Sunday, July 22, 2012

Filicide: 1 in 33 homicides is parent killing child

The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently examined the phenomenon known as filicide.  The killing of a child under the age of 18 by a parent.   Such killings are more common than most people might want to believe, and not all parents who do it are mentally unhinged.

The Star Tribune took of the issue after Aaron Schaffhausen was accused of slashing the throats of his three young daughters in River Falls, WI.

According to one of the country's foremost experts, "The general lay-public response is they must be crazy, but that's not always the case," said Dr. Phillip Resnick, a professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Only some are psychotic, he said, meaning they have no command of what is real.

Resnick, who has for 40 years evaluated parents accused of killing their kids, conducted a seminal study on filicide in which he identified five types of the crime.

One type -- revenge against a spouse -- may best fit the scenario authorities laid out in the charges against Schaffhausen, 34, who was divorced from the girls' mother in January.

Resnick said one out of every 33 homicides in the United States is the killing of a child under 18 by their parent, or between 250 and 300 of the country's killings each year. In a 2005 study, he found filicide to be the third-leading cause of death of American children ages 5 to 14, reported the Star Tribune.

After spouses killing spouses, parents killing children is the most common variety of family homicide, according to a U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics study of homicides from 1976 to 2005.

Some parents say they killed the kids for their own good, a category Resnick calls the "altruistic type."

"Often they'll intend to take their own life and take the children with them as an extended suicide, or they have the delusion the children are better off dead," Resnick said.

When parents kills infants, it's often because they never wanted the baby -- a third type of filicide -- or they fatally abuse the baby, a fourth type, Resnick said.

The fifth type is acute psychosis, a truly mentally ill person who has no comprehensible motive, is delirious or believes someone or something is commanding the killing, according to the Star Tribune.

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