Leaderboard ad

Friday, April 18, 2014

Mothers Who Kill: 10 Scientific Facts about Infanticide

On April 13, 2014, Megan Huntsman from Utah was arrested after admitting to killing 6 newborns, placing them in plastic bags, and storing them in boxes inside her garage.  This occurred over a 10-year period from 1996 to 2006. Her estranged husband made the discovery the day prior to her arrest after cleaning out the garage and noticing a strange package with a strong and foul odor. Police then discovered other dead infants that were allegedly strangled or suffocated. One infant, a seventh, was reportedly a stillborn.

FEATURED BOOK: Infanticide: Psychosocial and Legal Perspectives on Mothers Who Kill

The murder of infants (known as infanticide), neonatocide (killing an infant within 24 hours after birth), and/or filicide (a parent killing their own child) are some of the most reviled crimes in society. It naturally leads most people to ask how and why someone can do such a thing. In Hunstsman’s case, the answer could not be that she did not have a safe way to get rid of children she did not want because Utah has a Safe Haven law that allows infants that parents do not want to be dropped off anonymously at a hospital without any legal consequences.

The following is 10 facts about infanticide based on a recent scientific review of the literature (reference below).

1. STATISTICS: The killing of infants and newborns is one of the most common forms of murder by women. In industrialized countries, for every 100,000 infants, 2.4 to 7 are murdered. The true incidence is likely under-reported because the existence of some deceased babies is unknown until the bodies are discovered. Up to 10% of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) cases are actually undetected homicides. Most murdered infants and newborns are killed by the biological mother.

2. DIFFERENT CHARACTERISTICS: Women who murder newborns tend to be younger than age 25, single, live with their parents, unemployed or attending school, do not seek prenatal care, and are no longer involved with the child’s father. Women who murder infants older than one day of age tend to be older than 25, are often married, well-educated, and commit the crime as a form of retaliation (e.g., against an abusive spouse).

3. MENTAL ILLNESS: Many to most women who kill infants are not formally designated as mentally ill. Other factors associated with infanticide besides illness include less education (e.g., dropping out of school), anger, youth of the mother, and not wanting to invest personal time in child rearing. Personality styles and hormone levels have not been found to differ between women committing infanticide and those who did not vomit infanticide. Psychosis (detachment from reality) and clinical depression is rare in mothers who commit infanticide, although some mild emotional disruption may be present.

4. LANGUAGE: The perpetrators of infanticide often use language to deflect personal responsibility  (e.g., “when my baby died” instead of “when I killed my baby”.)

5. SYMBOLISM: The infant victim is typically viewed by the mother as an object rather than as an independent living person.

6. CAUSE OF DEATH: Most women use their hands in the murder (e.g., suffocation, drowning, strangulation) instead of using external weapons.

7. GENDER OF VICTIM: Most murdered infants are male in Western nations whereas in some Eastern countries (e.g., India, China) most murdered infants are female. The male preference in Western cultures may be because the male is more symbolic of the female’s reproductive partner. (In Eastern countries it may be because females are viewed as less desirable).

8. CONCEALMENT: As in the Huntsman case, most cases of infanticide involve the mother trying to conceal it in some way (e.g., placing in garbage cans, refuse sites). This is similar to the Hunstsman case, with the infants stored in boxes in a garage. In neonaticide cases, the mother typically tries to make the pregnancy and birth a secret.

9. RECIDIVISM: The rate of recidivism of infanticide is unknown but there have been other cases of repeated infanticide, as high as eight. In some of these cases, the deaths had previously been attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

10. PRIOR ARRESTS: Most women who murder infants do not have a prior arrest record.

Reference: Porter and Gavin (2010). Infanticide and neonaticide: a review of 40 years of research literature on incidence and causes. Trauma Violence Abuse. 11(3):99-112.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comments are welcome.