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Published: Tuesday, 10/5/2004

North Carolina's scary numbers

LIFE in the military, regardless of the branch, can be a stressful experience. Enduring it is part of the job. But disturbing research in North Carolina found child abuse homicide rates in two counties that are home to military bases substantially higher that the state average.

Marcia Herman-Giddens, a researcher with the North Carolina Child Advocacy Institute, found 378 child abuse homicides between 1985 and 2000, for a statewide rate of 2.2 deaths per 100,000 children. Bad enough.

Even worse was a rate of 4.4 per 100,000 children in Cumberland County, home to Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base, and about 5 per 100,000 for military families. In Onslow County, where Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base and New River Marine Corps air station are located, the homicide abuse rate was 3.2 per 100,000, but for military families, nearly 5 per 100,000.

Together these counties had 58 child abuse homicides in the 15-year period. With 7 percent of the state's children, they had 15 percent of the child abuse homicides.

In effect, the statistics showed that children in Cumberland and Onslow counties are twice as likely to be seriously harmed by their parents or other caregivers than are other North Carolina children. The deaths are not easy.

The Associated Press reported one soldier beat his 5-year-old son to death and another killed his wife's daughter just before her second birthday.

In light of these outcomes, Ms. Herman-Giddens thinks a national study should be conducted in the vicinity of all military bases to see if North Carolina is an aberration or if child abuse homicide is a national military problem.

That certainly makes sense. These deaths are often as haunting for the killers - how does a person ever look himself in the eye after snuffing out a child's life? - as for other surviving relatives. Generally child abuse deaths are not intended.

The new findings appear to have stunned military brass, and no wonder. For nearly two decades they've had family advocacy programs to help troops and their families cope with the stresses of warrior life. It evidently isn't enough.

Fresh programs must be put together for soldiers, marines, and airmen and women at the North Carolina bases. State and military standards should require them. Common decency and humanity certainly do. It is a kind of self abuse for members of the U.S. military to be killing their own children.

And the sooner we learn if North Carolina's experience is a statistical oddity or a national problem, the better.



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