No protective father figures

But non-protective mothers seem to be everywhere you look

The latest harrowing report of what appears to be a misapplication of the intent of the law requiring adults to protect children from abuse has been widely reported recently. For example, see the “battered, bereaved and behind bars” story on Buzzfeed.

There is understandable outrage at the judicial system’s application of the law – claiming that a woman failed to protect her child and sending the woman to prison for forty five years.

There is also an understandable backlash against sexist lawmakers.

Here at VoxSapiens we suspect that the backlash might be misplaced. We suspect that it is a sexist interpretation and application of the law, rather than a sexist law per se, that is at the root of the problem. Here’s why.

Intent of the law

Firstly, what is the law for? Well in simple terms, it says that if a child is being abused and an adult fails to protect the child, the adult is also guilty because he or she has a legal and statutory duty to act. In very narrow terms we believe that is admirable – imagine how the thirty eight witnesses story might have played out if the law was more widely applicable.

But by adopting a wider context, let’s look at how the law plays out in practice.

The problem starts, normally, with a man abusing a child. In many cases this is accompanied by the man also abusing the woman. In the vast majority of the cases the woman is also the mother. Often the man is also the father, but not always.

The woman attempts to prevent the man from abusing the child but is physically unable to do so, and often receives more abuse for trying. Yet the courts convict her for failing.

Fail to act, fail to move

“But she could have left!” is the rebuff. Well in some cases maybe yes, but not in all. And societal and family pressure often works against this. How hard is it for a single mother to find sheltered accommodation and hide from a former partner that is searching for her?

And the aggregate outcome is many women in prison, and further trauma for the children that remain alive and are separated from their mothers.

In some cases cited in the Buzzfeed article the women are serving longer sentences than the men who perpetrated the abuse. In one case the man received a two year sentence but the woman received thirty.

The other side

Now let’s consider the other scenario where the woman is the child abuser.

In the vast majority of cases the man will be physically stronger and much more able to prevent the abuse and hence, on average, society might expect more of men in terms of preventing abuse.

But the abuse still happens … mothers still abuse their children with the knowledge of their partners.

So where are the examples of men being prosecuted for failing to protect the child? Are there any? If there are, they certainly do not match the number of women prosecuted for the same reason, either in total or as a percentage of the number of child abuse cases performed by the adult of the opposite gender.

Our conclusion

So what can one conclude?

Well an unlikely answer is that, where it is possible, men protect the child and the cases where a child is abused by a woman represent the situations where there is no man present. Is that likely? Not really.

The alternative is that society is failing to handle the alleged crimes in the same manner for both genders.


The hypothesis that we at VoxSapiens propose for investigation is that there exists a sexist bias in the law enforcement and judicial systems and, in particular, in the way that they perform their duties where gender is a major contributing factor to how a situation is perceived.

We propose investigating right from the crime scene. Do the police ask the same questions for male and female suspects? In particular, for female suspects, do the police try to identify males that might be expected to be covered by the statutory requirement to act in defense of the child? Or is the police mindset one of only looking for women that failed to act?

As the investigation progresses, do the police and the public prosecutors look for males that didn’t act? Or is this line of investigation never followed up? But in the case where the alleged abuser is male, do the police and public prosecutors continue to investigate whether a female failed to act in defense of the child?

Out strong expectation is that our hypothesis cannot be refuted.

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