Family connections: who is more likely to lash out?
Over the weekend I read a new book in which the mother of three-month-old
twins (born prematurely) who died from head injuries in 2006 gives
her account of the circumstances surrounding their deaths.
I have mentioned this New Zealand case before
and I bring it up now because it illustrates some research
just published by Pat Fagan and Scott Talkington at the Marriage and Religion
Research Institute (MARRI) of the Family Research Council.
The study is one of the Mapping America series and shows the
correlation between growing up in various family structures, religious
practice, and the likelihood of assaulting anyone. Using the 1997 National Longitudinal
Survey of Youth, Fagan and Talkington found that 12 per cent of adults who had
grown up with both their biological parents married had assaulted anyone in
their lifetime, and weekly religious practice reduced that figure to 11 per
The highest rates of assault were among those who grew up in
other family structures -- particularly with grandparents, in foster homes,
etc. (26 percent), with an always-single parent (29 percent), and in a
cohabiting stepfamily (34 percent). Never attending church was a factor
increasing the risk.
To return to the New Zealand mother, Macsyna King: the diagnosis
at the hospital was that they died of head injuries as a result of deliberate
violence. Her partner Chris Kahui was found not guilty at trial in 2008.
Macsyna herself -- the mother of four older children -- is suspected by some.
One or more members of the extended family may be implicated. A coroner’s
report is pending.
The point here is this: both Macsyna and Chris come from
backgrounds where there were/are broken families, cohabitation, step-families, parental
violence and abuse (fuelled by alcohol) -- and, not surprisingly, no religion
in sight. They were not married, were 8 years apart in age, and had drifted
into a sexual relationship before deciding to set up house.
From her book (Breaking
Silence: The Kahui Case) there is no evidence that either she or her
partner was physically violent, although there was plenty of angry, aggressive
and obscene language.
Perhaps we will never know who was immediately responsible for
the babies’ deaths, but we have one more case that points to the risks to
children of growing up (and especially beginning their lives) outside the care
of married (committed) parents with religious values and the institutional
support that brings.
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