News Commentary: Blaming the Child Victim

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Another Model Parent
Murders Her Children and Herself

When firefighters showed up to tackle the blaze at the apartment building in Staten Island, they discovered five victims: a two-year-old boy barely alive who would die later in the hospital; two girls, ten and seven, and a 14-year-old boy, all with their throats slashed; and their 30-year-old mother, also dead.  The teenager, CJ, had a straight razor under his arm.  Investigators quickly determined the fire was deliberately set.  (New York Times)

Because of his recent history of fire setting and an assault on his school principal, CJ was immediately deemed the murderer.  Much rumination followed about what might drive a youngster to commit familicide and those who knew the family were quick to share their observations about what a close-knit group they were, how Leisa Jones, their single mother, struggled to provide financially for her children, how in their home she insisted on proper manners and behavior.  (New York Times)

Only after the tragedy did some start to wonder about the pressures on young CJ to be the man of the house.  Those aware of the family’s circumstances shared observations of how he always took care of his younger siblings and did the things his mother needed him to do.

Where were they before when his behavior signaled the existence of serious problems, at least within himself but probably also inside the family?  A child who assaults a principal and sets fires clearly suffers from distress of some kind.  Did anyone try to find out what was troubling him?

And what sense did it make that he could set a blaze without slitting his mother’s throat, too?  Surely the screams of the children would wake her.  The youngest child was undoubtedly spared because he could do nothing to stop the perpetrator unlike the older children who could.  How often does someone, especially a teenager, commit suicide by slashing his/her own throat?  And how could the blade end up under his arm?

Far easier to blame the troubled child who acts out his/her distress than to contemplate the still unimaginable possibility that parents kill their children even though there are ample statistics testifying to that fact.  “In 2007, one or both parents were responsible for 69.9 percent of child abuse or neglect fatalities” and “more than one-quarter (27.1 percent) of these fatalities were perpetrated by the mother acting alone.”  (Administration for Children and Families)  Still everyone remains shocked when these murders happen in their neighborhoods.

It’s time that adults take notice of disturbing behaviors in the children they encounter and make the effort to find out what’s wrong, to intervene before tragedy strikes again and leaves them scratching their heads and trying to figure out how it could possibly have happened.