McGowan: A Last Word on Fathers Day

June 28, 2023

by Richard McGowan, Ph.D.

In light of news in the Indianapolis Star shortly before Father’s Day, it is appropriate to revisit data on child abuse. The Star had a story regarding the death of toddler Oaklee Snow, whose body was found in a dresser drawer. The next day, the newspaper covered the death of two-year old Erieomairy Dingui, who was beaten to death. In the former case, charges were brought against Oaklee’s mother and her boyfriend. In the latter case, charges were brought against the girlfriend (now ex-girlfriend) of the little girl’s mother.

The two cases have some similarities to national data on child-abuse fatalities, typically the result of neglect or physical violence.

For one thing, the death of the two young girls involved their mothers. Neither child’s death involved the father but that is “normal.” Most child-abuse deaths involve mothers rather than fathers. Fathers, acting alone, committed 13.5 percent of child-abuse deaths in 2021 and another 1.9 percent of child-abuse deaths acting in concert with a non-parent. The data represent a decrease in percentage from the year 2020.

Mothers, acting alone, perpetrated 29.5 percent of the child-abuse fatalities and another 11 percent when acting in concert with a non-parent. Those data show a slight increase from 2020.

Child-abuse deaths involving both parents was at 22.5 percent of the total fatalities in 2021.

In other words, parents, who are to love and care for their children, are the most likely to kill them. Child-abuse fatalities involve parents, singly or together, 80 percent of the time.

The cases of Oaklee and Ereiomairy are atypical in that, nationally and in Indiana, more boys than girls are abused to death. Boys represented 59.4 percent of the child-abuse fatalities and girls were at 40.5 percent, with .1 percent unknown. The preceding data differ slightly from the 60 child-abuse and neglect fatalities that occurred in Indiana during the same year, 2020, according to the 2021 Annual Report of Child Abuse and Neglect in Indiana. Indiana abuse and neglect victims were ‘only’ 55 percent male and 45 percent female, a disparity that goes unreported.

The perpetrators of physical abuse deaths in Indiana numbered 16 male and 10 female whereas those responsible for child-neglect deaths were 32 women and 15 men. The data for Indiana, similar to national data, showed parents, alone or together, responsible for the overwhelming majority of child-abuse and neglect fatalities. As well, mothers and females perpetrated more of the fatalities than fathers and men, again, a pattern consistent with national data on child abuse.

Statista reported that in 2021, about 233,918 perpetrators of child abuse were women, compared with 213,672 male perpetrators. The data show little by way of change in patterns over the last 20 years: women have victimized children more than men.

One of my sons (my editor) pointed out that women are around children more so it can be expected that they do most of the abusing. But that’s like kicking the crutches of a person with a broken leg and then asking why the person can’t stand up. In the old days, fathers were not “allowed” to be with their children. In fact, when the women’s movement became more aggressive, home births became popular. For those births, a midwife performed the role of the (male) doctor. Men were cut out of the process. That changed with more egalitarian policies put in place. Hence, I did with one child what my Dad could not and did not do with eight. When Cass was born, I was there with his Mom and him.

Also, custody decisions favored women like crazy so men were prevented from being with their children. One reason I was an ardent, early feminist was for my children. If women were paid the same as men, then men would not need to work long hours to support a family. Instead, they could be with their children (one reason I chose to be an educator).

Over the years, courts have changed the policy of favoring the mother in custody disputes; nonetheless, 65 percent of custody decisions award custody to mothers. Happily, as in Indiana, court decisions are guided by what’s best for the child — and what is typically best for the child is joint custody. Approximately 51 percent of court decisions award joint custody to the parents. The prevalence of joint custody decisions is a big improvement from years ago when courts treated fathers as pariahs. A bigger improvement would be the complete absence of treating children badly.

Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, has taught philosophy and ethics cores for more than 40 years, most recently at Butler University. 


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