How Common is Child Abuse?
In the US, an estimated 903,000 children (1.2% of all children) were victims of abuse and neglect in 2001.
- 57.2 percent of victims suffered neglect (including medical neglect),
- 18.6 percent were physically abused
- 9.6 percent were sexually abused;
- 26.6 percent of victims were associated with additional types of maltreatment.
Percentages of victims are similar for males and females (48.0% and 51.5% respectively).
Children in the age group of birth to 3 years account for 27.7% of victims. Victimization percentages decline as age increases.
In the US, more than half of all child abuse victims are White (50.2%); one-quarter (25.0%) are African American; and one-sixth (14.5%) are Hispanic. American Indians and Alaska Natives account for 2% of victims, and Asian-Pacific Islanders accounted for 1.3% of victims.
19% of reported and substantiated child abuse cases result in the child being removed from the home.
Who Is Abusing the Kids?
The answer may surprise you. It is most commonly not the proverbial “stranger” that most children are warned to avoid – it is more likely to be someone much closer to home:
- 40.5% of all child abuse is committed solely by biological mothers
- 17.7% of all child abuse is committed solely by biological fathers
- 19.3% of child abuse is committed by both the mother and the father
- 6.4% of child abuse is committed by the mother and some other individual
- 1.0% of child abuse is committed by the father and some other individual
- 11.9% is committed by someone other than the parents
- 3.1% is committed by an unknown or missing perpetrator.
Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome (MBPS)
Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome (MBPS) or Munchausen’s Syndrome By Proxy (MSBP) is a form of child abuse in which a parent systematically manufactures, fabricates or exaggerates the appearance of illness in a child in order to draw attention to themselves, elevate their own importance and manipulate the attentions of caregivers and medical professionals. Click Here for More Info on Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome
In Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome (MBPS), an individual – typically a mother – deliberately makes another person (most often his or her own preschool child) sick or convinces others that the person is sick. The parent or caregiver misleads others into thinking that the child has medical problems by reporting fictitious episodes. He or she may exaggerate, fabricate, or induce symptoms. As a result, doctors commonly order tests, experiment with medications and, in severe cases, may hospitalize the child or perform surgery to determine the cause.
Typically, the perpetrator feels satisfied when he or she has the attention and sympathy of doctors, nurses, and others.
It should be noted that there is strong controversy over the existence of Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome. The originator of the term, British Pediatrician Roy Meadow was discredited for misrepresenting statistical data in his expert witness testimony in the conviciton of mothers of children who died from cot deaths (also known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – or SIDS). In a nutshell, he testified that the likelihood of more than one incidence of SIDS in a single family was so remote as to warrant a conviction. Several cases in which he testified have since been overturned in British Courts. Crirics of the MBPS theory correctly point out that child abuse is child abuse and the burden of proof must be to reveal objective evidence of abuse prior to removing children from parental custody. For more information regarding the MBPS controversy see the links at the bottom of this page.
In some MBPS cases, since the parent or caregiver appears concerned, wrongdoing is not suspected. Frequently, the perpetrator is familiar with the medical profession and is skilled at fooling medical staff. It is not unusual for medical personnel to overlook the possibility of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome because of the controversy srrounding it or because it goes against the commonly held belief that a parent or caregiver would never deliberately hurt his or her own child.
Children who are subject to Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome are typically preschool age, although there have been reported cases in children up to 16 years old. There are equal numbers of boy and girl victims of MBPS.
Statistically, 98% of the perpetrators of MBPS are female. Source: http://kidshealth.org/parent/general/sick/munchausen.html
- A parent observes symptoms of illness in a child that nobody else can detect, and insists that a battery of tests be performed.
- A child contracts a common virus and the mother attributes the symptoms to an undiagnosed chronic condition.
- A child is developing normally, but the mother insists she can detect symptoms of a mental disorder.
What it feels like:
For a child of a parent who is exposing them to MPBS – they may be made to feel alarm or discomfort as a series of strangers intrusively examine and interrogate them looking for things that might be wrong. They are frequently receiving the message from grown-ups that something is wrong with them. This can lead to developmental delay, fear of strangers – especially doctors and a distorted world-view .
For third parties – spouses or relatives of people exhibiting MBPS-like behaviors this can be a confusing and frightening experience. You may not have all the facts you need to judge what is really going on. On the one hand – you do not want to keep a child away from critical medical care when they need. On the other hand, you do not want the child to be exposed to unnecessary and intrusive investigations and diagnoses, not to mention the associated psychological and physical damage.
For doctors and health care professionals – it can be disturbing and frightening when confronted with a parent who is possibly manifesting MBPS. There is the underlying fear of a malpractice accusation when facing a parent who will not take “no” for an answer. There can also be the confusion of having to deal other family members who vehemently disagree on what the facts are. Many doctors ultimately err on the side of caution – referring to specialists and ordering additional tests and over-medicating and over-diagnosing just to protect themselves. This succeeds in protecting the doctor but is often not in the best interests of the child.
What NOT to Do:
When dealing with a possible MBPS problem:
- Don’t get into arguments with the perpetrator.
