair this should be asked of men as well. We have government support for women’s refuges (essential in my view) but no equivalent for men! What do men do if they need to escape from a violent family situation. What do men do if they recognise that escalating anger within their family may lead to themselves committing a dangerous violent act? Where do they seek refuge?

    I personally think more should been done to specifically address problems of female anger and violence – especially as it is different to that for men. I personally think that the different but complementary nature of male/female anger and violence is a potentially lethal cocktail within our families. Our polices aimed at ameliorating this problem should, to be truly effective, recognise both aspects.

    But these really are a side issue to my post. The survivor of child abuse (family violence/neglect) is effectively being told that there wasn’t a real problem if the perpetrator was their mother rather than their father. Maybe they are “only” 30 or 40% of all child abuse victims. But survivors suffer psychologically for the rest of their lives and this denial of the problem or refusal to recognise the problem, is another manifestation of the abuse. This time perpetrated by society.


  3. Pingback: Rachel’s Musings » Lack of Women Skeptics

  4. Who has said to any “survivor of child abuse (family violence/neglect) […] that there wasn’t a real problem if the perpetrator was their mother rather than their father”? I, for one, am not denying that women commit crimes against their children. They do. What I tried to point out is that most perpetrators are men. The statistics you use to support your claim are statistics for murders. Murder is not the only form of child abuse – it is the most severe form. To extrapolate that number to all forms of child abuse is simply misleading.

    I would also like to quote from the document that you cite in your comment above (with my emphasis):

    Research has repeatedly demonstrated that once attention to the issues of context, meaning, motivation, and consequences of violence are included it becomes clear that there is not a gender symmetry in partner violence – it is men’s violence against women and children that is the most significant social problem.

    Women remain overwhelmingly responsible for child care, offering a potential answer to why they figure prominently in child abuse statistics. However, one international researcher’s findings led her to note that ‘given that men spend on the whole so much less time with children than women, what is remarkable is not that women are violent towards children but that men are responsible for nearly half of the child abuse’.


  5. Someone denying that women are never violent at all would be wrong, of course. And I agree with you about doctors being told to ask about abuse in all cases where it might be an issue, and that services are needed for battered men.

    Nonetheless, to extrapolate from murder numbers to “child abuse incidents,” as you do, seems like you’re sketching your evidence.

    Rachel has already pointed out the low sample size problem. Here’s another: The statistics you link to don’t say anything about the age of the children murdered. How many of the children murdered by mothers were newborns smothered or left to die of exposure? In the US, this sort of child murder is most commonly committed by mothers, not fathers.

    Of course, I’m not saying that newborn deaths are excusable. My point is, you can’t extrapolate from a statistic that probably includes an unknown number of scared teenagers in a post-partum haze smothering their newborns, or abandoning them to die out of fear and panic, to the conclusion that fathers and mothers are equally likely to beat their non-newborn children. The two kinds of abuse have different pathologies and motivations, and there’s no reason to assume that the gender demographics of parents who murder children will be identical to the gender demographics of parents who abuse children without murdering them.


  6. Rachel and Ampersand – murder statistics are of course not the same as all abuse. However, in the absence of detailed statistics they do give an indication that there is a problem. (They are the only clear stats I have access to at the moment and I am not arguing about the specific proportions – only that child abuse by females is a problem). The sample size problem is inherent from the fact that in New Zealand such numbers are by there nature relatively small. (However, child abuse, and particularly that leading to deaths, have a high profile here at the moment. They are a cause of strong public concern, despite the small numbers).

    This whole area is difficult to detail statistically because of reporting problems and the often motivated interpretation of the existing statistics.

    However, child abuse by mothers does occur and honest argument about the statistics surely can only influence conclusions about the actual numbers – or the percentage of abuse perpetrated by male or female offenders.

    Less honest manipulation of statistics arises when those interpreting the statistics wish to deny the abuse, or decrease the importance of one or other gender in the abuse because they have their own preconceptions of how the situation should be. I think this is a common problem in social research.

    But detailed argument here over statistics is irrelevant. We must come back to the problem I have tried to communicate. The abuse survivor, who often suffers major psychological effects of this abuse for the rest of their life, is forced to feel that abuse over again and again when commentators or researchers either deny, or belittle, the fact that their particular abuse occurs, or is important.

