NZ Herald 18 January 2014
Unnatural as it seems, parents who kill their own children are seen by domestic violence workers as just the extreme tip of a very big iceberg of largely hidden threats of violence.
“Threats to do it are extremely common, and they are often what keeps women in relationships,” says Jill Proudfoot of Auckland-based agency Safer Homes in New Zealand Everyday (Shine).
And parents who act on those threats are more common than you might think. Social Development Ministry researchers found an average of three cases of “filicide” a year between 2002 and 2006, where one or both parents killed their own children deliberately. Another four children a year died from physical assaults and punishments where their parents did not intend to kill.
The latest report of the official Family Violence Death Review Committee found three more children died in murder-suicides during parental separations in the two years 2010-11.
The death review committee found 22 children and 50 adults died from family violence in 2010-11, while police attended 94,000 family violence incidents in 2011 alone. “As the visible tip of the iceberg, family violence deaths are not only a measure of lethality but also an important barometer of the incidence of family violence,” said committee head Dr Julia Tolmie of Auckland University.
The report found no discernible trend in the death rate. Thirty people died in family violence in 2002 and 27 in 2010, and the numbers in between fluctuated apparently randomly between a low of 17 in 2003 and a peak of 45 in 2009.
The report does not break down the subset of deliberate “filicides” by gender, but other evidence suggests mothers and fathers are almost equally likely to kill their children. An Australian study of all 291 children killed by filicide there between 1997 and 2008 found 140 were killed by their fathers, 127 by their mothers, and the rest by both parents.
A sixth of the parents – 24 mothers and 16 fathers – killed themselves after killing their children.