Before I begin articulating my thoughts on this subject I would like to indicate to the readers that are unfamiliar with who I am and what I stand for that I do not condone or support any type of abuse in any form. I am an advocate against domestic violence and I do not subscribe to violence at all.
I usually don’t comment on stories that I see in the local newspapers, in fact I have altogether stopped reading local news since poorly written, salaciously abhorrent and non click-worthy articles abound in the local media. I usually get my news online and it did not surprise me when I saw the headline below on the Sunday Express dated April 4th, 2021. It did what it was meant to do, grab attention. Thus I followed the link to read the perspective of the writer. It does not surprise me that the author was male and perhaps quite inept in his understanding of the topic he attempted to broach with his article. Now the article did not single out single mothers per se however as a single mother, a mother and purely a woman I must say that I was quite annoyed by the content of this cringeworthy, poorly written article.
Let me start with the headline on the front page. Red background with white lettered capitalized font and the word MOMSTERS written to describe whom? The quote just above it is purported statistics or a statement from the Children’s Authority as if intended to indicate a direct quote from the Authority singling out mothers and referencing them in a derogatory manner. I wish I were writing an article on Facebook because I would most certainly insert disgusted emoji here!
On to the sub-headline on page 3. It stated that “mothers are the main offenders of child abuse” and that “over 27,000 cases have been reported since 2015 to the C.A.” Now both statements from the subsequent exposition are accurate however it is also untrue and by the deliberate construction of the sentences I am led to believe that the author’s intent was to mislead the public.
The author reported that a total caseload of 27,437 cases reflected that of reported abuse to the C.A. over a six-year period (2015-2021). This means that the author attempted to (or perhaps not) create a link in the number of cases reported as 27,000 being the actual number of cases of child abuse perpetrated by mothers when this is an actual figure of the number of cases handled by the Authority.
The author states in his fifth sentence that 40.5% (11,112 cases) of abuse offenders against children are “relatives or people known to the child victims” contradicting his initial statement that “mothers are the main offenders of child abuse”. As far as my application of mathematical principles go, I know that 40 is more than 35 (35% – 9713 of offenders against children were their mothers) which means that the MAIN OFFENDERS of child abuse are relatives or people known to the child victims (and strangers, 24.1% which totals 64.6%) unlike what the author purports his narrative to be. Maybe I need a chart illustration…I have questions…
The author went further to list the types of abuse perpetrated with the corresponding proportions of the pie that each type occupied. He also noted that 15,282 (55.9%) victims were female whilst 11,551 (42.1%) were male. I have taken the liberty to restate them here:
- 9301 cases – 33.9% > child neglect
- 6365 cases – 23.2% > sexual abuse
- 4236 cases – 15.4% > physical abuse
- 2963 cases – 10.8% > emotional abuse
- 1619 cases – 5.9% > child in need of supervision
- 1043 cases – 3.8% > child in mortal danger
- 905 cases – 3.3% > child in conflict with the law
- 1005 cases – 3.1% > lost child/child begging alms/child at risk
Some of the questions that I have based on the statistics relayed include: Of the 35.4% of mothers found to be abusers what is the breakdown of this figure in terms of the types of abuse perpetrated? Was it that mothers were found to neglect, physically abuse or put their children in danger more than sexually or emotionally abuse them? What is the percentage of male abusers and what sort of abuse did they perpetrate? Why would I ask these questions? Well the answer is simple. If we know what sort of abuse is perpetrated by mothers then we can know how to help and support these parents and if we know who is perpetrating what type of abuse we can understand how to help the victims in terms of what the public can do to prevent same.
In my experience as a single mother and the President of the Global Network for the Advancement of Single Mothers (an NGO that supports single mothers) I understand the many challenges that are faced by women who have found themselves in the difficult position of raising children alone and without adequate support. As such, many other factors including malicious reporting by former partners and even family members must also be considered.
The article goes on to recall an interview with the director of the Children’s Authority, Nichola Harvey, and her statements regarding the recent escape and deaths of two children that were in their care which really is unrelated to the title of the article and has no bearings on the statistics quoted. It begs the following questions therefore: Why was this article written? Why was it so poorly contextualized and what outcome did the author wish to see?