    Survivors of abuse by their mothers feel offended and belittled when the knee-jerk reaction to the facts of this abuse is to deny that it occurs, or to belittle it by attempting to qualify statistical information.

    I personally feel very strongly that statements of denial or belittling arguments of statistics just refuse to recognise the justified feelings of the survivor. Why can’t we just focus on the perspective of the survivor?

    What the survivor wants is recognition of this abuse – especially if this acceptance of knowledge can inform social policies aimed at preventing this abuse continuing.


  7. With all due respect, Ken, neither Rachel nor I have belittled the experiences of abuse survivors, and you’re being unfair to imply we have. If all you had said was that abused men — including those abused by mothers — are overlooked and need more support and more services, I would have never disagreed with you.

    You were the one who brought up statistics that you now pretty much admit you can’t stand behind. If you don’t think statistics are relevant, then you shouldn’t have brought statistics up — especially in a way that was not accurate or supportable.

    I do care about the perspective of survivors; however, you’re attempting to say (paraphrased) “if I use bad, unsupportable statistics and get criticized for it, that means my critics are insensitive to survivors.” That’s not a fair argument.


  8. Ken: I would like to ask you again for support for your assertion that (a) “survivors of abuse by their mothers feel offended and belittled” and (b) “knee-jerk reaction to the facts of this abuse is to deny that it occurs.”

    Has anybody looked into survivors of abuse by mothers and if so, have they found that these survivors are not taken seriously? And also, what data do you have that indicate that people are denying the fact that there is abuse by women/mothers? In my opinion, that would be very interesting statistics to look at. Neither of these questions can be answered by looking at data about perpetrators.


  9. Ampersand – I have not said “abused men — including those abused by mothers — are overlooked.” You have read the “abused men” into this discussion and I think it illustrates the problem – your own sensitivity.

    My sole use of statistics was “New Zealand police statistics indicate that in about 40% of cases children were murdered by women “, and then solely to illustrate that there is a problem. I never suggested any rigour in those figures and the actual numbers of 30%, 40%. etc. are not the issue to me. Talk about “standing behind” figures like this is a cheap shot. (I in fact have pointed out the real problems that lie behind collecting and interpreting those statistics – anecdotal and personal evidence suggests to me that the actual figure is not insignificant).

    You are suggesting that I have used statistics dishonestly. Or that I have claimed you & Rachel are “belittling the experiences of abuse survivors.” I reject those suggestions. I accept the specific assurances of concern that have been made.

    I suggest that what is behind the reaction is the knee-jerk assumption that I am advancing the case of “abused men.” There may be a need for that but it is certainly not behind my posting which deals with abused children. You have bought up that particular issue.

    In the hope of overcoming you hostility to my case perhaps I can put it anecdotally and personally:

    I and my siblings are child abuse survivors. My mother was the source of violence and neglect. She was never included in any statistics on family violence. The long lasting effects of this abuse are extremely painful for me and I will not (cannot) discuss that further. My perception is that they were even more painful for my siblings judging from their psychological problems (alienation from siblings is probably one of the common results of abuse).

    Now (many, many years later) I find every time that policy makers and commentators deny or belittle the fact of child abuse by mothers I feel very hurt. It forces me to again remember our own experiences and feeling of abandonment. We were abandoned then and such comments make us feel abandoned now.

    It’s got nothing to do with statistical details or a campaign about “abused men.” It’s about the social abandonment of vulnerable children at the most formative periods of their lives – and the continued abandonment of them as survivors.


  10. Rachel, our posting crossed and perhaps my answer to Apersand may answer you queries to some extent.

    I can only add that personally I have found that whenever I have related to friends, etc., that in my own family my mother was the violent parent the response has been to deny it or find excuses for her behaviour. I am not opposed to “excuses” if they can provide useful explanations. But if my father had been the violent parent I doubt that “excuses” would have been offered. We have got to recognise the social and psychological causes of violence in males, as well as females, (rather than considering one or other gender just naturally prone to violence)if we hope to solve these problems.

    Incidentally, I sometimes come across similar situations. New Zealand’s Alan Duff’s novel “Once were Warriors” is a very powerful story of parental violence – by the father – in a Maori family. The strange thing is that in Duff’s own family his mother was the violent parent. It’s just so much easier to make a case for child abuse by the father than by the mother. But that doesn’t help the victims of maternal violence.

