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Lynch Language in OK Child Abuse Story

A recent article in The Oklahoman, the largest newspaper in Oklahoma, sticks to the old formula about domestic violence and child abuse: men = abusers, women and children = victims. The article, by columnist Tom Lindley, keys off the recent deaths of Kelsey Smith-Briggs and Caitlin Wooten.

Sadly, the article ignores the fact that men are now recognized by the Violence Against Women Act as victims of domestic violence. The article neglects to mention that in most cases of child abuse, it.s the mother who is the perpetrator. This is what the federal Administration on Children and Families says about child abuse [http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm03/index.htm]:

  • 58% of persons who commit child abuse and neglect are female
  • In 31% of child abuse deaths, the perpetrator was the mother acting alone, compared to only 18% of fathers acting alone.

By combining an example of a wife who'd been battered for 20 years with the stories of the two murdered girls, the article misleads the reader into thinking that the greatest danger to children is from their fathers.

The truth is, children face far greater risk when their mother's love-interest is someone other than their biological father. Two-year-old Kelsey, was beaten to death her STEP-father, possibly with her mother's help. Teenaged Caitlin, was gunned down by her mother's ex-boyfriend.

Boys are at even greater risk of death and injury from their mothers than girls are. If Mr. Lindley had wanted to do a fair-minded story, he would not have limited his story solely to murdered girls.

And he might have mentioned Caren McDonald of Choctaw who is serving a prison term after admitting she beat her husband with a baseball bat on June 21, 2002. [http://www.ejfi.org/DV/dv-77.htm#pgfId-1405194]

Worse, Mr. Lindley.s article uses inflammatory language similar to the words used a century ago by Southern newspapers to vilify Black men:

  • Mr. Lindley claims there is a .growing number of perpetrators of violence. without providing even a single statistic.
  • Lindley repeats the old feminist myth that men batter their wives because of .the need to be in control of someone else..

Each year, hundreds of thousands of restraining orders are issued around the United States against men accused of domestic abuse. As David Heleniak documented, these orders frequently violate the fundamental civil rights of men [https://www.acfc.org/site/DocServer/newstarchamber.pdf?docID=401&JServSessionIdr006=l04p181r91.app2a].

But apparently those constitutional violations do not concern Mr. Lindley, who actually pushes for strengthening these protection orders. In fact according to Mr. Lindley, the time for debate has long passed:

"As long as this debate rages, so too will the violence directed at women and children."

Contact columnist Tom Lindley and his editors at The Oklahoman and tell them -- politely -- the truth about domestic violence and child abuse. Here.s the contact information:

Tom Lindley: tlindley@cox.net
Letters to the editor: yourviews@oklahoman.com
Ed Kelly, editor: ekelley@oklahoman.com
Sue Hale, executive editor: shale@oklahoman.com
Mike Shannon: managing editor: mshannon@oklahoman.com
Joe Hight, managing editor: jhight@oklahoman.com

Telephone: 405-936-0175
Fax: 405-475-3183
Snail mail:
P.O. Box 25125
Oklahoma City, OK 73125



Do More than Demand Justice for Kelsey, Caitlin

By Tom Lindley
The Oklahoman
January 19, 2006

If fear is the flip side of rage, then too many women and children in Oklahoma have their battered faces plastered on the wrong side of the coin. When child abuse and domestic abuse are carried out to the extreme, when a 2-year-old such as Kelsey Smith-Briggs of Meeker or a teen such as Caitlin Wooten of Ada is killed, it becomes unfathomable.

Then, for a short time, it gets personal, which usually means more tough talk by the state Legislature and law enforcement, followed by new laws and more rows of prison cells.

But the question always comes down to whether Oklahoma's compassion for women and children will outlast the rage of a growing number of perpetrators of violence or will it disappear with the rest of yesterday's news.

Those who see the bruises up close say there is too much evidence the judicial system doesn't push hard enough to hold accountable those perpetrators who have a history of abuse.

Can a state that ranks so low nationally in so many categories that matter -- income and education attainment -- and so high in others -- the number of women incarcerated, teen date violence, alcohol and methamphetamine use and the number of women killed by their partners -- overcome its reluctance to get involved in somebody else's business?

"We have a pioneering, independent streak in Oklahoma where you pull yourself up by your boot straps and don't ask for help," said Pamela Cross, executive director of central Oklahoma HeartLine, a 24-hour support service.

"We also are shaped by our own experiences, good or bad, and unfortunately, we all don't start out on a level playing field."

Cries for help Can Oklahomans resist the temptation to blame the victims? She didn't have dinner on the table on time or keep the kids quiet enough, so she must have asked for it, right?

That would be the only way Jan Peery, chief executive officer of the Oklahoma City YWCA, which operates three hot lines, can explain why a judge would order a battered wife who after 20 years of abuse finally got the nerve to go to the court for help to go across the hall with her husband and make up with him.

If it's true that children who witness violence in the home are more disposed to resort to violence or end up victims of it as adults, is the proliferation of computer-game violence and violence on television and at the movies a good learning tool?

Those are the questions some of those who hear the cries for help and understand the root causes of violence would like for Oklahomans to honestly answer. If the statistics aren't enough to demand answers, maybe Kelsey's sweet face will.

She died Oct. 11 after suffering blunt force trauma to the abdomen, genital area, head, torso and extremities. Her stepfather is charged with first-degree murder and her mother is under investigation.

Caitlin Wooten died when her mother's ex-boyfriend, who a few weeks earlier had kidnapped her mother at gunpoint and was out of jail on bond, kidnapped the high school junior from school and shot her to death.

Violence rages on Such hideous crimes send all of us searching for answers.

For some, the blame for violent behavior begins with "he was born with a mean streak" and ends with "he has no one to blame but himself" or "she was an unfit mother."

For those trained to understand human behavior, it often ends with a partial indictment of a society that gives some kids their first opportunity to get three meals a day when it puts them in prison.

As long as this debate rages, so too will the violence directed at women and children.

"It seems to me we have to look at how someone loses the ability to relate to someone else's pain," said Cross, whose hot line fielded almost 50,000 calls for help last year.

Substance abuse, financial and emotional stress, depression and the need to be in control of someone else when everything else is spinning out of control remain high on the list of causes of violence.

A cut-off notice from the utility company can send someone over the edge.

A lot of Oklahomans don't know it, but there is help on the other end of the line -- the kind of assistance that can help them solve problems and redirect their anger.

"I'm not trying to excuse child abuse or domestic violence, but it helps when we understand it," Cross said. "And it makes it easier for people to get assistance before they act on their anger."

As for the rest of us, we need to do more than demand justice for Kelsey and Caitlin, although that would be a good start.

Among the suggestions:

End the culture of silence in Oklahoma and report suspected child abuse as state law already demands.

Make necessary changes in the child protection system and require people charged with kidnapping to prove they are not a public threat before they can post bond.

Strengthen and enforce victim protection orders and implement an electronic notification system to alert victims when offenders move through the criminal justice system.

Adopt Oklahoma County's system of educating law enforcement and the judicial system in dealing with crimes related to domestic abuse or sexual assault.

Lobby lawmakers not to cut counseling services and social programs aimed at preventing abuse and neglect.

"There is no real simple answer and there is not one solution," Peery said. "Hopefully, these high-profile cases will make all of us a little more aware."

The hope is that some day maybe a child won't have to die to get our attention.

Date of RADAR Release: January 22, 2006

R.A.D.A.R. Respecting Accuracy in Domestic Abuse Reporting is a network of concerned men and women working to assure that the problem of domestic violence is treated in a balanced and effective manner: http://www.mediaradar.org.