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Fatal child abuse: a study of 13 cases of continuous abuse

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Author(s): Anne Leena Marika Kauppi | Tuija Vanamo | Kari Karkola | Juhani Merikanto

Journal: Mental Illness
ISSN 2036-7457

Volume: 4;
Issue: 1;
Start page: e2;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: Child Abuse | Child Battering | Infanticide | Filicide | Domestic violence | Violence

ABSTRACT
A parent who continuously physically abuses her/his child doesn’t aim to kill the child but commits an accidental filicide in a more violent outburst of anger. Fatal abuse deaths are prevented by recognition of signs of battering in time. Out of 200 examined intra-familial filicides, 23 (12%) were caused by child battering and 13 (7%) by continuous battering. The medical and court records of the victim and the perpetrator were examined. The perpetrator was the biological mother and the victim was male in 69 per cent of the cases. The abused children were either younger than one year or from two-and-a-half to four years old. Risk factors of the victim (being unwanted, premature birth, separation from the parent caused by hospitalization or custodial care, being ill and crying a lot) and the perpetrator (personality disorder, low socioeconomic status, chaotic family conditions, domestic violence, isolation, alcohol abuse) were common. The injuries caused by previous battering were mostly soft tissue injuries in head and limbs and head traumas and the battering lasted for days or even an year. The final assault was more violent and occurred when the parent was more anxious, frustrated or left alone with the child. The perpetrating parent was diagnosed as having a personality disorder (borderline, narcissistic or dependent) and often substance dependence (31%). None of them were psychotic. Authorities and community members should pay attention to the change in child’s behavior and inexplicable injuries or absence from daycare. Furthermore if the parent is immature, alcohol dependent, have a personality disorder and is unable to cope with the demands the small child entails in the parent’s life, the child may be in danger.

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