When parents kill.

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
March 12 2002 6:00 PM

When Parents Kill

Why fathers do it. Why mothers do it.

(Continued from Page 1)

The Murders
Perhaps more revealing than the differences in why they kill their offspring are the differences between how fathers and mothers do so. For one thing, parental murderers tend to be highly physical. According to a 1988 survey done by the U.S. Justice Department, while 61 percent of all murder defendants used a gun in 1988, only 20 percent of the parents who killed their children used one. Children were drowned and shaken, beaten, poisoned, stabbed, and suffocated. These methods betray a certain "craziness" in both genders—they betray an intense passion and a lack of planning. But a study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children shows that fathers are far more violent. And mothers frequently dispose of the corpses in what researchers call a "womblike" fashion. Bodies are swaddled, submerged in water, or wrapped in plastic. Moreover, the NCMEC study showed that while the victims of maternal killings are almost always found either in or close to the home, fathers will, on average, dispose of the bodies hundreds of miles away. All these behaviors suggest that women associate these murders with themselves, their homes, and their bodies

Advertisement

None of the arguments here assumes that there is no such thing as postpartum depression or, in rarer cases, postpartum psychosis—a deep break from reality that affects less than one in 500 new mothers. Andrea Yates is actually a good example of someone who was overdetermined to experience some kind of psychotic break that would end tragically. But Yates is only one of hundreds of mothers who kill every year, and while complete psychotic breaks explain why some of this homicidal rage and violence is turned upon one's own children, it doesn't account for either the staggering numbers of maternal homicides or for society's leniency toward women in these cases. The property theory does provide these answers. Women still believe that they have sole dominion over so little property that arson and armed robbery and rape make no intuitive sense to them. But the destruction and control of something deemed to be a woman's sole property sends a powerful message about who's really in charge, and this message hasn't changed since the time of Jason and Medea.

It would, of course, help if we could stop thinking of children as anyone's property. It does nothing to advance the feminist cause to simply assume that all mothers who kill their children must necessarily be crazy. It will do a good deal to advance the cause of children's rights if we begin to consider them as legal entities in and of themselves.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

How Did the Royals Win Despite Bunting So Many Times? Bunting Is a Terrible Strategy.

Federal Law Enforcement Has Declared War on Encryption

Justice and the FBI really do not like Apple’s and Google’s new privacy measures.

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
Outward
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 6:39 PM Spoiler Special: Transparent
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?