Friday, November 17, 2006

Fathers who kill their children

I have been worrying about the growing numbers of fathers murdering their children for a while now, and yet nobody seems to want to talk about it. So I am grateful to the Guardian for this article (which you can access via clicking on the title of this entry) which covers this topic very thoroughly.

In fact it says all the things I have been thinking.

Like the fact that we seem to find excuses for these men, that it was not really their fault, that the wife had brought it on herself by daring to want to leave or see another man. I dont see it like that, they are self-indulgent, rage-filled "I'll show you" acts and as a woman I cant quite get my head round that, because we dont work that way.

I know there was an outpouring of sympathy for the man who threw his children off a hotel balcony when he was shown to be suffering so much afterwards, but I didnt much feel it myself, although they said in the papers that he had done it because he could not bear to live without them if his wife left him, I instinctively knew straight away that he did it to punish her.

Public shame and humiliation and the knowledge that as he had not died himself but would now have to live with his wife's hatred were what made him feel so dreadful - he had hoped to escape all that part leaving her bereft and powerless.

Like the fact that women who kill their children are usually suffering from post-natal depression or some other kind of mental illness, the men are usually sane, which makes it much worse. (Only 1 in 20 of parents who kill their children are women)

Like the fact that men who kill their children regard them as their possessions rather than human beings in their own right and it is this "ownership" which they believe gives them the power over life and death.

The Guardian article was printed on November 5th, it has happened another twice since then. The very next day in Bodelwyddan two children were murdered by their father, yesterday a man was arrested for murdering his wife, her brother and their two children in Newcastle.

I have also noticed that a large proportion of the murderers are ethnic minority fathers who have come to live here from other countries. I wonder if that is significant? Do families in other countries, in the developing worlds, have a different outlook about family members being posessions owned by the man, than we tend to do in the west? I think that must be the case.

There are white British men murdering their children too, so we shouldnt perhaps make too much of that. But this article says that generally the murderers hate their wife, not their children which again chimes with my thinking.

I think that if we are going to stop this dreadful thing happening, to reduce the incidence of fathers murdering their children (whether or not they also commit suicide) then we need to begin campaigning for more recognition for children. Children are not adjuncts of their parents, not possessions, not pawns, not tools to be manipulated to hurt someone else. They are people in their own right, small people of course, but still people.

We have to campaign so that fathers the world over understand what mothers dont usually have to be taught, that children are precious and while they are young and vulnerable they need us to look after them so that they can blossom into adulthood and start to look after themselves.

I feel the same about smacking children, it is the worst thing, to physically hit someone just because they are small. You wouldn't hit an adult, you know that is wrong, but you think it is okay to hit a tiny defenseless child, because "it is the only way". Lots of people get through parenthood without hitting their children, perhaps we should all watch supernanny a bit more often!

What kind of a world are we living in? And why is nobody talking about this? It is so depressing, when I heard about the family in Cyprus who were gassed by Carbon Monoxide my first thought was the father had killed the children, I never thought of the gas - and those of you who know me would be amazed to hear that. Since Michael's death in 1999 I assume all deaths have been caused by CO until told otherwise, but in recent months I have started assuming it was the father, how very sad and depressing.


Scrybe said...

I'm only gonna make one point on this...if the man who killed his kids while attempting to also kill himself did it because he could not bear to live without them, why did he have to kill them? Surely by killing himself, he would have escaped the endless torture of life without his kids - whether his kids lived or not was utterly irelevant to his inability to live without them if he had committed suicide.


John Doe said...

Curious that you feel no-one is talking about this. I count no less than four full-length opinion pieces in major national newspapers over the past month - the Times, Telegraph, Guardian and Independent. The Times and Telegraph both felt the need to spread the misinformation that most child-killers are fathers, and now you have joined in yourself. The truth is that the numbers are just about equal, but there is a huge difference in how we as a society produce and then treat the perpetrators. The mothers are depressed, the fathers just bad. The mothers get short sentences and treatment, the fathers get locked up and the key thrown away.

