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Child Abuse: Where Abusers & Victims Learn Their Craft

Updated: Apr 23, 2022

Why do we still not understand this?

Free for commercial use photo from PxFuel

I haven’t wanted children since I first gave it serious consideration, as I prepared to catapult into adulthood upon high school graduation. Growing up, I’d always assumed, as most people do, that I’d have children one day.

It never seemed real, and once I actually began to consider it (not soon!) around 17, I found that kids didn’t fit into my plans.

Granted, my ‘plans’ at the time were pretty stupid: I wanted to go to Hollywood and be an actress. My father had other plans: I would go to college, which he had been saving up for since I was nine.

I wouldn’t have cut it as an actress. I was like Penny on The Big Bang Theory — more enthralled with being a Movie Star than any real interest in the craft.

I’m glad I stuck to my guns on children rather than my childish fantasy. I thought it through, like birth control and what I’d do if I got pregnant anyway. No question: Abortion.

Not everyone should have children. Too many do it without thinking, or by default. Oopsie, I’m pregnant, well, I don’t want to make the ugly abortion decision so I guess I’ll have the baby.

Worse, society takes a dim view of adoption and women who consider it are ‘mom-shamed’ with, “How can you possibly give up your own child?”

If they’re not ready for parenthood, they shouldn’t assume the mantle. They deny that child the possibility of a better life. (I’m thinking of someone I know whose mother did the right thing by choosing the adoption route.)

The decision is easier for the guy. He can choose to opt out if he wants. It’s not fair, but that’s biology. The onus is mostly on the woman. Still, both need to take the potential oopsie seriously. Men need to think about where they shoot their seed and women need to consider harder whom they allow to shoot their seed into them.

Because raising children isn’t for the uncommitted, and ruining children for life is always a joint effort, regardless of who’s present, or not.

Recently I wrote about the toxic vulnerability in female psychology that impels some women to fall in love with abusers or even worse, serial killers and other prison cons. I am reminded once again of just how much some people shouldn’t have children.

Like, the sort of people who breed abusers and serial killers.

The research started for a friend’s movie project, just as I was finishing up, ironically, a book called When She Was Bad: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence by Canadian writer Patricia Pearson. She describes how female serial killers and abusers may be far more common than believed, and how polite society is far more willing to excuse violent female behavior than males’, especially if she claims prior abuse.

The abuse defense doesn’t hold for men raised in similar circumstances.

Prior to the Pearson book I re-read James Gilligan’s now-classic Violence: Reflections on a National Epidemic which catalogues how some of the most violent men in prison can detail hair-raising stories of physical, sexual, and mental abuse growing up. Tales of being locked in closets, burned, starved, neglected, raped, tortured.

Consider this: Behind many hateful, misogynist, violent men are little boys who were abused and neglected by Dear Old Mom.

Not all men abused by the early women in their lives grow up to become abusers. Some learn to be victims. Not all women growing up with abuse become victims; some become abusers.

Until very recently, women haven’t had many career options apart from traditional roles like nurse, teacher, and the wank fantasy of misogynist men everywhere, the stay-at-home mother.

Throw in some pretty outdated expectations in a seven-billion-and-counting world that we need to ‘go forth and multiply’, and you’ve got a helluva lot of people making babies who shouldn’t be, not without a LOT of forethought and soul-searching.

After all, not all abuse victims grow up to be abusers. Some make the deliberate effort to be a better parent than their own.

The Hallmark moment. Image by Bessi from Pixabay

Children who are beaten by their fathers tend to grow up to become victims, whether they are boys or girls. Children who are beaten by their mothers, on the other hand, are more likely to become victimizers. — Patricia Pearson, When She Was Bad: Violent Women and the Myth of Innocence

We don’t appreciate the awesome responsibility of raising another human being nearly enough.

I have maintained for many years, quite literally, that being a parent is the most important job in the world. Raising another human being to the best of your ability makes all the difference as to how that human will impact their environment and the people around them.

You can’t avoid making mistakes, and sometimes you do your level best and the child still turns out a huge disappointment. Good parents sometimes raise mass murderers not because they were bad parents, but because the child is genetically predisposed somehow.

Humans are incredibly messy, complex creations. The human brain, many scientists agree, is THE most complex creation in the entire Universe. As any engineer knows, the more complex a system (like 100 billion neurons in our brains with up to 15,000 connections for each), the more likely things will go wrong.

