Nixzmary Brown is dead. Her stepfather accused her of eating his yogurt and her alleged punishment was her life in his hands.

Nixzmary Brown

Nixzmary was beaten in front of her mother, Nixzaliz. Nixzmary’s head was repeatedly dunked in a bathtub full of freezing water. Her cries of “Mommy” were heard throughout the apartment but no one in her family lifted an ear to help. Nixzmary was found dead in the morning tied to a radiator in a room filled with rats, urine and feces.

She was seven.

We’ve talked about the cheapness of life before and we’ve discussed how poverty and familial circumstance can work against the lives of innocent children. Almost six years ago the state of New York passed a “Safe Haven” law allowing any mother to give up her newborn within the first 30 days of its life at any firehouse, church, hospital or police precinct with no questions asked.

The mother will not be prosecuted for infant abandonment. The mother is not required to give any reason for the giving over of her new life. The purpose of the law is to give frightened and poor mothers an anonymous alternative to leaving a newborn in a dumpster or stuffed in a bathroom trash bin:

More is known about these mothers – at least those who get caught. They tend to be girls of about 17, living with their parents, says neonaticide expert Michelle Oberman, professor of law at DePaul University and coauthor of the book “Mothers Who Kill Their Children.” In deep denial about their pregnancies, and often concealing them, they frequently do not seek prenatal care and tend to deliver their babies alone – often at home.

A problem with Safe Haven laws is the public shame of a pregnant teenage mother. How can we expect a 16-year-old who hid her pregnancy for nine months to suddenly walk into a firehouse and give over her baby when her psyche has not allowed her to even admit to herself that she was actually with child?

Confidentiality and anonymous outreach programs can help destigmatize the process for young mothers by making the giving over of the newborn less traumatic and naturally automatic but shame is still a more powerful master:

“I gave birth to my daughter in my campus dorm room all alone,” Ms. Davis, one of the few young mothers who’s spoken to the press about abandoning her baby, told National Public Radio last week. Panicking, the straight-A student put her daughter in a dumpster next to her dorm, then called campus security to report a noise outside her window, hoping they would find the baby.

They did, and Davis eventually got custody of her daughter. “[But] when I was pregnant and when I gave birth, I wasn’t really thinking rationally enough to say, ‘OK, well, after I give birth I’m going to take my daughter to a hospital, or I’m going to take her to a fire station.”

A clearer example of the benefit of the Safe Haven law recently happened when a newborn, less than four hours old, was brought wrapped in a white cotton towel — and still bloody from the birth — to a firehouse in New York City.

The mother of the infant told the firemen — even though she was not required to say anything more than she was giving up her baby — that she could not care for the baby because she already had eight children and her husband had no job and he refused to allow any birth control for religious reasons. She left her life behind but gave her baby a chance at a future and that is the mark of a loving mother.

The firemen said they had delivered a lot of babies but had never had one delivered to them. When we live in a disposable society where women are not always in control of the decisions that regulate their bodies because of religious beliefs, oppressive men or an inability to manage proper birth control because of social or economic status, the children born into that desperate realm suffer.

Safe Haven laws are a lifesaver because they offer a way out of hopelessness where death doesn’t have to be an option. One only need to reflect upon Nixzmary’s feckless future and wonder if she had been born a year later after the Safe Haven became law if somehow her life might have been wrenched from the hands of a man who allegedly beat the death into her.

33 Comments

  1. Stepfathers are dangerous to small children.
    I never like to make generalized statements like that, but it seems that a stepfather is more likely to abuse a child because it isn’t his own flesh and blood if there is a breakdown in the normal family living situation, such as drug abuse, isolation, poverty or other factors.
    From http://www.stepfamily.net/Childabuse.htm :
    “(A) study by Margo Wilson and Martin Daly of McMaster University analyzed murder records from the U.S. and Canada and determined that children under two years were at least 60 times more likely to be killed by a stepparent than by a biological parent. They emphasize that no one should infer from their results that stepparents are fated to abuse their children. In fact, most stepparents treat their children benignly, they state.”

