There is a nasty, very disturbing fact lurking in the background of American culture. While infant mortality has declined dramatically, infant homicides have increased. As the Beverly LaHaye Institute reported in 1999, between 1980 and 1998, there was a 36% increase among white babies and a 51% increase among black babies who died before their first birthday as a result of intentional homicide. The overall rate of increase from 1980 to the Year 2000 was 43%!
Even more sobering are the Year 2000 statistics: while the White rate was 4.3 baby homicide deaths per 100,000 in 1980 and was 6.2 in 2000, the rate for Blacks was 14.8 in 1980 and rose to 22.5 in 2000 — an increase of 79%.
This data means that about one infant a day is a reported homicide victim. And, the dramatic increase in baby homicide has happened at the same time that deaths from accidental injuries have declined.
This shocking trend has gone almost unnoticed. Yet, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence regularly in the nation’s newspapers.
Just last week, the Washington Post illustrated the problem when it reported yet another case of a live-in boyfriend killing the girlfriend’s child. Frederick County, Maryland prosecutors have returned a 14-count indictment against a 25-year-old man accused of “sexually assaulting and beating to death his girlfriend’s 9-month-old baby.” The 300-pound man battered the baby girl “with such force that he cracked her skull, snapped her back and shattered bones in her arms and legs.” The State’s Attorney, Scott Rolle, told the Washington Post that the case is “perhaps the most gruesome in a spate” of “baby homicides.” Surely, there is nothing more gruesome than the sexual assault and battering of a 9-month-old baby and we instinctively turn away from such horrors.
Yet, after an unrelenting “spate” of such stories in recent years, sadly, we are becoming hardened to the shock and horror. Cheryl Wetzstein reported in The Washington Times this week, that stories about crime and violence against children topped the news coverage of children’s issues with child abuse and neglect as the second most covered topic in 12 daily newspapers and 4 television networks, according to a 4-month study by the Casey Journalism Center at the University of Maryland.
The murder rate for infants more than doubled from 1970 through 2000 with the rate currently hovering at 9.1 per 100,000 children under age one. The rate was horrible enough at 4.3 per 100,000 in 1970.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control report that in the United States you are 10 times more likely to die by homicide on the day that you are born than at any other time in your life. Further, you are more likely to be murdered during your first year than in any other year of childhood before age 17.
We should be appalled that baby homicide is the 15th leading cause of infant deaths in the U.S.
Yet, experts say they don’t know why the infant homicide rate has increased so dramatically over the past 25-30 years.
They might get a hint about the reasons by looking at the unprecedented rise in cohabitation rates during the same period that infant homicide rates were increasing. In 1970, half a million unmarried couples lived together. In 2000, more than 4.9 million did. Even more significant is the age range of the cohabiting couples. In the 70s, they were predominantly over 45 years of age; now about half of cohabiting couples are of childbearing age and about one-third of the cohabiting households include children. These unions are notoriously unstable; break-up is the norm nearly half break up within 5 years and nearly 2/3 after ten years. Worst yet, the cohabiting couples are three times as likely to abuse alcohol and to be physically violent.
In trying to explain one young mother’s attempts to kill her newborn, the “expert” explained, “She knew that if she came home with the baby there would be all kinds of problems.” So, in the year 2000, more than 100 newborn babies were abandoned in toilets, rivers, and dumpsters and nearly half did not survive.
The CDC reports that mothers who kill their infants are more likely to be adolescents and have a history of mental-emotional problems.
Why do they do it? Two common denominators, say the “experts:” isolation the mother (usually) feels “utterly and completely” alone and couples in cohabiting relationships are more likely to struggle with depression than are married couples, especially if there are children present in the household.
All this evidence supports the succinct wisdom of my sister, Joan Turrentine, a Georgia high school teacher, who said, “Mothers need husbands, not boyfriends.”