The hidden half of domestic violence
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Denial of Fathers' Rights a Factor in Male Suicide?
Tuesday, January 29, 2002
Are Fathers' Rights a Factor in Male Suicide?
by Wendy McElroy
In the early morning hours of Jan. 7, 43-year-old Derrick K. Miller
walked up to a security guard at the entrance to the San Diego
Courthouse, where a family court had recently ruled against him on
overdue child support.
Clutching court papers in one hand, he drew out a gun with the other.
Declaring: "You did this to me," he fatally shot himself through the skull.
Miller's suicide is symbolic of a frightening global trend: an alarming
rise in male suicides. According to a round of studies conducted in
North America, Europe and Australia, one reason for the increase may
be the discrimination fathers encounter in family courts, especially the
denial of access to their children.
If a similar rise in female suicides was occurring, a public crusade would
demand a remedy. Yet the extraordinarily high rate of male suicide is
What are the statistics? According to a 1999 surgeon general's report,
suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in America, with men four
times more likely to kill themselves than women.
The prevalence of male suicide is not restricted to North America.
An Australian study offered similar statistics. Of 2,683 suicides in
Australia in 1998, 2,150 were males, making suicide the second
leading cause of death among 25- to 44-year-old men. The
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that the suicide
rate for men aged 20 to 39 years has risen by 70 percent over the
last two decades.
Statistics from Ireland and the United Kingdom indicate rates of
male suicide as high as five times that of women. Indeed, a recent
study found that suicide was the leading cause of death for Irish
men between 15-34 years old.
The research also points to a probable cause. According to
sociologist Augustine Kposow of the University of California
at Riverside, divorce and loss of children is a factor. "As far as
the [divorced] man is concerned, he has lost his marriage and
lost his children and that can lead to depression and suicide,"
The Australian study's suggested reasons for some of the suicides
include "marriage breakdown."
"There is evidence to suggest that many men sense they are being
discriminated against in family court judgements," the study says.
Cut off from their children, divorced men experience heightened
"frustration and isolation."
Yet, the motivation for male suicide remains a matter for
speculation because little research has focused on the subject.
Telling the stories of such forgotten men has been left largely to
fathers' rights Web sites such as Dads4Kids.
There you read about Warren Gilbert who died of carbon monoxide
poisoning, clutching a letter from the Child Protective Service.
Or Martin Romanchick - the New York City police officer who
hanged himself after being denied access due to charges brought by
his ex-wife, which the court found to be frivolous.
Or Darrin White, a Canadian who hanged himself after being denied
access because he could not pay child support that was twice his
take-home pay. His 14-year-old daughter wrote a letter to the
Canadian prime minister in which she pointed to "the frustration and
hopelessness caused in dealing with Canada's family justice system"
as the "biggest factor" in her father's death.
"I know my father was a good man and a good father. ... He obviously
reached a point where he could see that justice was beyond his reach
and for reasons that only God will know, decided that taking his life was
the only way to end his suffering," Ashlee White wrote. Ashlee signed
the letter "In Memory of My Loving Father."
Are family court systems deeply biased against fathers? I believe so.
But discussing the matter is almost a taboo. How prevalent is the silence?
When did you last hear a discussion of whether a "father" should have
any voice in abortion? Even raising the issue draws derisive and
dismissive responses. Yet if men are forced to bear legal responsibility
for children, then it is not absurd to ask whether they should have some
prerogatives as well.
The point here is not how the question should be answered. The point is
that the question should be asked.
Derrick Miller may be a poor choice as a cause celebre for fathers'
rights. His suicide may have been triggered by mental illness or by
drug abuse. Yet Miller is symbolic not merely of the discrimination
against fathers but also of the discrimination encountered by men's
mental health issues.
For example, the National Organization for Women showed
no reluctance in championing the mentally disturbed Andrea Yates
who killed her five children - a much more heinous act. But Yates is
a woman and will be viewed as a de facto "victim" by a significant
portion of society - even in the shadow of her infants' dead bodies.
Conversely, Miller is a man and he carries one of the greatest social
stigmas: deadbeat dad. Thus, even the dramatic circumstances of his
suicide prompted only six paragraphs in The San Diego Union-Tribune.
The stakes are too high for the media to remain disinclined to comment.
As men's rights activist James R. Hanback Jr. remarked in an article
about Miller, "No matter who you are or where you live, chances are
there is a man in your life ... who has been through some of the pain and
anguish associated with divorce, child custody, or child support battles."
Male suicide must be confronted honestly before America follows the
way of Ireland, before suicide becomes the leading cause of death in
young men. And, perhaps, in a man you know and love.
Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com. She is the author and
editor of many books and articles, including the forthcoming anthology
Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R.
Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.
Respond to the Writer / Editor:
firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
Fox News Network, LLC 2001. All rights reserved.
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Links in this article:
The Surgeon General's Call To Action To Prevent Suicide, 1999
At a Glance: Suicide in the United States
Suicide in Australia, a dying shame
Suicide Prevention Week (6 - 10 November 2000)
Media Release [AUS]
Male suicides more common than road deaths
Suicide statistics [UK & Republic of Ireland (combined)]
Dads4Kids [home page]
[the online link may be bad]
Dear Mr. Prime Minister
Last Road Out of Hell [article about Miller]
Other related articles:
Distraught Father's Courthouse Suicide Highlights America's Male Suicide
by Glenn Sacks -- San Diego Union-Tribune, 11 Jan 02
Man kills himself on courthouse steps [only six paragraphs!]
by Union-Tribune Staff -- San Diego Union-Tribune, 08 Jan 02
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JUNE is Domestic Violence Against Men Awareness Month