    I agree that we need more statistics about how survivors are treated, how they are listened to. I imagine such analyses will suffer from research motivations and interpretation. But it will also suffer from the willingness of survivors to participate. For many it’s just too painful to be relived.


  11. Ken, I’m sorry we’ve gotten off on the wrong, and I’m relieved to know I misunderstood what you were saying to be criticism of me and Rachel. I accept your assurance that this isn’t how you intended to be read. Sorry to have misunderstood you.

    That said, I do think you — perhaps accidentally — said more with statistics in your original post than you intended. Here’s what you wrote:

    However, there is agreement that a major proportion of child abuse incidents are perpetrated by women. New Zealand police statistics indicate that in about 40% of cases children were murdered by women.

    To me, this read as if “in about 40% of cases children were murdered by women” was intended by you to be evidence supporting the statement “a major proportion of child abuse incidents are perpetrated by women.” That would, in my opinion, be a misuse of statistics. The universe of “child abuse incidents” is so many times larger than the subgroup “murdered children,” and the pathologies are potentially so different, that it would be a mistake to think that the one is in any way proof of the other.

    I’m not explaining that to be argumentative, but just so you’ll know where I was coming from when I said I thought you had misused statistics.


  12. I think the agreement on the role of women in child abuse is wider than just those particular police statistics. That’s indicated by the statement “Women remain overwhelmingly responsible for child care, offering a potential answer to why they figure prominently in child abuse statistics” in the Family Violence and Gender Fact Sheet from the NZ Family Violence Clearing House. This suggests that this abuse covers more than just fatalities – the NZ police statistics are only an example of one aspect of abuse and that’s why I used them. Those and other similar statistics involving child deaths are the only ones I have access to – they provide support for my statement, but I am of course open to real evidence that the fatality statistics overestimate (or underestimate) the extent of general abuse.

    I do believe that women make a significant contribution to child abuse – I am not, and did not, in any way suggest that their contribution was higher than that of men. This is not implied by the words “significant”, “major”, or “prominent.”

    What I am saying is that our policy makers and commentators should acknowledge this particular problem (as it will have its own particular solutions) – currently they just seem to ignore, or even deny, it.


  13. Ken, I was afraid that you had experienced abuse by your mother and that was why you knew that this fact is often belittled… It is horrible that this has happened to you. But, as you pointed out in your original post, society’s attitude – presented to you in the form of reactions by your friends – is simply adding to the trauma. There is nothing more healing than feeling understood (at least that’s been my experience)! So, not being heard, not being believed must be traumatic.

    I am glad that you “came out,” so to speak, because I think only if people who have experienced this kind of abuse speak out, societal attitudes can change. My mind is now reeling with ideas because anecdotes are much more powerful than statistics (of course if you can back up the anecdote with statistics, you got a really strong case). I don’t know if there would be supportive people but if more and more of you start to speak out, people will have to listen. I think that’s how the emphasis on domestic violence got started.

    Your second section “female violence” reads to me as unassociated with your first section. It sounded to me like the “gender symmetry” arguments that the “men’s rights” movement has throw up (sometimes from abusive men against their victims). Debunking their claims has been very tiring (and often costly, since it can happen in court). If you were talking about “mother violence,” you might want to say that more clearly to avoid losing people in that baggage. If you are talking about adult to adult abuse, it is indeed true that most of that is perpetrated by men (see the Gelles article quoted in my original comment). However, you are talking about parent to child abuse, which might have a very different dynamic, although, as you pointed out, the statistics are lacking, which then goes back to societal attitudes.

    Remember, Ken, you are not alone! If you do start speaking out, you will connect with others who have been abused by their mothers. And these connections will help, both you personally, and strengthen your cause.


  14. Hmmmm, I wonder if there are any studies done of maternal abuse amongst Pacific Island families? I know from (indirect) personal experience that the mothers in many of these families are extremely physical. Also, I’ve heard that among aborigines the females often physically abuse their menfolk.

    I think it’s important that none of this stuff is left hidden and it shouldn’t be a matter of comparing violence between the sexes – more a matter of bringing all forms of abuse out into the light of day.

    Good on you Ken from airing the topic.


