Stepfathers often involved in well-publicized child abuse cases

  • There are some terrible dads and some great stepfathers
  • According to a study, stepfathers are 70 times more likely to murder a child

Robert L., the stepfather of a 13-year-old adolescent, was sentenced on Tuesday to ten years in prison by the Charleroi criminal court for raping his girlfriend’s daughter over the course of 5 years. In Clermont-Ferrand (France), neither Berkane Mahkouf nor the mother of 5-year-old Fiona will tell where they buried the girl’s body. Typhaine was also killed by her stepfather and her body was recovered in the woods near Charleroi, and 17 month-old Andy was raped and beaten to death by his stepfather in Charleroi.

Rapes and suicides

Are stepfathers and stepmothers dangerous? Two Canadian researchers, psychologists Margo Wilson and Martin Daly, are interested in the subject. The results of their research, published in the book “Homicide,” show that a child living in a blended family has a one hundred times greater risk of being subjected to violence than a child living with its birth parents. Stepparents have a 70 times higher probability of killing a child less than 2 years old and 15 times higher for adolescent children. The analysis of 390 homicides in Great Britain, the United States and Canada demonstrates that, over 15 years, 73 of the 390 men (18%) who killed their biological children did so during the course of a murder-suicide, the father not wanting to leave his children behind. Of the 197 child murders committed by stepfathers, murder-suicide only accounted for 3 cases, or 1.5%, which may be due to less emotional attachment in many stepfathers to their partner’s child. Rapes committed by stepfathers are 7 times more common than those committed by birth fathers.

“You have to be careful,” says Dr. Emmanuel de Becker, pediatric psychiatrist at the Saint-Luc clinics, who points out that 70 to 80% of violence towards children is committed within the family. Blended families are more and more common. “Each situation is unique,” continues Dr. de Becker. “Everything depends on the dynamics of the relationship. Adults have to know how to begin the relationship between themselves and with their children.” For example, an adult might give priority to their marriage. “If priority is given to the couple, the child can be at risk. He or she could be perceived as being in the way.”

A 6 or 7 year old child might also reject the new parent. A rivalry might develop. “Mothers, who might have intense relationships with their children, need to make them understand that an adult can have a relationship with another adult,” says Dr. de Becker. “But that’s also true for a traditional family.”

“Forgetting their children”

There are no statistics on the importance of stepfathers’ involvement in violence towards children. “We have as many cases concerning birth fathers as stepfathers,” sources at SOS-Enfants told us. They shared one constant: “signs of mistreatment are reported to us by mothers.” That is one of the possible explanations for the sense of indignation that arises when crimes are committed by stepfathers. The mother who has the responsibility for protecting her child – in many cases gives up that role, preferring to please her partner, even when he is violent. They will sometimes even take part in the violence. Typhaine was also beaten by her mother. The investigation into Fiona’s death will reveal the role played by Cécile Bourgeon.


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