Dr. Helen Gavin, a psychologist at the University of Huddersfield, and Dr. Theresa Porter, a clinical psychologist based at a hospital in Connecticut, think that such murderers are getting a bad rap in culture, so they wrote "Infanticide and Neonaticide: A Review of 40 Years of Research Literature on Incidence and Causes" for Trauma, Violence and Abuse to rationalize that women who kill their babies – either within 24 hours of birth (neonaticide) – or at a later stage (infanticide), are not simply simply monsters or psychotic or both. It's complex, they wrote.
“Historically, women who kill their babies, if discovered, were treated quite punitively, both by society and by the law,” says Gavin. “In recent years it has been realized that there are many more factors involved in killing your own infant than there are in killing another child or an adult. In the past, we have either described these women as bad or mad, but in fact, there are shades in between.”
If you killed your baby, maybe you are just misunderstood. Credit: University of Huddersfield.
The article’s authors conclude that there is a still a need for levels of understanding that could help prevent cases of child killing. But possible measures include the education of gynecologists, obstetricians and birthing unit staff so that they could spot warning signs. Also, the authors argue, “Open conversation with women regarding their and their family’s history of mental illness would assist in identifying some women with predispositions to psychosis.”
So now overwrought hospital employees might have to be tasked with knowing if someone is going to kill their baby. Katie Couric, an American television personality, famously tried to make that argument about Andrea Yates, who murdered her children one at a time in a bathtub. Couric blamed everyone but the murderer. But Couric was not going to be sued for making her claim, the way doctors and nurses will be.
Gavin and Dr Porter also believe that public service messages that would educate the public in recognizing warning signs and symptoms.
Their article has been selected for inclusion in the anthology "Current Perspectives in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Behavior." The editor of the anthology, Professor Anne Bartol, said that the paper “makes a significant contribution to the literature, and we believe students and professors using this supplementary text will find it helpful and informative”.
November 2014 will also see the publication of Female Aggression, co-authored by Gavin and Porter, which examines the evolution, development and expression of aggression in female animals and humans. The authors examine this phenomenon as an emotional, physical or psychological response to the world in its own right, “not merely as a pale imitation of male behavior”.
“Statistics suggest that female violence is the one form of crime that is growing. Nobody knows why, but there are several hypotheses and I want to investigate those.”