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Women and Children at Risk: A Feminist Perspective on Child Abuse

NCJ Number
International Journal of Health Services Volume: 18 Issue: 1 Dated: (1988) Pages: 97-118
E Stark; A H Flitcraft
Date Published
22 pages
Study findings, based on data from 1977-1978, indicate that viewing child abuse through the prism of woman battering reveals that both problems originate in conflicts over gender identity and male authority; the best way to prevent child abuse is through 'female empowerment.'
Data indicate that men, not women, typically commit serious child abuse. In this study, the Yale-New Haven Hospital (Connecticut) medical records of 116 mothers of abused children were analyzed, and the subjects were classified as 'battered' or 'nonbattered' based on their adult trauma history. Data were gathered on the significance of battering in families experiencing child abuse, the identity of perpetrators, whether mothers who are battered come disproportionately from problem homes, and whether current dispositions respond appropriately to the family situation. Findings indicate that battered mothers have no distinctive pathology in their backgrounds, and that clinicians respond punitively to the battered mothers. The child abuse establishment blames mothers for abuse, regardless of who assaults the child, and responds punitively to women, withholding vital resources and often removing the child to foster care, if women are battered or otherwise fail to meet the expectations of 'good mothering.' The combination of male control, misleading psychological knowledge about women's propensity for 'bonding,' and sanctions used to enforce gender stereotypes of motherhood combine to increase the entrapment and inequality from which battering and child abuse originate. This process is called 'patriarchal mothering.' Tabular data and 52 references.


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