More deadly than the male
Media hide the fact women are far likelier to
kill their children than are men
by Walter H. Schneider and Candis Mclean
A New Jersey woman who tortured and
abused her 11-year-old son, and was caught on tape bragging about it, was sentenced to 10
years in prison December 17. Tonja Chamberlain, 32, of New Egypt, forced her son,
Rob, to sleep in a locked, alarmed room along with a parakeet and a potbellied pig.
She beat him brutally and would not allow him to go to the bathroom. He went to
school smelling of urine. A neighbour who had previously tried unsuccessfully to
alert authorities finally captured the mother on tape boasting, "I lifted his feet
right up off the floor," referring to the impact of her blows. At another
point, she talked about the colours of the bruises she was leaving on the boy.
"I was hoping for purple, but all I got was red," she said. Ocean County
Assistant Prosecutor William Cunningham stated that Chamberlain dotes on her two daughters
and loves animals but terrorized her only son.
Although the story was reported by the Associated Press (AP) wire service, it was
disseminated only on its "state" wire service to New Jersey rather than on its
national wire, thereby virtually ensuring it would not be picked up by the national media,
and also rendering the story difficult, if not impossible, for the average person to
access from the Internet. Critics say this is the fate of many stories carried on
the wire services about the brutal, often fatal, violence committed by women, and points
to a society which has difficulty accepting the fact that women are capable of
brutality. Some say it also points to self-censorship by the press.
A spokeswoman for AP, Susan Clark, says the decision regarding whether stories are run
nation-wide or merely state-wide is left up to AP editors, but requests for an interview
with an editor were ignored. University of Alberta philosophy professor
emeritus Ferrel Christensen, who specializes in social ethics, says he doubts editors have
a policy in place regarding which stories will be thus consigned to obscurity.
"It's just lots of individuals making biased judgments, and I have books' worth of
evidence that there are many people in the media suppressing information constantly, not
so much by refusing to run stories, but by telling half the truth to distort people's
perception. It's got to be stopped."
Even when a news item about women's violence is picked up from the wire service and
disseminated through the media,
A photo illustration by Paul Wodehouse was shown here.
It showed a woman using a skillet to beat up a prostrate man.
Woman hits man: Now that's not newsworthy.
it is often in the form of a brief, one paragraph story, and often includes excuses
such as "The woman was distraught" or suffering from the disorder,
syndrome by proxy, the allegedly "extremely rare" yet surprisingly ubiquitous
affliction that compels parents to intentionally harm their child to bring attention to
themselves. Despite the cover-up, however, the grim truth is that women are actually
many times more likely to kill their children than men.
Of 1,262 American children murdered in families in 1996, women murdered 984 and men
murdered 278; biological mothers murdered 768, natural fathers murdered 30. By
far the greatest perpetrators are mothers who are living with a man who is not the father
of her child. Because of the way in which statistics are reported in Canada, the
perpetrators of the crime are more difficult to sort out. What is known is that
although violent crime generally is on the decline, violent crime against children is on
the rise, with homicides against children under 18 increasing from 17.5% of all homicides
in 1994 to 21 % in 1998. Of those homicides, 52% were boys. A 1986 study by
Dr. Cyril Greenland of McMaster University found that in Ontario, of the natural parents
involved in child abuse and neglect deaths, fathers were involved in 13 deaths, mothers in
three times that number (38 deaths) and both parents in 12 deaths. Infanticide is a
category of crime that can be claimed only by women, and is generally punished by a jail
term of two-years-less-a-day. When men kill infants, they are tried for murder.
The public perception, however, is that most women are incapable of violence. In
her book, When She was Bad: Violent Women and
the Myth of Innocence, author Patricia Pearson illustrates this attitude with the
American case of Marybeth Tinning, who from 1972 to 1985 killed nine of her children in
Schenectady, New York, and incredibly came under suspicion only after she killed her
ninth. The assumption of female innocence is encouraged by the media, as Jim Boyce
documented in his 1994 master's thesis at Wilfrid Laurier University in
Waterloo, Ont. Under the title of Headline Coverage of Male and Female
Victims of Violence in Canadian Newspapers, 1989 to 1992, it reported that
"Statistics show that men and women suffer roughly equal rates of violence.
Media coverage of male victimization, however, is virtually non-existent in contrast to
that of female victimization." Of headlines which directly referred to the
gender of victims, Mr. Boyce found 97.2% referred to
women as victims, and 2.8% referred to men, a ratio of 35 to one.
Paul Goetz, a carpenter in St. Paul, Minnesota, has followed articles on violence by
women over the past three years and discovered what he believes to be a "sanitation
process" even in search engines. "I was thrilled when I came across the
news search at Excite because it claimed to scan the articles from over 300
newspapers," he reports. He became suspicious, however, when he found by
himself a lengthy article about a woman's violent act in a newspaper Excite claimed to
scan, "but the article would not appear on a search even when I used the words in the
actual headline! So I wrote to Excite. Some guy wrote back and explained they
use a spider to scan the articles, but they are first put into a data-base at Excite
before they are made available for searchers. Obviously some of the articles were
getting censored. When I started to get down to the nitty-gritty of why some
articles would not show up that were at the newspapers they claimed to scan, he never
Despite the best efforts of many levels of information disseminators, however, Senator
Anne Cools believes that in the past few years there has been a "paradigm shift"
in the public's perception of the violence of which women are capable, due to their
increasing first-hand knowledge of the violence which is frequently part of divorce.
According to Sen. Cools, "Although in the past women's violence against children was
overlooked by Canadian society, people now have a clearer perception that the propensity
to be violent is not something that is wholly owned by the male of the
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