  15. I agree with you, Damian, that it is important to air this topic! We just have to tread carefully because, unfortunately, there has been a lot of misuse of statistics. That is, partly, why Ampersand and I have reacted so strongly to Ken’s original post (well, the second part of it under “female violence”). However, this is mostly done in the context of adult to adult violence.

    Also, please bring your “skeptics standards” to this: anecdotes are an important starting point but, ultimately, they need to be backed up with solid research. Just like we ask psychics for proof, we need to be prepared to give proof that goes beyond anecdotes.

    Here are some resources – both statistical studies and material to help male abuse childhood survivors heal – compiled by Jim Hopper. He also includes a list of studies.

    Your comment, Damian, also reminded me of another heinous abuse committed by women on children, girls in this case: Female genital mutilation. I have even heard arguments that circumcision of male babies could be considered abusive, which it probably is as the scream of pain indicates…


  16. I appreciate this subject opens a real can of worms and unfortunately as with much of the social sciences it is very hard to study quantitatively. I have referred to the problems of getting the raw data (how do you define and/or ascertain abuse anyway) and the researchers/observers are rarely objective. Statistics get interpreted according to the researchers preconceived beliefs in this area – and those beliefs can be very strong. (I think this is a general problem in a lot of social research).

    It’s just so hard to do the proper research.

    From my own perspective (and it was a long time ago) as a child my problems arising from parental neglect were noticed by teachers and social workers – but in every case the child was blamed! I, not my parents, was the problem! When as that child all I wanted was to be rescued from the situation. (And I don’t think I, or most of my siblings, ever became a statistic).

    Its easy to collect data on dead children, and maybe those who end up in hospital as a result of a violent incident. I feel it’s the other children who probably suffer most, and with more lasting results, and yet we are unable to really get decent data on them.


  17. It does look like there are some studies out there, though. I haven’t had a chance to look at what Hopper cited but from glancing at it, they did look at the gender of the abuser.

    […] in every case the child was blamed! I, not my parents, was the problem!

    I think that this is a very common experience of all abuse victims, no matter what the gender of the abuser. If you wanted to increase awareness about abuse perpetrated by mothers this might be a point of connection that avoids the can of worms. Your abuser just happened to be your mother. I think this way to can help people realize that maternal abuse does occur but make it less of an issue of numbers. Once there is enough awareness, social research into this issue will follow (and, again, Hopper might already point to some of that).


  18. I am not particularly campaigning on child abuse by mothers – rather I would like us to get rid of the “can of worms” mentality. It is that which prevents proper recognition of problems like this – and consequently disrespects the victims.

    I think this is a common problem in social research. My own experience has been in the natural sciences and I know individual scientists can be very committed to different viewpoints. However, one always has physical reality to fall back on. An hypothesis can be tested in practice and this can lead to more objective recognition of theories.

    However, in the social sciences this seems a lot harder to do. Consequently, I think individual and social pre-conceptions sometimes have an overriding influence. I am also shocked at how little peer review seems to occur with many publications in these fields. Some people seem to get away with using extremely poor methodology, poor statistical analysis, and then exhibit often very motivated bias in their interpretations. (I don’t wish to criticise the whole field – I’m sure many, if not most, publications are far more rigorous than the few I have seen). But that’s why I am somewhat diffident about drawing definite conclusions from reported findings in areas such as family violence and child abuse. For this reason I also don’t think it’s a matter of just doing more research while we still have the “can of worms.”

    Unfortunately, many people will draw conclusions or use this research to support preconceived ideas. This was my point about the writer of the letter to the editor of the NZ Listener – an approach which is arguing for abandonment of many victims of child abuse just because they don’t fit into his preconceived concept that the offender is, for practical purpose, always the male.

    I can appreciate why people do react this way. People can get very defensive when they feel their own sex (or gender -I’m not sure which is the correct term here) is being criticised.

    But for the sake of the victims, and for the sake of adopting social policies which are more realistic (and therefore more effective than the current one-sided ones) I wish more researchers in this field could overcome their preconceptions.


