Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Munchhausen Syndrome and Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy

Why Women Kill their Kids and Why We Let Them

So, what IS wrong with these women? If they're not insane, why do they kill their children? Why don't men do more of this type of serial killing? And why do we let women get away with this so often?

Serial homicide is always about power and control. It's about who you can kill and how you can get away with it. For men, killing violently is an expression of being manly. The mom ent of rape and murder, the mom ent when your victim has the look of total terror enter her eyes — this is the mom ent these men feel they are real men. The thrill they get later from reading the newspapers and watching the news, the laugh they get at the police's expense as they live in fear and chase the boogeyman - THEM! - this is their idea of winning! But for most men, unless there is insurance money, killing their children doesn't get enough attention and cheap thrills to make murder a worthwhile crime.

A woman, on the other hand, gets a lot of attention when she is pregnant. She gets a lot of attention at the birth. Then she gets stuck with the baby. The baby is a lot of work, and people have an annoying habit of cooing at the baby and being more interested in the child than the mother. For a mother who doesn't love her children, they are nothing but competition. So, what could be better than the child's death and funeral? The mother of a dead child gets a lot of attention from the ambulance crew, the emergency-room folk, the doctors, the nurses, and the social workers. Then she gets attention from family, friends, neighbors, the funeral home, and clergy. She can get sympathy for many months afterwards. Then when the excitement dies down, she starts the process all over again. After all, it worked out well last time!

The other reason women choose their own children as targets is that children are easier for females to physically handle, and it is easier for a woman to get away with this kind of a crime. Male serial killers usually pick easy targets: small women, children, the elderly, or inebriated people. Female killers have a smaller choice of people they can control. One very good group is babies. They don't fight back, they are readily available, and they only require a pillow to do the job.

Also, if a man were alone with a baby who died, he would be more suspect. We don't trust men with babies (they get angry and shake and beat them); on the other hand, we just don't think mothers can kill dispassionately. Certainly, if a man was alone with a baby when two or more died, he would find himself in prison quite quickly. But with women, as long as they keep their docile and indifferent husbands happy (and this is the kind of husband these women choose), then no one complains, and when no one complains, society would rather just not deal with it.

The other reason women get away with the serial murder of their children has to do with our system of medicine. Little is taught in medical schools about the kind of psychopathology that mothers bring into doctor's offices and hospitals. Remarkably few professionals know much about the "disease" labeled Munchausen's Syndrome or Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy. Even if some of the medical staff see a problem, with the ability of women to move from one medical provider to another (and with our insurance systems, the patient is often moved from provider to provider by the insurance plan), with the ability to go to any hospital, there is often no consistency to the medical attention an individual receives. Add to this the privacy laws and the limited time any doctor has to spend with a patient, and the "medical problem" is often seen as an isolated event and rarely as a continuing saga.

Last, but not least, our legal system plays a major part in the reaction of doctors, medical examiners and police investigators. Not enough manpower, not enough time, not enough money, and a major fear of lawsuits and loss of employment keep medical professionals from being willing to stick their necks out. They take the path of least resistance, and if there is not a strong outcry, when babies are murdered, they shrug their shoulders and their deaths go down as SIDS. When these cases are actually pursued within the system, one must fully credit the medical and law-enforcement professionals for justice for these defenseless victims.



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