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female aggression and infanticide



New Research Examines Women Who Kill Their Children

July 10, 2014—Research by the University of Huddersfield’s Dr Helen Gavin will make an impact on psychiatrists, psychologists and other clinicians around the world who are trying to comprehend and reduce child-killing by women.

Dr. Gavin, a psychologist who is Director of Graduate Education at the University of Huddersfield’s School of Human and Health Scientists, has been collaborating with Dr. Theresa Porter, a clinical psychologist based at a hospital in Connecticut, USA. The two women met at an academic conference and realized that they shared research interests.

 “The prevailing public view on women who kill their babies is that they are either monsters or psychotic, or both,” Gavin and Porter write. “The psychiatric and legal communities recognize that the issue is not as simply dichotomous as this. Evidence suggests that there are important distinctions to be drawn between different types of baby deaths and that this may have implications for identification, punishment, and/or treatment of potential and actual perpetrators.”

Gavin and Porter’s article titled “Infanticide and Neonaticide: A Review of 40 Years of Research Literature on Incidence and Causes” appeared in the globally-respected journal Trauma, Violence and Abuse.


The article is an in-depth analysis of research that has been conducted over the past 40 years into the subject of women who kill their babies— either within 24 hours of birth (neonaticide)—or at a later stage (infanticide).  The findings challenge the widespread view that all such women are either monsters or psychotic or both, and explores the complexities of the issues.

“Historically, women who kill their babies, if discovered, were treated quite punitively, both by society and by the law,” says Dr Gavin.  “In recent years it has been realised that there are many more factors involved in killing your own infant than there are in killing another child or an adult.  In the past, we have either described these women as bad or mad, but in fact, there are shades in between.”

The article’s authors conclude that there is a still a need for levels of understanding that could help prevent cases of child killing.  But possible measures include the education of gynecologists, obstetricians and birthing unit staff so that they could spot warning signs.  Also, the authors argue, “Open conversation with women regarding their and their family’s history of mental illness would assist in identifying some women with predispositions to psychosis.”

Gavin and Porter also put the case for public service messages that would educate the public in recognizing warning signs and symptoms.


Now the article in Trauma, Violence and Abuse has been selected for inclusion in a new edition of Current Perspectives in Forensic Psychology and Criminal Behavior, a leading anthology.

The editor of the anthology, the American expert Professor Anne Bartol, said that the paper “makes a significant contribution to the literature, and we believe students and professors using this supplementary text will find it helpful and informative”. 

November 2014 will see the publication of Female Aggression, co-authored by Gavin and Porter.  It examines the evolution, development and expression of aggression in female animals and humans.  The authors examine this phenomenon as an emotional, physical or psychological response to the world in its own right, “not merely as a pale imitation of male behavior.”

Dr. Gavin, whose recent publications also include the wide-ranging text book Criminological and Forensic Psychology—dealing in depth with subjects such as female serial killers—now aims to delve further into the field of female criminality.

“Statistics suggest that female violence is the one form of crime that is growing.  Nobody knows why, but there are several hypotheses and I want to investigate those.”



 “Infanticide and neonaticide: a review of 40 years of research literature on incidence and causes,” Theresa Porter and Helen Gavin. Trauma, Violence  and Abuse, July 11, 2010, (3):99-112. doi: 10.1177/1524838010371950.


Press materials provided by the University of Huddersfield.

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