There is plenty of sympathy for the depressed mother, and we all understand how terrible and lonely it must be. For the fathers, it is recognized that many incidents are precipitated by an unpleasant divorce, but no-one cares how lonely and terrible are the divorce courts for a father being railroaded out of his children's lives. It is no huge surprise that a very, very small minority go off the rails, indeed one might wonder that there are not more. Many of the fathers who survive this gauntlet without going crazy would doubtless be outraged by your suggestion that they need to be taught that their children matter - many are finding their own children being used mercilessly as weapons against them in court and out. They would also find it blackly hilarious that you, among others, echo that the fathers have a problem with ownership of children, as opposed to the mothers. The western world as a whole seems to view fathers as disposable and children without question belong with their mothers to the level of their own discretion. I ask you, what happens when you treat a sector of the population as disposable? My impression is that they develop unpalatable, self-destructive characteristics.

No-one can defend nor condone the murder of a child, but it is getting on for as bad to dismiss half the perpetrators as simply evil rather than looking for wider causes.

LouiseB31 said...

Interesting line to take there. I agree strongly that fathers should have access to their children and have also previously condemned mothers who have refused access.

Obviously fathers who have committed violence within the family before the separation are a different matter but let's put them to one side because I am not talking about them.

Ordinary everyday fathers who are no longer living with their children should be able to see them regularly and often.

I dont doubt that.

I dont care if it suits mothers to ease the man out of their lives, it is not right, and I defend all fathers against malicious moves to deny them access to their own children.

None of that however can excuse fathers killing their children.

I dont care how desperate they get, it is never the right solution and I am amazed you could think otherwise.

And it is not true to say the numbers of men and women murdering their children are "just about equal". Many more men than women murder their children, many more men than women murder their partners, many more men than women murder at all.

So I dont know what source you are using, but just saying it doesn't make it true.

John Doe said...

Good grief Louise, why on earth do you think I condone fathers killing their children? You do me an enormous disfavor, if not actually libel me. Please, re-read what I have written and tell me where I say that. (Truly, I am astonished at how often this line of argument pops up. I am foolish enough to think that the morally appropriate position on the issue is so painfully obvious as to not require an explicit statement but can, by and large, be assumed. But it seems to be politically necessary to make it unequivocally clear, in which case: no, I do not, under any circumstances, think that it is appropriate to kill one's own offspring, regardless of context, chromosomes, psychological pressure or degree of insanity. There, is that better?)

As for my references: in the letter section of The Sunday Times, 12 Nov 2006, in response to an opinion piece about the supposed excess danger of fathers, Diana Sutton, the NSPCC Head of Policy and Public Affairs wrote: "We rely on Home Office figures for the number of homicides of children aged under 16 recorded by the police in England and Wales. These show that killings of children by a natural parent are committed in almost equal proportions by mothers (47%) and fathers (53%)." The same figures were also published in the Guardian in the corrections column on 13th Nov 2006 after publishing the erroneous 20:1 figure on 8 Nov.

Like you said, just saying it doesn't make it true. But you are guilty of the same by insisting that "many more men than women murder their children" without citing any sources. Indeed, you promulgate more of the same kind of insinuating propaganda and misinformation that makes it so difficult to be a good man in this day and age when all men are viewed as objects of suspicion. You dismiss "fathers who have committed violence within the family", but I wonder what is your criterion of proof? The word of the mother? That, indeed, is pretty much all that many courts need these days, and so we live in a world where "just saying it" has the power to make it as close to true as makes no difference.

John Doe said...

Louise, much as it may pain you, as a labourite, to do so, please read this article in the Telegraph, and as you do so, put yourself in the shoes of a parent separated from your children by the system, try to feel the pain and ask yourself how far you might be prepared to go to avoid the fate of these (mostly) men. No, I am not asking you to condone child murder, just to recognize that the blame may not be wholly with the murderers.

LouiseB31 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LouiseB31 said...

John Doe,

Two things;

I have already said that I am a paid up member of the "fathers should get full access to see their children and be involved in their lives" campaign. You dont need to convince me.

You are however muddying the waters of my post which was about fathers murdering their children. I never said anything about access rights, you have brought that in. Many of the recents murders have been carried out by men who still lived in the family home. Men who had never been to court, who were not involved with Cafcass etc.

