[Trigger warning for child abuse denialism]
I promised in my earlier article on Stephen Baskerville’s Faith & Reason lecture that I would devote more attention to his views on child abuse. Here I am, ready to fulfill that promise! To summarize Baskerville: First, mothers are the true abusers and it is removing the father from the home that is the real cause of child abuse. Second, child protective services exists to take children from innocent heterosexual families and sell them off to gay and lesbian couples. Oh yes.
Let me start by quoting from Stephen Baskerville’s 2002, article, “The Truth about Child Abuse.”
As the Heritage report confirms, the safest place for a child is an intact, two-parent home — that is, a home with a father in it. Children’s natural protectors are their fathers. Even feminist Adrienne Burgess observes that “fathers have often played the protector role inside families.” Removing the father is what exposes the children to danger.
Yet removing fathers is precisely what family court judges routinely do at the mere request of mothers, who file two-thirds to nine-tenths of divorces. Ironically, this is often effected with trumped-up charges of child abuse, though statistically biological fathers seldom abuse their children . . . .
. . .
The logic is marvelously self-justifying and self-perpetuating, since by eliminating the father, government officials can then present themselves as the solution to the problem they themselves create. The more child abuse — whether by parents or even by the social work bureaucracies themselves — the more the proffered solution is to further expand the child abuse bureaucracy. . . .
If we do not have the courage to tell the truth about who is abusing children and the role of government in permitting and even encouraging them to do it, then all our professed concern for children is mere posturing.
Baskerville’s comments are clearly the result of paranoia. The idea that the government is intentionally breaking apart families so that it’ll have business for its social services and child protection divisions? Really? That’s one heck of a conspiracy to keep the top on. Further, Baskerville suggests elsewhere that he wants to do away with no-fault divorce, because apparently forcing women to stay married to men they do not want to be married to (or vice versa) would totally make things better for their children. Except, not.
Does Baskerville seriously think that child abuse didn’t exist before no-fault divorce? Does he think dysfunctional, broken, and abusive families did not exist before no-fault divorce? You really can’t get more naive or ahistorical than that. Baskerville speaks of a “child abuse epidemic.” It’s as though he doesn’t realize that the reason we’re so aware of child abuse today is that we’ve finally recognized it as something that is a problem and in need of fixing. It’s also as though he doesn’t realize that child abuse rates are currently going down.
Now let’s talk about causation and correlation. What Baskerville is doing here is the equivalent of saying “Look, married families are stabler and better off financially—it must be because they’re married! Everyone should get married and then every family will be stabler and better off financially!” Why is it that so few people seem to be able to consider that perhaps those families are married because they are stabler and better off financially, and not the other way around?
It is true that by a number of factors, children in married households fare better than children not in married households, but it does not follow that children currently in unmarried or divorced homes would be better off if their parents would just get married. There are a variety of factors that explain why children in married families fare better (including the fact that married families are generally better off financially, and include two parents who have chosen to parent cooperatively and presumably have a positive relationship with each other). Forcing or pressuring couples to marry or stay marry who would not otherwise have married would not necessarily replicate those factors.
Next, Baskerville says that fathers are children’s “natural protectors.” Like I said in my previous post addressing his statements, it seems as though Baskerville is always ready to assume the best of men and to assume the worst of women. Is it so hard to say that both fathers and mothers are children’s “natural protectors,” but that either can also fail in their role as protector and instead mistreat a child? Instead, Baskerville does a whole lot of minimizing of abuse perpetrated by biological fathers. I showed Baskerville’s article to a friend who was abused by her biological father (and for whom a divorce ended that abuse), and her response was “that man is insane.” I can’t say I disagree.
For the record, I did some digging and it appears that women commit slightly more than 50% of child maltreatment, and that most of the maltreatment committed by women is committed by biological mothers while roughly half of the maltreatment committed by men is committed by biological fathers. This shouldn’t be surprising given that women (and especially biological mothers) do by far the majority of the child rearing and caregiving. As a percentage of the child maltreatment they commit, biological mothers are more likely to neglect children while biological fathers are more likely to physically abuse children; in other words, the type of maltreatment committed by mothers and by fathers differs. (Also, as a reader pointed out, if fathers do seek custody they are actually very likely to get it, including primary custody. The reason more women get custody of children than do men is that fathers are less likely to ask for it.) But you don’t get any of this from a reading of Baskerville’s article.
I’m not saying that children shouldn’t have their fathers in their lives, or that fathers are more dangerous than mothers. What I am saying is that Baskerville is dead wrong in his assertions. Baskerville’s suggestion that forcing people to marry or stay married will put an end (or nearly an end) to child abuse because it will ensure that fathers, children’s “natural protectors,” remain in the home ignores so many facts and factors and variables that I’m not sure why anyone would take him seriously.
Now I want to quote from Baskerville’s 2004 article, “Could Your Children Be Given To “Gay” Parents?”
In the debate over gay marriage, strikingly little attention has been paid to the impact on children. Some question the wisdom of having children raised by two homosexuals, but the best they can seem to argue is that serious flaws vitiate the literature defending it.
Almost no attention has been devoted to what may be the more serious political question of who will supply the children of gay “parents,” since obviously they cannot produce children themselves. A few will come from sperm donors and surrogate mothers, but very few. The vast majority will come, because they already do come, from pre-existing heterosexual families. In Massachusetts, “Forty percent of the children adopted have gone to gay and lesbian families,” according to Democratic state Sen. Therese Murphy.
