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Another Violent Mother

2002 10 07

Below is a transcript of this week's radio commentary (recorded Friday) for the Free Congress Foundation available for listening and downloading at http://www.fcfnewsondemand.org/.

Previous commentaries are also available for listening and downloading at http://www.fcfnewsondemand.org/subjectindex.asp.

Stephen Baskerville


Another Violent Mother

The media has discovered another dangerous mother. Madelyne Toogood was filmed beating her 4-year-old daughter. Social workers have seized the child, and everyone waxes indignant.

Why do the media focus on a few sensational cases of maternal child abuse? By exaggerating these cases, the media imply that they are exceptional. In fact, violent mothers are a dime-a-dozen.

The sensational cases tend to fit an acceptable profile. The media focused on Andrea Yates for the killing of her five children not because the act was unusual but because she represented what the media dislike. She was a married, stay-at-home mom, an evangelical Christian, and a home-schooler. The implication was that the stresses of this life led to murder.

But Yates and Toogood are not typical. Yes, children are beaten and killed by their mothers all the time. Sidney Johnson, president of Prevent Child Abuse America, says, "The unfortunate truth is that this is an all-too-familiar scene that happens every day."

What Mr. Johnson does not tell us is that most abusers are single mothers who have removed their children from the protection of their fathers. Fathers are the natural protectors of children. "Contrary to public perception," writes Patrick Fagan of the Heritage Foundation, "…the most likely abuser of a young child will be that child’s mother."

Mr. Johnson says we need to "provide all parents with the appropriate tools, resources, and support so they never resort to this kind of behavior."

Likewise, University of California psychologist Daphne Bugental says we need to equip abusive mothers with "problem-solving skills" through government programs.

In truth, what we need to do is to stop taking children from their fathers. We know from years of research that the one thing that can bring child abuse under control is the presence of a father. Since this would require political courage, it is much easier to spend money.

Spending money is a good way of avoiding problems. Spending money makes us feel good about ourselves and allows some of us to make a living by perpetuating the problem.

Another politically inexpensive way of pretending we are doing something is to put people behind bars. If Madelyne Toogood receives a draconian sentence, it will also be unusual, because most mothers are not punished for harming their children. But with all the publicity, Madelyne Toogood is a good candidate to be made a scapegoat. For the beating of her child is a standing reproach to our cowardice in refusing to face the real causes of child abuse.

For FCF News on Demand, this is Stephen Baskerville

Index to more of Stephen Baskerville's articles

Stephen Baskerville's website

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Posted 2002 10 25