I dont think you should try and draw together the two threads, it wont do your argument about access any good.

Finally, the blame is wholly with the murderers and I am not happy with this, your second attempt, to deflect the murderer's blame onto someone else.

And you can't libel someone anonymous by the way.

John Doe said...

Louise, you appear to be failing to see my point, deliberately or otherwise. Many of these murders are triggered by or the culmination of a bad separation and divorce. Many do not come out of the blue. While it is absolutely clear that such a murderer, the mother or the father, is seriously and unequivocally disturbed (despite your claim "the men are usually sane" whose logic completely escapes me, and is not held up by the evidence), it is also undoubtedly true that the environment and circumstances are relevant to the act. The environment is a patriphobic society in which the father is rapidly becoming irrelevant. He is by default removed from the lives of his children in the event of a divorce except insofar as the mother is inclined to let him participate (and it is unlikely he will be making any decisions).

Circumstances, of course, are individual, dependent on the personalities of both parties. He may have been an overbearing control freak just inches from complete meltdown, but can we be sure he would not have topped himself and his kids if the particular circumstances had been different? In which case, how might we identify potentially dangerous circumstances? A nutcase who looks around and sees how many fathers are unjustifiably and unreasonably shut out is a nutcase who is that bit closer to taking matters irrevocably into his own hands. If it were rare and something that only happened to nutcases, then that nutcase may be better able to identify that he needs help before something unpleasant happens. Indeed, that getting help may actually improve his chances of being part of the children's lives, instead of qualifying as an excuse to lock him out permanently.

There is no intent to deflect blame from the murderer - we must all play the cards that we are dealt and take responsibility for our actions, whether caused by post-natal depression or an uncontrolled reaction to circumstances beyond our control. After the act, the person whom we all blame is often dead, and we, the survivors and onlookers must also look for ways to prevent such things happening in the future. It isn't enough just to cluck and show sympathy to the survivors. It involves identifying all the input stressors from whatever was intrinsic to the murderer him- or herself to whatever external events and factors contributed.

It is altogether too easy to say: "she was depressed", or "he was bad", which is the usual double standard, and it achieves absolutely nothing towards preventing further occurrences.

I put it that a relevant factor is the value we put on the presence of a parent in his or her children's lives after the divorce. I am glad that you are a paid up member of the fathers' rights to access campaign, but this is not simply "access" which is a euphemism for "visitation" which derogates a parent to little more than a variety of uncle or aunt, or a friend down the road. No, we need to emphasize the very real value of the person in a child's life as a parent with strong and important influence over their development. We need to make it difficult to kick a parent out, mother or father.

You wanted to talk about this, I am offering you a theory of how we might address at least part of the problem. I have identified a number of double standards in your position, particularly with regard to the gender of the perpetrators. Are you inclined to debate this objectively, or does it all come down to what you like or don't like? If you do not think that the value or lack thereof that society puts on the presence of a non-custodial parent in a child's life after divorce is a relevant factor in the issue of family annihilation, then I think at this point it is incumbent upon you to explain precisely why. I have good reason to think that it is. Please, if you can, change my mind.

LouiseB31 said...

John Doe, it is not my job to change your mind.

If you are right in your facts when you say that equal numbers of men and women murder their children then it turns my whole question on its head. My question was based on the premise that fathers murder their children and mothers dont. But if that premise is wrong then there is no need for me to ask that question, it becomes irrelevant. It may be just a coincidence that all the cases reported on our front pages over the last 8 weeks have been male perpetrators. I am not conceding this point yet, because I would want to see the evidence for myself.

I think what I would say to you is that I do know and understand the anguish that fathers have when they are separated from their children. I do agree with shared custody, if I did not say it earlier it was because I was rushing to answer, not because I dont think it. In an ideal world parents who could not live in the same house as their children would instead live a few minutes away so that the child could go to the same school, play with the same friends, whichever parent they were staying with. However, I also know that human nature being what it is, and the breakdown of relationships causing hostility, hatred and all sorts of other violent emotions, lots and lots of parents struggle with shared custody in amicable circumstances.