Sen. Murphy seems totally oblivious to the implications. “Will you deny them their rights?” she asks. With some 3 percent of the population, gay couples already seem to enjoy a marked advantage over straight ones in the allocation of supposedly superfluous children.
But whose rights are being denied depends on how deeply we probe and what questions we ask. Granting gay couples the “right” to have children by definition means giving them the right to have someone else’s children, and the question arises whether the original parent or parents ever agreed to part with them.
Not necessarily. Governments that kind-heartedly bestow other people’s children on homosexual couples also have both the power and the motivation to confiscate those children from their original parents, even when the parents have done nothing to warrant losing them.
. . .
This is the bureaucratic milieu – largely hidden from all but those who must endure it – into which gay marriage advocates want to inject millions of new couples in search of children to adopt.
The number of truly abused children cannot begin to fill this demand without government help. We know that statistically child abuse in intact two-parent families is rare, and two-thirds of reports are never substantiated. Yet even in those instances of confirmed abuse, a little digging reveals the pernicious hand of the government generating business (and children) for itself.
Child abuse is overwhelmingly a phenomenon of single-parent homes. Government and feminist propaganda suggest that single-parent homes result from paternal abandonment. In fact, they are usually created by family court judges, who have close ties to the social service agencies that need children. By forcibly removing fathers from the home through unilateral or “no-fault” divorce, family courts create the environment most conducive to child abuse and initiate the process that leads to removal of the children from the mother, foster care, and adoption. Gay adoption is simply the logical culmination in the process of turning children into political instruments for government officials.
What this demonstrates is that same-sex marriage cannot be effectively challenged in isolation. Opponents must bite the bullet and confront the two evils that pose a far more serious and direct threat to the family than gay marriage: the child protection gestapo and the even more formidable “no-fault” divorce machine.
Blatant homophobia alert! The gays are coming for your children! Because yes, that’s actually what Baskerville says here, plain and simple—that child protective services exists to take children from healthy heterosexual families and sell them off to gay and lesbian couples, who cannot procreate on their own. Way to drum up hatred and fear! The idea that there might be children out there legitimately in need of adoption, and that gay parents might help relieve the pressure on the foster care system by adopting some of the children now considered unadoptable, does not even register for Baskerville. Let me draw out a specific sentence for a moment to illustrate the extent of Baskerville’s dishonesty:
In Massachusetts, “Forty percent of the children adopted have gone to gay and lesbian families,” according to Democratic state Sen. Therese Murphy.
First, it’s Senator Therese Murray, not Senator Therese Murphy. Second, while I did find the reported quote in an actual news article, Murray was quite simply wrong. According to an estimate reported by the New York Times, “65,000 adopted children live in homes in which the head of the household is gay, or about 4 percent of the adopted population.” In other words, Baskerville has built his entire argument on a blatant falsehood. (As an aside, Murray may have actually meant to refer to the statistic that 40% of adoption agencies have placed at least one child with a gay or lesbian couple.)
Baskerville’s continual profiling of single-parent homes as being the ones with child abuse problems while married homes are free from the problem of child abuse is also starting to grate on me. Yes, certain factors, such as stress or financial tension, can make child maltreatment more likely. However, Baskerville almost seems to give married households a free pass entirely when it comes to child maltreatment, and I don’t think it should be hard to see why that is a problem. Child maltreatment is committed in married households, and assuming that it is not or that accusations of abuse in a married household must be false will mean that child maltreatment in married households will go overlooked. (Self fulfilling prophesy, anyone?) After all, part of the reason for the imbalance in child maltreatment statistics between married households and unmarried or divorced households is already that child maltreatment in married households is easier to hide and cover up.
And then there is Baskerville’s severely conspiratorial view of the world. I can’t help but feel that Baskerville has started with his conclusion and worked from there. Baskerville wants to believe that marriage is always best, and therefore he asserts that marriage somehow makes children immune to abuse and that when social services steps in the charges must be false. Similarly, Baskerville wants to believe that gay marriage and the “homosexual agenda” is insidious, so he asserts that they’re using child protective services as a tool to take children from healthy heterosexual families and claim them for themselves. I wonder what Baskerville would say if the statistics showed that single parent households had lower rates of child maltreatment than married households. Somehow I’m doubting he would suddenly become an advocate for divorce.
Of course, even more problematic than his suggestion that child abuse allegations regarding children in married households should be assumed to be false (given that kids in married households don’t get abused, of course) is Baskerville’s view of child protective services. The entire system, Baskerville argues, is a racket. Now, is there some abuse in the system? Sure. Name the system, there generally is. But is there some sort of national conspiracy to kidnap children from their parents and adopt them off to gay couples? No. Child maltreatment is a real problem and child protective services serves a critical role helping protect our weakest and most defenseless citizens. One way to improve child protective services would be to properly fund it, because as it is case workers run large case loads for tiny salaries. But that’s not going to happen as long as there are people like Baskerville running around arguing that child protective services is a child-stealing racket.
And you want to know what’s scary? Patrick Henry College, which is closely allied with (and shares a founder with) the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), hired this guy. What does this say about the positions taken by HSLDA, which not infrequently becomes involved in child abuse cases and is explicitly working to change child abuse laws and the way child protective services operates?