Child abuse, whether it’s physical, sexual, emotional or psychological, creates disturbed adult humans. Most aren’t extremes, but they often become victims or abusers or maybe a bit of both. We speak mostly about male abusers and female victims and don’t ask about the abusers’ childhoods, nor do we seem to much care if they grew up in the circumstances under which they now make their spouse or partner suffer.

We use abuse histories to excuse women’s behavior and ignore men’s. Pearson notes just about every woman in Da Clink blames her violence on prior abuse. Courts often grant more lenient sentences to women who claim this, or who fall back on a traditionalist, patriarchal facade of helpless woman without agency to excuse her violent behavior, even for murdering her own child.

When we think about child abuse, we assume the abuser was the father. After all, men are more violent, right?

Pearson explores SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) and whether they’re all as accidental as advertised. Deeper forensic investigation reveals ugly truth sometimes — when it occurs.

Often it doesn’t because it’s widely believed maternal infanticide is rare.

Some maternal murders that are undeniably not accidental, like the woman who put her incessantly crying baby in the middle of the road and ran over it with her car.

Pearson examines women with cases of Munchhausen-By-Proxy, who make up or even create fictitious illnesses for their children, and in the most extreme cases kill them, seeking the love and attention they get from people afterward. Because no one believes women can be murderous predators, especially regarding their own children, they can get away with it for an incredible amount of time. One mother killed eight of her nine children before police investigated.

Those are the kids who don’t grow up to be abusers or victims.

What happens to the ones who do? “Children who are beaten by their fathers tend to grow up to become victims, whether they are boys or girls. Children who are beaten by their mothers, on the other hand, are more likely to become victimizers,” Pearson notes.

And if they victimize the ‘right’ people, men, like serial killer Aileen Wuornos, they’re admired and sympathized with.

“Imagine,” Pearson asks, “a TV movie about the Chicago serial killer John Wayne Gacy, assaulted by his father as a boy…Or the movie Helter Skelter, about child abuse victim Charles Manson, pitching him to us as a pitiable. From infancy, Manson was unwanted, neglected, mistreated, bounced from one rejecting adult to another.” Or Henry Lee Lucas, beaten all throughout his childhood and forced to cross-dress in public by his mother.

And we wonder why he hated women?

Yes, by all means let’s have a TV movie fetishizing these guys for striking a blow against ‘The Matriarchy’ for a change.


I’d rather we not make excuses for either gender. Equality means we treat men and women equally, and give up flimsy excuses for victimhood.

No one’s childhood is perfect, and we can all reflect back to try and get at the source of whatever emotionally or psychologically ails us. Parents aren’t perfect, and they’re never responsible for everything wrong with our lives. The quick jump to blame parents for everything, the mindless go-to for too many lazy therapists and others in the psychology profession, abrogates critical thinking. We are more than just our parents, after all. Our peer groups, for example, impact us as well.

But no one, except maybe people in weird religious cults, think it’s a good idea to raise children in abusive environments.

Parents who abuse contribute future abusers and victims, even though not all abusers/victims were necessarily mistreated in childhood.

As we debate victims and abusers, as we challenge traditionalist thinking and previously unchallengeable narratives about who’s responsible (the abuser, ultimately), we need also to challenge the same thinking and narratives surrounding parenthood — more specifically, Is parenthood right for me?

Enough already with what you ‘should’ to do please others — your family, your friends, your church, your insular community where things have ‘always’ been this way.

What kind of a parent would I make?

Am I really willing to put my full effort into raising children? (This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work or be made to feel guilty for doing so.)

Do I truly understand the ‘sacrifices’ I will make raising other humans?

Better decisions before birth may well result in fewer violent people, fewer victims of violence, and a psychologically healthier world overall.

We need to think longer-term, to prevention rather than cleaning up the messes afterward.

We feel horror, pity, and sorrow when we read about a small child starved or beaten to death by their caretakers and wish we could have done something to save him or her.

Perhaps decades later that child would have grown up to horribly victimize others, with many screaming for the electric chair.

It’s easy to feel sorry for a helpless child, much harder to feel sorry for an adult accused of raping, torturing, and murdering.

Something to think about.

This post originally appeared in The Bad Influence on Medium in August 2020.

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