I am well aware that many women deliberately remove themselves and their children from their father, and I dont agree with it, but I do understand it.

I do not accept that murdering children has anything to do with a failure of access or custody rights. It has to do with the breakdown of the adult relationship, not the breakdown of the parental relationship.
Fathers who murder their children are doing so to punish the mother. To punish her for not loving the father any more perhaps, or threatening to leave him, or defying him or daring to take an independent line. In one of the cases earlier this month, the father also murdered the family pets. This was a family that was still together but where the mother was having a relationship with another man.

I understand that fathers who are denied their children will feel very defensive when they see other fathers being attacked in the news. What I was trying to say in my last post was that you dont need to ally yourself with all other fathers, just because you have fatherhood in common. These men are not part of your fight to ensure that fathers and children maintain their relationship. What they did is not related to your fight either. Nobody, in my view, should even be talking about the two things in the same context, although I see that one journalist in one of the stories you have linked to has done just that. But in my view the fight for shared custody and decent access for fathers to see their children will only be muddied by trying to defend these control freaks.

John Doe said...

Louise, you patronize me. I stand by my assertion that a society which so devalues fathers as to subject them to the modern nightmare that is divorce and non-custodial parenthood and treats them with an appalling double standard compared to women is also a society which contributes to the causes of family annihilation. All I am doing by saying this is demanding that they receive the same treatment as mothers who kill - you cannot excuse one as depressed and condemn the other as malicious simply on the basis of their gender. It is, indeed, the same mentality as clucks over a mother usurping a father's relationship with his children while allowing her to do it because, after all, that's a mother's right.

Perhaps you could try reading this Guardian article for a more balanced point of view.

LouiseB31 said...

No, I am not patronising you, I am disagreeing with you.

You take the line that it is society's fault when fathers kill. Whose fault is it then when mothers kill?

I take the view that it is the father's fault if he kills his children.

And the mother's fault if she kills her children.

I also think there are different reasons behind these two acts.

Presumably you do too, given that you think that mothers have an easy ride from society so society cannot then be the reason for their act.

But clearly where we disagree is identifying those reasons.

We shall have to agree to disagree I think.

John Doe said...

Louise, you are not simply disagreeing with me, you are misrepresenting me, again. "You take the line that it is society's fault when fathers kill." I have never said this, in fact, I have explicitly denied it. Possibly, even, you simply do not understand what I am saying, preferring to take a simplistic approach which supports your own prejudices, which makes you part of the problem, not the solution.

LouiseB31 said...

You said "A society which so devalues fathers ...(snip)is also a society which contributes to the causes of family annihilation"

Your words, not mine

John Doe said...

And how, exactly, does that mean it's society's fault when fathers kill?

Any given human event can have many proximate and distant causes. In fact, one can blame any action that one takes, good or bad, on the sum total of one's biological inclinations, social influences and personal experiences. That is not the same as abdicating responsibility to those causes and it is a serious mistake to equate the two. A human being is simultaneously responsible for everything that he or she chooses to do and influenced in those choices by the context that surrounds them. It is purely insane to condemn someone as fully responsible for any action of which you do not approve and not take into account the context looking for ways to avoid, or diminish its likelihood in the future.

It is well known that a deprived background is a contributing factor to the production of a criminal. It would be a serious error to allow that criminal to wail "but I was deprived!" and so abdicate their own responsibility. It would also be a serious error to ignore the correlation between a deprived background and criminality when considering reforms intended to reduce the latter.

I believe that a society which devalues fathers does contribute to the likelihood that a father so treated will react violently, but the fault, ultimately, is all his. It is a subtle point, but not so difficult to grasp unless you think in black-and-white, reflexive terms such as men are to blame and women are depressed. I'm actually quite surprised that a socialist like you doesn't get this.

LouiseB31 said...

And I am surprised that you cannot read.

I said I believe it is the fault of the perpetrator, you said "the fault ultimately is all his (or hers)"

So we in fact agree.

I agree too that there are mitigating factors, in fact I believe it was me that said so in the first place.

An interesting discussion.