Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

In Defense of TJ's Mother: Neonaticide and the Implications for Counselors

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

In Defense of TJ's Mother: Neonaticide and the Implications for Counselors

Article excerpt

Neonaticide is the murder of an infant within 24 hours following birth. As the primary counselor for a woman charged with neonaticide, the writer reviews the research found in forensic and legal writings and examines the psycholegal issues underlying the phenomenon of neonaticide and the implications ,for counselors.


Neonaticide, the killing of a baby within 24 hours of birth, has become newsworthy material in recent years. In the past 5 years, the media have reported numerous occurrences of these "throwaway babies." Many may recall the prominent cases of the three young people from New Jersey. Melissa Drexler delivered a baby during her high school prom, left the baby in the women's toilet, and returned to her prom to seemingly enjoy the evening. Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson Jr. were college students when their baby was born and was then abandoned by them to die in a garbage dump in Delaware.

There are others, and their stories are eerily similar. The incidents are usually reported in local newspapers. In 1997, an 18-year-old from outside Fort Worth, Texas, disposed of her newborn infant in a trash bag. A Lancaster, Pennsylvania, middle school student was charged with criminal homicide for suffocating and hiding her newborn daughter in the family's basement. A small town mayor's 19-year-old daughter discarded her newborn in the family garbage. Another 19-year-old woman in Tucson, Arizona, drowned her newborn and concealed the baby's body in a coffee can. In Albany, the capital district of New York, a 21-year-old woman was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and first-degree manslaughter for the death of her infant daughter. Prosecutors alleged that she gave birth to the child at home, stuffed the newborn in a toilet and then into a plastic bag, and disposed of the body in a garbage bin.

The list does not stop with these cases. Resnick (1970) suggested in her classic study that the perpetrators of neonaticide were young, single women without previous psychiatric diagnosis. The child is unwanted. The young woman often has a real or perceived belief or fear that her parents will reject her and the baby. Hence, the young woman often denies the pregnancy and either abandons the infant or kills the baby and hides the body. Resnick proposed that such mothers are often immature, both sexually and emotionally. The mothers do not seem to plan to kill their infants but do so in terror, or hysteria. Resnick's work in this field was the result of a study and review of worldwide literature, from diverse cultures and languages, discussing more than 200 years of neonaticide cases.

In a review of the counseling and counseling psychology literature, I was unable to identify any studies or articles related to neonaticide. The studies and articles that are available (Atkins, Grimes, Joseph, & Liebman, 1999; Bookwalter, 1998; Dvorak, 1998; Fazio & Comito, 1999; Green & Manohar, 1990; Kaplan & Grotowski, 1996; Miller, 1990; Spinelli, 2001) are found in the forensic, legal, psychological, and psychiatric journals. Professional counselors often deal with clients who have unwanted pregnancies. However, the women who potentially engage in neonaticide generally hide their pregnancies in denial of their condition. These girls are the last to present to a counselor. Therefore, it is critical that professional counselors be aware of the etiology of the problem, be able to identify signs of hidden pregnancies, and develop strategies and techniques needed to work with these girls and young women. The purpose of this article is to present a case study about neonaticide--the story of "Claire," a college sophomore charged with homicide because of killing her newborn son. In this article, I also explore forensic and legal literature to find and present the common psychological features found in most of the women accused of neonaticide. …

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