“Single parents constituted 11.39% of the Trinidad and Tobago population (ibid), and despite not being disaggregated by sex, it is generally assumed, as a result of gendered roles, that women would be the head of household for the majority of single parent families. Perusal of CSO census data over the last two decades reveals relative stability in the numbers of single parents at approximately 11 % of the population. However, according to the National Census Report 2000 for Trinidad and Tobago, the percentage of female-headed households was approximately 30% and increased to 33% in 2010 (CSO, 2011).” National Draft Parenting Policy 2015.
Though these are 11 year old statistics and based on the fact that divorce rates have increased over the years to 1 in 2 marriages resulting in divorce as well as population growth trends it is not beyond assumption that those figures have more than likely increased. (I await the next census data to provide more information).
My thoughts relative to this subject matter always come from a place of understanding the plight of mothers, especially single mothers. It has been for quite some time now that society blames mothers for many ills we see rampant in our society. Whilst I do not negate the fact that abuse does occur at the hands of ill equipped women in our communities and society at large blame cannot be ascribed to or placed squarely on the shoulders of (single) mothers. We have to see the larger issue(s) that also contribute to the family structure’s disintegration, the biggest contributor to which is the absence of fathers and strong male role models in the home.
Why are fathers increasingly absent and unsupportive in the lives of the children they helped to create? Why is there little to no support for single mothers to access? What services are accessible to the general public relative to creating safer spaces for women and children alike? One may ask why am I asking about women and the general public having access to safe spaces and the answer is that everything is interrelated. Without safe spaces people generally feel unsafe and unprotected even in their homes and we know criminal activity abounds in our twin island republic.
In homes where there is a violent adult male offender who abuses his family, there is very little protection from the law for the family in fact abuse tends to increase in severity and frequency when there is a report made and even attempts to dissolve the relationship and in many cases other violent acts are perpetrated such as stalking and eventually murder. It does not take a rocket scientist to see that abuse begets abuse in many cases so that it is not farfetched to see the effects of neglect and further abuse perpetuated by mothers on to their children. What about drug abuse and mental illness? Were/are they considered in presenting such data?
In cases of perhaps “neglect” for example if the woman is a single mother without adequate support she usually has to choose between providing for the children in her care and working. Most employers do not have any type of assistance for single mothers and they are not required to but them working long hours at a security firm for example presents the issue of how much time is spent with children and how much time they may be unsupervised because their job simply may not provide the required finance for child care services. I can see data here as being representative of a large portion of the 11% single mother population but what percentage of cases reported actually resulted from single parent households as opposed to traditional nuclear families?
Neither the article nor the statistics presented consider(ed) these as factors that can affect the data but it is always easy to simply point a finger and pontificate that women/mothers are the problem completely absolving men of their responsibilities and culpability. So again I ask, what was the reason this article was presented so callously? What was the expected outcome? Did the author hope to positively contribute to the conversations surrounding abuse of children and abuse in general or did he just want to shine a light on his abject ineptitude? If the author wished to present a societal problem to the public why did he not present his proposed solutions?
Going back to the inclusion of the irrelevant statements of the C.A’s director concerning the absconded teenagers, I recall that in an interview with one children’s mother that it was reported that she was a single mother who utilized the services of the C.A. to help her child access mental health counselling and other services provided by the C.A. since he seemed to be headed down the wrong path of having potential conflict with the law. It is also important to note that there have been several allegations of abuse levied against the facilities run by the C.A. by the absconded teenagers and many others before them. The author didn’t mention those things in his biased and unbalanced article.
To ask for a more professional and unbiased approach to reporting in Trinidad and Tobago is what I call a pipe dream since I do not envision that as happening anytime soon since papers need to be sold and a “journalist” needs to eat! I however am committed to finding solutions to the issues that single mothers face and our organization wishes to inform the general public that we are here to offer our support since the article never mentioned anything about support services provided by government or any other entity with programs geared toward ensuring that the vulnerable in our society are protected and supported. I remain committed to stemming the scourge of abuse perpetrated against women and children in particular and all forms of violence in our society. I hope the writer would really consider his motives when writing articles in the future and I honestly believe that as a nation if we do the work we can in fact become a better and more mature society.