Some observations regarding online information concerning filicide

I was browsing Twitter the other evening and noted a reference to a UK article entitled Violent fathers given access to children even after 50 deaths. The Twitter thread to which I subsequently responded can be found here.

I queried whether (in the UK) more children were killed by their mother or father, and I included a link to an earlier post I prepared regarding filicide that shows, amongst other things, that in Australia the biological mother kills more children.

Another poster then provided a link to a 2013 University of Manchester article entitled Findings from most in-depth study into UK parents who kill their children. The study relied upon a 10-year consecutive case series of convicted homicides and homicide-suicides (01/01/97-31/12/06) in England and Wales. That paper defined ‘filicide’ as “a homicide committed by a parent or adult in-loco parentis, with the victim aged under 18.”

The article noted that:

“Overall, fathers were significantly more likely to kill their children than mothers, and were more likely to use violent methods of killing, have previous convictions for violent offences, perpetrate multiple killings, and have a history of substance misuse or dependence.”

I sought to verify the statistical source and compare this with other sources or studies available online, for which I then went hunting. So what did I find? Well it was interesting (though I note that my research is to be continued as time permits and as I receive responses to both my Twitter posts and this blog post).

Soon afterwards another poster assured me that fathers killed more children, and added “if you factor in that there are only 2% of males who are stay-at-home parents, the vast majority of single parents are women and women do the vast majority of child-rearing, if you considered hours by capita on childcare then the stats would be vastly skewed against men.” He/she then provided a link to a 2017 article in The Conversation entitled Understanding the triggers for filicide will help prevent it. If you can spare the time be sure to note the readers comments. My requests for further related/supporting reference works were declined.

Another reference I came across was entitled ‘Filicide: Mental Illness in Those Who Kill Their Children’ (4 April 2013). Note too the following reader’s comment which struck an accord with my own initial thoughts, but to which the authors failed to respond:

“The paper presents information that appears skewed that hides certain details of the sampling. It notes that the significant majority of perpetrators are fathers but this includes Step fathers that is a social construct. This figure portrays fathers as being more likely to kill a child when in fact it is mothers & their partners that are more likely to be the perpetrators. The fathers protective role is supported by the fact that step mothers commit only 2% (in one case) of the cases. Other research in the US including DOJ and Dept of Child Services show that the largest perpetrators of filicide in children under 1 year old are biological mothers.

Do not see a break down of biological fathers vs biological mothers role, and the insistence of including the artificial mix of step fathers/mothers only serve to skew the impressions the media is likely to interpret from this article. The inclusion of step fathers with speaking about fathers is a common ploy seen in media to portray fathers in bad light. In my local area, in the overwhelming majority of times the word “father” is used in a negative context committing a crime against a child, its in fact a step father or mothers boyfriend.

Your statement “Overall, a significantly higher proportion of fathers than mothers were convicted of filicide; a male to female ratio = 2:1” is problematic. You are using courtroom outcomes to determine guilt and severity. We know from several studies that women receive lighter sentences for the same crimes/circumstances in about that same ratio. Examining the data chart is even more troubling. 84 out of 195 male perpetrators (don’t know how you can include step fathers as having committed filicide unless he kills his own biological children) receive the charge of murder compared with 9 out of 102 female perpetrators.

My hypothesis from data collected from government sources in the US, it is clear that the biological fathers role is very protective compared to all other parent ‘figures’. It appears this is also correct in your data if you were to solve a few simple linear equations to arrive at the ratios of biological fathers to mothers as well, and treat each demographic separately. But the statement you make that “I am going to presume that this is by design and qualifies as an example of the “WAW” effect which is a form of bias.”

I  also came acrossChild homicide perpetrators worldwide: a systematic review (date unknown). This paper took a global perspective and noted significant deficiencies in available date, for example:

“Vast differences in the definitions of perpetrator categories only allowed crude comparisons across countries. Categorisation of perpetrators into parents, other family members, acquaintances, strangers and unknown did not capture nuances such as, for example, mothers’ boyfriends, who were considered as acquaintances as there was a lack of information on whether they were solid family members or casual relationships.”

My initial observations include:

  • That most statistical sources and the papers based on them were relatively dated
  • That papers were inclined to focus more on the gender of victims rather than perpetrators
  • That explanations or factors contributing to the crime were sought and discussed more in the case of female perpetrators, than for male perpetrators. In the case of women, the two most common factors seem to be that women spend more time with children and are hence more likely to harm them, and that female killers are more likely to be found to be younger and/or mentally ill.
  • That the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim was usually identified, but not clearly detailed in the case of differentiating biological father, step father or de-facto partner.
  • That an unknown, but possibly quite significant, number of murders are apparently excluded from being classed as filicide due to mental illness on the part of the murderer. This would reduce the ratio of female to males sentenced.

One potentially relevant factor not discussed in any of the papers I came across was the gender bias (towards women) in the police and court system, which could involve less women being charged with murder, and with less being found guilty upon being charged.

Other related posts in my blog that may be of interest include:

The often contrasting reaction when mums and dads kill their children

On fathers and their children

Is child abuse a gendered crime too?

One thought on “Some observations regarding online information concerning filicide”

  1. Much like ‘fake news’ too often inadequate research is being cited as evidence to prove a point. We need to question studies to ensure the integrity of our debates

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