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In Shaken Baby Syndrome, Women as Likely to be Perpetrators as Men: Study
Date:3/7/2011

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, March 7 (HealthDay News)-- The tiny victims of shaken baby syndrome are equally likely to be injured by a man or a woman, although women are less likely to be convicted of the crime, according to a new study.

Perhaps because of men's sheer strength, the babies are also more likely to suffer graver harm if their abuser is male, and male perpetrators are more likely to confess to the crime and be convicted, the researchers found.

In data collected over 10 years on 34 cases of abusive head trauma (AHT) in infants, researchers found that abusers' gender was evenly split and that female abusers were typically significantly older than males.

Shaken baby syndrome is the leading cause of death in abusive head trauma cases, with an estimated 1,200 to 1,400 children injured or killed by shaking each year in the United States, according to the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome. Injuries sustained include brain hemorrhages, skull fractures and retinal hemorrhages, a cardinal symptom of being shaken.

In this study, biological parents were the most common perpetrators, followed by the mothers' boyfriends who were not the child's biological father. Prior research identified male caregivers as the more likely to cause abusive head injury to infants, but lead author Dr. Debra Esernio-Jenssen said she wasn't surprised that her study showed that half were women.

"I think there is a bias," said Esernio-Jenssen, medical director of the Child Protection Team at the University of Florida at Gainesville. "When a child comes in who's fussy and irritable and maybe vomiting, many pediatricians are not considering that this child could be an abusive head trauma [victim] if the child comes in with a woman."

"I think society accepts that a man may not be a good caregiver, especially with a young infant," added Esernio-Jenssen, also a board-certified child abuse pediatri
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