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Who Are the Perpetrators and Why Do They Do It? (From The Shaken Baby Syndrome: A Multidisciplinary Approach, P 41-54, 2001, Stephen Lazoritz and Vincent J. Palusci, eds. -- See NCJ-195979)

NCJ Number
W. Hobart Davies; Molly Murphy Garwood
Date Published
14 pages
This paper explains the data on the perpetrators of shaken baby syndrome (SBS) and what triggers their behavior.
Most cases of SBS are perpetrated by parents or caregivers, such as a mother's boyfriend, who are placed in a "near-parent" role. Identified perpetrators have been both male and female, although male perpetrators have generally been in the majority. There is a clinical consensus that the intent of those who shake infants is generally not to injure them, but rather to attempt to control their behavior. SBS is similar to many other cases of child physical abuse in which a frustrated parent shows poor judgment in reacting to a bothersome child. It has been suggested that parents unaware of the dangers of shaking may view it as a gentler and more appropriate response than striking a child. There is little information regarding the psychological and biological backgrounds of perpetrators. Milner and Dopke (1997) have provided a review of perpetrator characteristics associated with child physical abuse. They indicate that investigators uniformly have concluded that perpetrators of child physical abuse are more physiologically reactive to child-related stimuli than are non-abusing parents. Further, psychiatric disorders in the caregiver will directly increase the risk for shaking the child, since it impacts a caregiver's ability to tolerate stress and manage the myriad demands of caring for an infant. Substance abuse has also been identified as a risk factor for shaking infants. Other factors likely to contribute to SBS are caregiver isolation and lack of social support; dysfunctional caregiver-child relationship; child behavior; infant temperament and caregiver sensitivity; expectations, perceptions, and attributions regarding child behavior; and situational factors. The authors conclude that researchers are in the early stages of understanding the parent, child, interactional, family system, and situational factors that determine risk for and protection from SBS. There is a need to move rapidly to identify the risk factors, not only separately, but as they interact with one another in the lives of young families. 46 references


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