- Don’t go it alone or try to solve the problem yourself.
- Don’t interrogate the child or share with them your disapproval of their parent.
- Don’t ignore the problem. Don’t abdicate the problem to others. A child is possibly being abused. You must act.
What TO Do:
- Seek COMPETENT advice from a well qualified attorney, Guardian ad litem or children’s advocate.
- Document all that you have observed as thoroughly and candidly as you can.
- Report what you have seen. Be honest about what you know AND what you don’t know (it will be uncovered anyway). Be objective and sincere – remember – it is a child you are representing and you must put the best interests of the child ahead of your own.
- If you have regular contact with the child, assure them of their value, and praise their positive qualities.
For more Information on Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome (MBPS)…
http://www.msbp.com UK Site questioning the validity of MBPS/MSBP syndrome with links to news articles and cases where the theory has been discredited.
http://www.ashermeadow.com MBPS education & information site.
US Child Custody Statistics
Many people believe that mothers are naturally better caregivers than fathers. And the US courts seem to agree. US Divorce Statistics show that a divorcing mother is 7 times more likely to retain sole custody of her children than a father:
|USA 1990 Custody Statistics (19 States reporting)
|Sole possession granted to mother
|Sole possession granted to father
|Possession granted to other person(s)
Fathers, who want to protect their children from an abusive mother, are sometimes afraid to take legal action because they fear:
- Facing ridicule or disbelief from police or social services.
- Losing all contact with their children at the hands of a gender-biased legal system
- Facing steep legal costs.
- Facing abuse themselves at the hands of the perpetrator
- Being judged by their communities, families and friends.
Who Pays Child Support?
When it comes to child support, US census data indicates that:
- 79.6% of custodial mothers receive a child support award
- 29.9% of custodial fathers receive a child support award
US census data also indicates that fathers are more likely to fulfil their child support obligations than mothers:
- 43% of moms required to pay child support are “deadbeat moms” – i.e. they default on 100% of the money they owe,
- 32% of dads required to pay child support are “deadbeat dads” – i.e. they default on 100% of the money they owe.
One of the reasons that “deadbeat dads” get most of the bad press in the popular media is that there are a lot more of them – primarily for 2 reasons:
- There are 7 times more fathers than mothers who do not have primary custody of the children.
- Fathers are 3 times more likely than mothers to be ordered to pay child support than their female counterparts.
Qualifications for becoming a Mother
So who really does know best?
In the US, there are laws to protect all sorts of individuals from reckless behavior of others. For example, you must pass an exam before you may:
- Drive a car,
- Fly a plane
- Operate a crane
- Run a restaurant
- Educate school children
- Become a social worker or any kind of therapist
- Diagnose an ailment or prescribe, dispense or administer any kind of medicine or medical treatment
But there is no qualification for becoming a Mother other than being female. Nor is there any review of your performance except in the most severe cases of physical violence and neglect.
When it comes to your treatment of strangers you may be prosecuted for:
- invading their privacy
- confiscating their property
When it comes to treatment of minors, parents are held almost completely unaccountable. Minor children of abusive parents are completely trapped in their environment – dependent totally on an overwhelmed legal system to take action – after the abuse has been witnessed and reported by a neighbor, teacher, doctor or social worker. Many cases go unreported.
The Role of Religion In Child Abuse
Children are repeatedly told that they are never supposed to hate, resent, criticize, disregard or abandon their parents. Instead they are reminded to honor them, obey them, cherish them, be loyal to them and take care of them in their old age.
This sends a confusing mixed-message to children who grow up in abusive homes. They can see the contradictions for themselves in the actions of an abusive parent – and often know that something is wrong about that. However, they will often be afraid to speak out to another adult, say anything negative about their parent or seek help for fear that they will be seen as “bad”.
It’s common for these children to reject their childhood religion in adulthood which they judge to have failed them, sustained the abusive parent and perpetuated the cycle of abuse.
By emphasizing the sanctity of marriage and traditional family roles, many religions discourage spouses of abusers – many of whom are victims themselves – from taking action to remove their children.
What Happens When the Children Grow Up?
What is surprising to many is that child abuse often extends long into adulthood although it often takes a more emotional,psychological or subtle form as children become physically stronger and more economically independent.
Adult children of abusive parents often feel trapped between maintaining an unhealthy relationship with an aging, yet disrespectful, stalking, slandering, harassing parent and being judged by extended family, friends and acquaintances if they choose to cut off all contact with the abusive parent.
Adult children of abusive parents are at increased risk of making poor personal, relationship and career choices in adulthood.
Abusive parents sometimes see things like relationships, career and outside interests of their young adult children as threats and may seek to undermine them.
Adult survivors of child abuse ultimately suffer in three distinct ways:
- They suffer the abuse itself
- They suffer the loss of knowing what should have been – the loss of a supportive parent, of a loving home and a safe refuge.
- They suffer the consequences of protecting themselves from that abuse. They are often left feeling guilty, judged, condemned by society, religion, their communities and their families.