  19. The “can of worms” I was talking about are protracted legal cases where accusations of abuse are countered with accusations of abuse. The research that Gelles & Straus did, for example, has been used to support the claim by – often abusive – men that women are abusive, too. In child abuse cases, this can happen, too, with the “parental alienation syndrome,” for example, which has been largely discredited in the legal arena but is gaining momentum in the political world. The idea behind PSA is that mothers make false accusations of abuse. Instead, PSA argues, it was them who alienated the child(ren) from the father and the abuse claims are fabricated stemming from the alienation. The sad fact is: This children really have been abused in most cases. But because of all this PSA talk, nobody believes them. People claim they were brainwashed. That’s the “can of worms” I am talking about. I think in the first section of your post you’re raising a very important issue: how society adds to the experience of abuse by belittling it or not believe it existed – society’s complicity in the continuation of the abuse. But by playing the “they, too” card in your next section – as correct as your argument might be – you get into the can of worms again because this is getting back to the adults. The abuse is what matters, not the gender/sex of the perpetrator (I never know which term is correct either…).

    I am not denying that women can be abusive. What I think is important, though, and I think we agree on that: Children are being abused by parents – both mothers and fathers. And they are getting lost in the “can of worms.”


  20. I can appreciate the quagmire of legal fights over children and other matrimonial issues. I’ve always felt that couples should do everything to resolve issues without bringing in lawyers. Certainly legal documentation, etc., is not about truth.

    What gets to me about adult attitudes is that these do effect the survivors. I can appreciate how indigenous Australians felt about the continual denial of their experience. That’s what I mean by abandonment. The current government’s apology removed the denial and appears to have had a strong effect.


  21. Dear Ken:

    Great discussion on maternal child abuse. The defensive responses of women, are the embodiment of the collective denial that you describe.

    Oh sure, we feel bad you’re mom abused you but…

    First, your New Zealand statistics are very close to American research I found at the American Journal of Psychiatry web-site. Of children younger than five, murdered in the US during the last quarter century, 61% were killed by their own (natural) parents. This did not include neonaticide(killed within 24 hrs). Of that, 30% were killed by their mothers, 31% by their fathers. They admit the research is inadequate, and on further investigation, some questionable child deaths, may have in fact been homicides.

    But you touched on the real issues of denial and how that effects survivors of maternal abuse, both emotionally and politically.

    If you want an example of big-time denial in the media, check-out my article, “I was On Oprah,” at Child Abuse Effects.com. Darlene Barriere, from Canada, has a really great site, one that’s very receptive to everyone.

    You may find some helpful information there, regarding your own personal healing.


  22. Thanks for your comment James and for informing me of the Child Abuse site. I eventually found your article (I Was On Oprah). I guess Oprah is an extreme example of denial – but I think this denial is going on all the time at much lower levels, whenever the subject of family violence and child abuse is discussed.

    The site looks good and extensive and I will have to peruse it more

    In New Zealand we have reacted quite strongly to recent cases of child murder by parents but, on the other hand, there was just a huge amount of public opposition to the removal of discipline as a legal defence in the prosecution of child abuse cases. (Christian fundamentalists were/are at the forefront of this opposition, but it is wider than that). I can understand how some good parents have been duped into thinking the law may apply to them – but at the same time I feel they are ignoring the abused children in that concern. That makes the child abuse survivors feel abandoned.


  23. A couple resources that were recommended to me by the Family Violence Prevention Fund for male survivors of childhood abuse:
    * National Resource Center on Domestic Violence at 800-537-2238 (U.S. specific)
    * Male Survivor Website


  24. Dear Rachel,

    Thanks for the excellent website suggestion for MaleSurvivor. I noticed Mike Lew was involved in many of their programs. He’s one of the foremost authorities on males sexually abused as children. He actually brought, and led the panel discussion on the Oprah Show I mentioned earlier. I highly recommend anything he is involved with, including his book, “Victims No Longer.”
    Ken, you may be interested in another book that helped me to deal with my mother’s orchestration of my own abuse. That book is, “Toxic Parents” by Susan Forward. Sibling alienation and manipulation, is a huge part of maternal abuse.


  25. Thanks for the links, Rachel, and the book recommendation, James. I had a quick look at the Amazon reviews of the book.

    Two things I have problems with regarding these resources:

    1: Each survivor has had different experiences – problems are so specific. It’s hard for me to relate to, and get useful information from, discussion of sexual abuse – for example. However, some of the issues of violence, and particular of neglect, do resonate. That’s the nature of the issue, I guess.

