Therapeutic Justice and Child Abuse

By Ryan, Edward | Education, Spring 1994 | Go to article overview

Therapeutic Justice and Child Abuse


Ryan, Edward, Education


In the United States, children die as a result of child abuse on a statistical average of more than one hundred a month. There are countless others who suffer lifelong trauma and, quite often, today's abused child becomes tomorrow's abusing adult. While our society increasingly devotes more time, energy and resources in arguing the inarguable pro-life versus pro-choice debate as to the pre-born, pro-protection for our post-born children remains in virtual limbo.

One child abuse case in Pennsylvania, resulting in the torture-murder of a four year old girl, Lee Ann Burrows, by her parents, occurred after the child had been removed as a result of abuse, and then returned to the parents. The girl was subjected to three weeks of beating terminating in her death. The child care caseworker, who was assigned to monitor the child's welfare, did not see the girl when she visited the child's family (due to her believing the lies, told by the parents, that the child was visiting her grandmother).

The parents eventually -- but tragically, too late for Lee Ann, found themselves in the Criminal Court, and both the father and mother were convicted of first and third degree murder respectively. When the parents appeared in court to sign a "voluntary" relinquishment of their "rights" to the two remaining girls, the mother was crying at losing her daughters while her husband waved, and in an attempt to console her said, "What the hell, when we get out we'll have more."

The details of the torture inflicted on the child are so gruesome that I will spare you the details other than the summation of the official pathological diagnosis:

1. Blunt impacts to head

2. Blunt impacts to trunk

3. Five pattern injuries of back and extremities caused by human bite marks

4. Multiple contusions and abrasions of head, think, and extremities

5. Pattern injury to head, trunk, and upper extremities

6. Pattern injury of sole of right foot

7. Contusions and laceration of external genitalia

The place of therapy in our child protective justice system, according to the entrenched social work wisdom, it to enhance individual welfare and well being. Unfortunately, that is not often the case for abused children, while it is often the case for the child abuse offender.

As an introduction to the role of the so-called helping professions, one must seriously challenge the assumption that these two creatures, Mr. and Mrs. Burrows, who inflicted on their child what no animal of any species would ever do, have any rights left whatsoever, including the right to procreate.

Not having forfeited their right to life, which forfeiture, in my opinion, was warranted, at a minimum, sterilization should have been a condition of their sentence. Instead, the following psychiatric evaluation was contained in Mrs. Burrow's record:

At this time, I would feel that Mrs. Burrows represents most likely a personality trait disturbance, rather than any neurosis or any other diagnosis.

This therapeutic input into the justice system and Mrs. Burrows continued with an evaluation from a psychologist as follows:

Factors, such as self-assurance, determination, sociability, cautiousness in considering matters before making decisions, faith and trust in other people and energetic actions can be considered normal.

Lastly, the result of these evaluations was reflected in the following recommendation:

This woman would need continued counseling directed at mature choice of future husbands, if the other children are to be returned to her.

Fortunately, some unofficial arm twisting prevented her from keeping custody of her two other daughters and, thereby, having more children to torture, but were these therapeutic recommendations to have been followed, one can only surmise the resulting miscarriage of justice not to mention child abuse.

Throughout my research into this case, I could not but notice a glaring bias in these therapeutic evaluations as to "rights" for this murderer (she was convicted of third degree murder since her acts in torturing the child while contributing to the death did not actually cause it, rather, her husband delivered the fatal blows). …

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