Gender Research and Scholarship

Gender research and scholarship can make a tremendous difference – for women, for children, for men, and for family restoration. In fact, I have learned a great deal about female aggression recently from a new appreciated connection, Dr. Theresa Porter.

Even though sometimes I dread opening my Outlook account for fear of all the work contained therein, email and the internet are great tools to connect people and ideas. And it is encouraging to learn that scholarship can make a difference. I recently received an email note from Theresa Porter, Psy.D. at Connecticut Valley State Hospital:
I just finished reading your paper "Prom Mom Killers" and wanted to comment on the excellence of your writing. I am completing a chapter on infanticidal women for a compendium on women's violence and found your ideas on blame shifting enlightening. 
Theresa Porter Psy.D.
Connecticut Valley State Hospital
Further correspondence with Dr. Porter has been enlightening. Dr. Porter is working with Dr. Helen Gavin of Huddersfield University in England on the chapter she mentions above. Drs. Porter and Gavin met at a conference called "Women, Evil and the Feminine" this year, both presenting on female child molesters and both focused on female aggression. They make a good team as one is a published author and academic while the other works with female criminals. Between the two they may have every bit of information ever written on violent women! Their work is currently in manuscript draft form, and at this point their chapter on Infanticide and Neonaticide will cover:
  • the incidence and prevalence in industrialized nations
  • the differences between neonaticidal and infanticidal women,
  • the role mental illness does and does not play in these murders including the scientific findings on "postpartum" depression and psychosis,
  • language about the victims,
  • the methods used,
  • the issue of which gender is murdered more (in industrialized countries, it looks like 5-6% more male infants are murdered even controlling for the differences in birth rates)
  • pregnancy denial/concealment as a precursor to neonaticide,
  • recidivism,
  • typologies,
  • legal issues including the lack of need for specific infanticidal laws and the under-arrest rates.
Dr. Porter admits that some of the information she learned researching this topic surprised her. For example, "postpartum" depression and psychosis are not caused by maternal hormones. “There have only been a few studies looking at maternal mental health and hormones (surprise #1) and they concluded that the hormone fluctuations during and after labor don't effect one's mental stability (surprise #2). If a woman has an episode of clinical depression or of psychosis after childbirth, it's because she has a pre-existing predisposition; it's not because of the hormones,” Dr. Porter reports. She was also surprised at the number of ways “an odd sexism” as she termed it, appeared to creep into some of the research. Dr. Porter writes, “The language used was one way; women who murdered their infants were referred to as ‘mothers’ but the babies who died were referred to as ‘victims.’ We generally use either ‘mother/infant’ or ‘perpetrator/victim’ or ‘murderer/victim.’ It's almost as if the writers couldn't bring themselves to term these women, these mothers, as murderers. There were also comparisons made between the methods used by males and females when murdering infants and I noted an odd trend towards terming the males' methods as more aggressive or violent and the females' as more passive. I'm not sure there is a passive, non-aggressive form of murder but I am pretty sure that the person being murdered doesn't think being strangled or drowned is any less aggressive than being shot.”

Information on women's aggression from a forensic psychology perspective is just coming into its infancy over the last 20 years or so and it's not widely circulated, according to Dr. Porter. “Further, when one talks about or does an internet search on a topic such as ‘child molester’ or ‘batterer’ or ‘serial killer,’ the presumption is of a male offender. This is not only inaccurate, it also helps hide the female perpetrators, keeps the victims from getting full assistance and ultimately leaves society in danger.”

My correspondence with Dr. Porter is further aiding me in my gender-based scholarship. I’m grateful for her initiative in internet networking! To read our ideas on blame shift in neonaticide check out: Prom Mom Killers: Distorted Statistics, Blame Shift, and Their Impact on Punishment for Neonaticide, 9 WM & MARY WOMEN'S L. J. 43 (Fall 2002) (with Scott Liverman, Regent ’02, now family violence prosecutor). That article has been cited in Amy D. Wills, Neonaticide: The Necessity of Syndrome Evidence When Safe Haven Legislation Falls Short, 77 TEMP. L. REV. 1001 (Winter 2004); Jennifer R. Racine, A Dangerous Place for Society and its Troubled Young Women, A Call for an End to Newborn Safe Haven Laws in Wisconsin and Beyond, 20 WIS. WOMEN’S L.J. 243 (2005); Susan Ayres, Who is to Shame? Narratives of Neonaticide, 14 WM. & MARY J. WOMEN & L. 55 (2007).

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