    2: Although I can face up to (recognise) some of the damaging behaviour of my parents I can’t bring myself to blame them. I actually find that I see them as victims of their own family and particularly social situations. It’s more a matter of ‘Toxic Society’ rather than ‘Toxic Parents.’ In some ways I feel that if I ended up blaming and hating my parents I would just be making my own psychological situation much worse.

    Relevant to the ‘Toxic Society’ argument – I watched a TV programme last night about the treatment of children considered mentally retarded or just “difficult” in New Zealand over the last 80 years. This was related to the eugenics ideas of the 1920s and 1930s where these people were put away in institutions and prevented from “breeding” so as to improve the purity of our “white racial stock.” These people got no education and were treated like slaves – labouring on the institution’s farm. They were very often (probably always) sexually and physically abused by staff and older inmates. And, I guess they were all deprived of the normal human interaction a child needs to develop properly.

    Kids were assessed by doctors and judged difficult or retarded using very suspect criteria. Some children were just born out of wedlock, placed in an adoption home and then passed on to these institutions when no adopting parents could be found. Some were judged on the basis of very minor crimes (stealing a few sausages) or behaviour which is probably considered quite normal now. Some were just abandoned by parents – maybe because they were considered slow in their development, but maybe for economic reasons.

    I guess this shows that there are always people who had worse treatment than we did. But my point here is that this abuse was carried out by society -not parents.


  26. Hey Ken,

    Looks like I touched a nerve with that “Toxic Parents” book. Mind you, ‘blame’ doesn’t necessitate ‘hate.’ Kind of like hating the sin but not the sinner. Many more people are abused as children, and don’t grow up to be abusive.

    Men in particular, are more likely to bottle up the raw emotions of child abuse, and take it out on themselves in self-destructive behaviors. The male suicide rate here in America far outnumbers that of women.

    Abusive moms create abusive children. Whether they grow up to ‘take it out’ on themselves or someone else is their own moral decision. You were abused, I was abused, but we didn’t choose to repeat the behavior. In fact, we’re the ones trying to help others as we help ourselves, by at least clearing the air and allowing an open, unbiased forum.

    The more social awareness we can provide for abused children, as they confront the pressures of adulthood, the better they will be able to deal with their own past experiences. That will enable them to survive the old wounds in a healthy manner.

    Whenever I hear a woman begin a statement with, “as a mom I… ” I am galled by their presumed ethical superiority. Mothers are some of the most abusive creatures on the planet. The mainly feminist, social denial of this fact needs to be addressed in a significant manner.

    We all need to deconstruct the ‘motherhood myth.’ For that I give the authors of “Toxic Parents” credit.


  27. Male suicide rates in NZ are also higher.

    I still find blame a very hard thing to do.

    Mind you, even in blame I have found a gender bias. When I have revealed anything about my original family situation to friends, and pointed out that it was my Mother (not my Father) who was violent, I have usually got a response which looked for an excuse rather than recognising responsibility. Arguments such as psychological illness (true), post-natal depression, etc. I’m sure, however, if my Father had been the violent one he would have been blamed, without any attempt to excuse (this is the usual reaction to violent men).

    Now, I argue that whatever the gender there will be psychological or situational factors behind someone’s violence. We should recognise this and not just leave it at blame. This is not to excuse the violent person. But to help us understand the causes and possibly look for cures and prevention.

    I agree, however, society should recognise the facts of child abuse by Mothers. But we should also try to understand the background factors behind violence by either gender.


  28. Due to the media attention most women get over abuse that they have suffered from a man it may look like men are the only real contributors to child abuse, but more attention is draw to men concerning this because they usually tend to abuse children physically and sexually, however its is just as likely and maybe more that psychological abuse can occur at the hands of a female caregiver, in fact there is no common consensus on what really is psychological abuse. The nature of men due to gender roles and some inheret genetics is to “tuff it out” and most likely dont report as much abuse as you stated, and society is not prepared to be as receptive to people who experience psychological abuse. In fact I personally know of a case where the mother was completely emotionally abusive to her son, DHS has been called on her before and yet still nothing has been done to remove the child from an environtment that has allready damaged him and will have everlasting effects on his life. the young boy handles emotional neglect in a different way a young girl does, so it my not be as evident to authorities when they investigate a complaint that there some form of abuse is really happening, had it been a father who was raping his daughter it is much clearer that there is a problem and much more easily prooven in court.

