child murder infanticide

Infanticide-When Parents Kill Their Children

The recent murder of Jason (12) and Jennifer (7) Mulvaney by their father, James, sparks feelings of outrage and bewilderment because it is such an abhorrent act. Unfortunately the murder of children is seemingly a part of the human repetoire of behaviors. Infanticide was known in prehistoric times and continued through the Middle Ages to the present day. In ancient Egypt infanticide was so great a concern that it was forbidden. During the Greco-Roman period babies were rescued from manure heaps, a not uncommon method of infanticide by Greeks or Romans, and either adopted as foundlings or raised as slaves. Judaism explicitly prohibits infanticide in the Torah.(e.g., Deuteronomy 12:30-31, 18:10; 2 Kings 16:3 & 17:17, 30-31 & 21:6 & 23:4, 10; Jeremiah 7:31-32 & 19:5 & 32:35; Ezekiel 16: 20-21, 36; Judges 11:31) Christianity, too, was concerned with infanticide, and forbade it. (Teachings of the Apostles or Didache said “You shall not kill that which is born.”)[36])In India, Hinduism condemns the act.

Throughout history human cultures have been troubled by the ritual killing of children. The practice appears to have been so wide spread that major religions and cultures adopted laws to forbid it.

The United States ranks eleventh in infanticide of infants under 1 year killed and fourth for those killed from 1 through 14 years. “In Southern California this month, six children have been stabbed by parents. Four have died.”

In Ventura County in 1995 Michael Sasse shot and killed two of his children, ages 3 and 4 before committing suicide. Cora Caro was convicted and sent to death row for shooting to death three of her four sons in 1999 as they slept in their beds, and prosecutors purported that she sought revenge against her husband because of their troubled marriage. Narind Virk was convicted in 2002 but found not guilty by reason of insanity of forcing her children into the cold waters of Channel Islands Harbor and then jumping in herself. All three survived.

How are we to understand these horrific acts and how can they be prevented. Many of these murders share common factors. Married adults are fighting and threatening each other. They challenge the rights of each other to remain parents and retain custody. There is impending or real financial hardship resulting in loss of income, employment and a marked decline in their standard of living. Parents are protective of their children and view their impending suffering of parental loss and lifestyle as so devastating as to become intolerable. To these circumstances you can sometimes add spousal mental and physical abuse, a family history of emotional illness, and a litigious conflict-promoting legal system. This can result in the psychological equivalent of the perfect storm in which the end of life is viewed as the only relief to unrelenting suffering.

As reported in the Ventura County Star, James Mulvaney’s wife had primary custody of the children despite his attending a “positive parenting” class.” On September 4 he lost his job as financial center manager for Citibank in Camarillo. He failed “to save the marriage, to improve and better the children’s education” according to court documents ,despite borrowing $200,000 with his ex-spouse to buy a house in which they lived for seven months.

Mulvaney wanted spousal support from his ex-wife because she made more money. Had someone understood the significance of these events; had someone recognized the destructive power of Mulvaney’s feelings, and had someone known doing something was better than doing nothing, this tragedy might have been prevented.

Marriages will continue to fail and parents will still insist on fighting each other for custody. We are in the midst of the worst economic downturn in our recent history and job loss is expected to exceed 10% of our work force. While this doesn’t explain the tragic deaths of the Mulvaneys, incidents like this seem more prevalent in difficult times, when extreme stress can unlock the inner psychological demons that must be present in someone who commits such an atrocity.

By Bizarre Behavior & Culture Bound Syndromes

Dr. Kevin Volkan is a psychologist, writer, and educator with over twenty years of clinical, corporate, and academic experience. He is Professor of Psychology at California State University Channel Islands (CSUCI) and is on the graduate medical Faculty in the Community Memorial Health System. Dr. Volkan was one of the founding faculty at CSUCI which is the 23rd campus in California State University system where he teaches a course on atypical psychopathologies titled Bizarre Behaviors and Culture-Bound Syndromes. This course explores the outer range of extreme human behavior including paraphilias and was the inspiration for this blog. Consonant with his interest in deviant psychopathologies he also teaches clinical psychology and a course on the psychology of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Dr. Volkan has been a Silberman Seminar Fellow at The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC in 2010 and 2014. Before coming to CSUCI, Dr. Volkan was a faculty member at Harvard Medical School where he researched ways to measure medical student and physician performance, and the psychological origins of medical error. While at Harvard, Dr. Volkan also taught for the prestigious Harvard-Macy Institute, a joint program run by the Harvard Business, Education, and Medical schools. In this program he taught medical students and physicians from Harvard as well as from all over the world. Dr. Volkan’s background in psychology is varied and he maintains an active interest in several psychological approaches to understanding human nature – including socio-biological, psychoanalytic, psychometric, and cognitive-behavioral. He has had a long-standing interest in the psychology of compulsive drug use (which has similarities to the psychology of paraphilias), and has published a book on the subject. Dr. Volkan worked as a clinical psychologist for many years. This experience included serving as staff psychologist and Vice Chair of psychology at Agnews State Hospital in San Jose. During his tenure at Agnews, Dr. Volkan worked with patients who demonstrated many severe behavioral problems, including profoundly autistic, psychotic, self-injurious, and developmentally disabled individuals. Dr. Volkan was awarded the Sustained Superior Accomplishment Award from the State of California for his clinical work. In addition to his hospital work, Dr. Volkan also maintained a private practice in psychology in the San Francisco Bay Area. He served as a psychologist for the California Victim Witness program, seeing patients who were victims of crime and/or abuse. Dr. Volkan’s clients included a diverse population of people representing a wide variety of socioeconomic strata and psychological distress. Dr. Volkan received a BA in Biology from the University of California, an MA in Psychology from Sonoma State University, an EdD in Educational Psychology from Northern Illinois University, a PhD in Clinical Psychology from The Center for Psychological Studies, and a MPH in Public Health from Harvard University. In his spare time he practices martial arts and plays guitar in a rock band.

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