Features Australia

An inconvenient truth about child abuse

14 July 2018

9:00 AM

14 July 2018

9:00 AM

In debates about child abuse and neglect, truth normally becomes the first casualty. ‘A quarter of Australian children had witnessed violence against their mother’ stated South Australia’s Victims of Crime commissioner Michael O’Connell in August 2010. This statistic actually comes from Young People and Domestic Violence, a study that reveals almost an identical proportion of young people being aware of female violence against their fathers or stepfathers.

The same study found that, although 23 per cent of Australian young people were aware of violence against their mothers or stepmothers, almost as many (22 per cent) witnessed the same sort of violence against their fathers or stepfathers. And yet, as the excellent journalist Bettina Arndt correctly points out: Whenever statistics are mentioned publicly that reveal the true picture of women’s participation in family violence, they are dismissed with the domestic violence lobby claiming they are based on flawed methodology or are taken out of context’. However, [according to] the best available quantitative data – ABS surveys, AIC (Australian Institute of Criminology) and homicide statistics, police crime data show that a third of victims of violence are males. These data sources are cited by the main domestic violence organisations, [but] they deliberately minimise any data relating to male victims.

Despite the feminist rhetoric about male domestic violence, mothers are actually more likely than fathers to neglect and emotionally and physically abuse their children. For instance, figures from the West Australian Department for Child Protection show that of the 582 substantiated cases of child abuse by their own biological parents in 2007-08, mothers were responsible for 73 per cent, while fathers committed only 27 per cent.  In Western Australia, mothers are 17 times more likely than fathers to neglect their children. Also, mothers carried out almost 68 per cent of all cases of emotional and psychological abuse committed by parents against their children. Moreover, about 53 per cent of all physical abuse of children, and more than 93 per cent of all neglect cases, were committed by mothers. University of Western Sydney academic Michael Woods informs that the statistics ‘debunk the myth that fathers posed the greatest risk to their children’.  Dr Woods also reminds that ‘if similar data was available in other [Australian] states it would show similar trends’.


Between 1989 and 2012 women accounted for more than half (52 per cent) of all child homicides. Not only are mothers more likely to kill their biological children than fathers, but they also make up for more than half of the substantial maltreatment perpetrators, a fact confirmed by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC). In May 2015, AIC released Domestic/Family Homicide in Australia, a research paper which states: ‘Where females were involved in a homicide, they were more likely to be the offender in a domestic/family homicide’.  Although the majority of Australian victims of domestic homicides overall are female (60 to 40 per cent), women are the sole offenders in more than half (52 to 48 per cent) of all the killings of children by their biological parents, and offenders in 23 per cent of intimate partner homicides. In addition, Australian men are far more likely than their female counterparts to become the victims of filicide (murder of a child) (56 to 44 per cent), parricide (murder of a parent) (54 to 46 per cent), and homicides involving other domestic relationships (70 to 30 per cent).

The figures in other Western countries are remarkably similar. In the US, statistics reveal that mothers are almost twice as likely as fathers to abuse their biological children. As stated by the Department of Justice, mothers account for no less than 55 per cent of all child murders in that country. In a well-known empirical research using a significant sample of 718,948 reported cases of child abuse, the US Administration for Children and Families discovered that mothers are 1.3 times more likely to abuse their children than biological fathers. They comprise 58 per cent of the child abuse perpetrators. When acting alone, mothers in that country were twice as likely to abuse their children, with mothers also being the major perpetrators of infanticide, or child homicide.

One of the greatest risk factors in child abuse and neglect, found by virtually every investigation that has ever been conducted, writes US sociologist David Popenoe, is children living in a ‘female-headed single-parent household’. Dr Popenoe notes also that child abuse overwhelmingly occurs at households from which the biological father is either voluntarily absent or involuntary removed (sometimes as a result of involuntary divorce).  Indeed, mothers who kill their children are usually single mothers. According to the US Department of Health and Human Serices: On average, fathers who live in a married household with their children are better able to create a family environment that is more conducive to the safety and necessary care of their children. Consequently, children who live with their biological father in a married household are significantly less likely to be physically abused, sexually abused, or neglected than children who do not live with their married biological parents. 

The mainstream media and government frame child abuse and violence under an utterly false and misleading assumption that fathers are always the aggressor. And yet, biological mothers can be as abusive towards their children as biological fathers, oftentimes more so. Contrary to common perception, and the wild claims of the powerful feminist lobby, the best research available indicates that the most likely abuser of a child is actually the biological mother, and not the biological father. In addition, the present data on child abuse reveals beyond any doubt that the rates of serious abuse are lowest in family units where the biological father is present in the family unit, in particular where both of the biological parents are married and live together.

Despite the abundance of research available, the media and our governments continue to frame domestic violence merely as ‘violence against women’. This generates an utterly false and misleading assumption that males are always the aggressor. Yet in Australia mothers are more likely to emotionally and physically abuse their children than their biological fathers. Of course, if our politicians were really concerned about breaking the cycle of child abuse and neglect, at least they would more seriously acknowledge these important factors. For it is important to realise that child abuse and neglect is not a gender issue, and that mothers are also sometimes part of the problem.

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