    It upsets me that men are always getting the blame for all of this, it just so happens that the gender roles in our society lean us towards different ways of responding to our problems, men maybe more likely to take out their anger and insecurites physically but women are more likely to take them out on somebody emotionally.

    whats worse?
    the man who cheats on his wife – or the woman who withdrawls emotionally from her husband?
    the man who gets drunk and hits his daughter, or the woman who is bipolar and provides a totally unstable enviroment for the child to bond with the parent in?

    Im not saying one is better than the other, but sometimes it seems that the media and society treat the physical abuse of a derranged man as being more horrible than the phsycological abuse of a derranged woman and that is simply only addressing some of the problem, and the lasting effects cam be just as bad for the survivor of either type of abuse.


  29. Big Problem with Female Violence
    is the obtuse nature of much of it

    a bloke punches someone
    clear – no doubt – assault

    Men tend to attack people
    Women tend to attack relationships
    Men tend to use gross forms of violence
    women tend to be more subtle
    Men tend to use active forms of violence
    Women tend to use passive forms of violence

    these things tend to mean the violence of women
    Is completely invisible in any assessment
    of Family Violence

    and so the Interpretation of the Family Dynamic
    is completely lopsided
    by the fact that great weight is put on physical violence
    ie men’s favoured form of violence
    and no weight at all is put on relational violence
    ie womens favoured form of violence

    for example – my mother destroyed
    our relationships with our father
    their was no violence
    there was no slander
    she didnt need to even
    say a bad thing about him
    she just showed absolute contempt
    for anyone who showed
    any respect or regard
    for my father
    and that was enough


  30. Rob D – I agree. It is a big problem. I think that in relationship violence we must assess the contribution of both partners – not just the men. And we should address issues of non-physical violence and aggression.

    However, when it comes to child abuse the data suggests that actual physical violence by mothers occurs in a large proportion of the cases. Probably in a higher proportion than for physical violence by females in heterosexual relationships.


  31. Pingback: Hand of God « Open Parachute

  32. To whom it may concern, in Australia there’s media and political campaigns against domestic violence and only the male is shown as the perpetrator. It’s outrageously sexist. Violence by women against men on TV is regarded as humour, even for what the man thought or said, rather than actually did.
    Life is very iffy, but I want to list my statistic, perhaps here to begin with. Please excuse this transgression if it’s the wrong place, but here as a first step.
    My mother was the most violent person I’ve known, and hers was violent too. It was against all other family members and our pets. She started when I was a baby– altered the shape of my nose because it was like my fathers– I altered it back once I could afford a surgeon. The dog had to have its spleen removed after three kicks in the stomach, because it didn’t walk fast enough for her. I had to have my nose cauterised because it bled each time she hit. She burnt my father’s leg with an iron, broke countless things on his head, threw a large knife at him but it stuck in the table– he got in trouble for ruining the table. She pushed me on the bed when I was undressing and bounced up and down on my groin, when I was ~12. Force fed me holding my noise in front of visitors. Several evenings when I was ~13/14 my father pinned me down (family games?)– but I had claustrophobia (late ceasarian birth) and was screaming that I couldn’t breath, and my my mother would have her hand up my pyjama leg pinching my bum too close to where my legs join– and insult me if I didn’t respond properly, as she wanted. Sundays she’d go on shouting for hours. Anything nearby would be a weapon. Never heard her give a compliment to anyone, only insults. Every little thing, every movement or intention, had the tightest control– on threat of violence. I was allowed to go to kindergarten but only for one day.My father never hit her back once– if he had done then I might have grown up with some self respect. He was much stronger and bigger though. She’s alive, he’s gone. These are just a few of the things that I don’t know what to do with. Now I’m 55 and still have a lot of trouble trusting females– especially those who look like her– can’t trust those at all, recoil if close. Also affects confidence in general. Mothers are in charge of children younger than are fathers (on average) and the earlier the damage is done the harder it is to undo. I’ve met women whose mothers got to them very early, and messed them up. I’d like to be free, at least for a while.


Leave a Reply: please be polite to other commenters & no ad hominems.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s