  2. Excellent link and research, Chris, thanks!
    I can testify a stepfather is a beast. He had two sons living with him with us, another living with another woman and then there was me and my mother. I was the center of his cycle of verbal violence and physical and emotional abuse as the “odd boy out” and it was a rotten two years of my life. My mother claims to this day that he was “toughing up” a mamma’s boy and I claim I was plenty tough enough I was never her “boy” in any affectionate sense of the word.

  3. I remember watching the news a couple months ago about babies being able to be left at hospitals and fire departments. But around here people will leave their babies at church steps which is NOT in the guidelines and hence the cops will try to find out who left the child because there is no set time that someone will show up at the parish but your guarenteed to see a body at a hospital or fire station.
    I just can’t comprehend with all the knowledge we have of children having children that the parents can’t take it upon themselves to educate their own child so as to not have a repeat of what might have happened to them; plus be in a situation where, because the mother is so young, and is so gulliable to think that an older man (I find this more common than not for step-fathers) will “save” them from whatever they are running from.
    Now luckily, I left my parents house right after high school and right before they got a divorce. I do, however, like my step-father very much, if not more than my own.

  4. I’m sorry to hear about the experience, David.
    I was one of the lucky few to have an intact nuclear family growing up, unlike many friends and classmates I knew. (They are still going strong — their 40th anniversary is this year). Growing up wasn’t always spectacular, but I don’t know if I would have been able to handle having different guys coming and going if my parents had ever broken up.
    Some random guy who comes into a woman’s life probably doesn’t care about the children much. He might even view them as a nuisance since they are a tie to the biological father who may (or may not) be paying child support and participating in the child’s life through visitation. At the very least, they are reminders of the woman’s past.
    There’s something in our animal nature that causes the non-biological parents to not be as caring to children around them. It’s also reflected in stories, such as “Cinderella.”
    Women need to be made aware of the danger that men in their lives present, especially to their own children. It’s a shame that many women will put up with abuse directed at their children because they are afraid of being alone.

  5. hterry —
    Most of the Safe Haven laws inspired here in America were started in European nations where you can drop off your baby on the church steps and it will be taken in and adopted in a matter of months. I thinks that’s were some of the nostalgic miscommunication comes between the European mythology and the American way of doing things. The reason churches aren’t covered under the law is because of separation issues between religion and state and that’s why the hard governmental agencies like fire stations and police departments get the burden of dealing with frightened young mothers and I’m sure part of the fear in coming forward with a newborn is a fear of getting trapped in the official rigging of your local government.
    Young women need the affection of their fathers and it is an affectionate warmth they crave and not a sexual one — but many fathers — because they are absent or unfeeling or frightened of sending the wrong message… shy away from demonstrative affection with their daughters and that leaves both sides wanting and unfulfilled. The daughter, desperate for male affection and confirmation of her womanhood and sexuality will then be forced beyond the safety of the home and into the streets and the schoolyards where predatory older men are more than willing to fill up the young woman’s bucket of empty parental approval… with a baby!
    I think you were lucky to get out on your own on the steam of your own youthful self-esteem.

  6. Hi Chris —
    Our lives are what they are and you accept them and move on or you make yourself crazy wondering about “what ifs!”
    😀
    I know some of my peers who suffered through the “nuclear family” syndrome where the parents only stayed together “for the sake the children” and destroyed every life in the family unit while sticking it out “together.”
    It looks like you were raised in a happy and well-adjusted family and that is great for you and now your children.
    You are right there is a predatory nature in men who live with women with children who are not their own. Elijah Anderson confronts this matter in his research in the black ghetto community where the mark of a man is fathering a child and then leaving the mother behind – it is not cool in the “street” to be bound to a woman and her child — and the acceptance of the mother into the community is to be fertile enough to be pregnant and then left behind to “suffer alone” with her child. Then, the secondary man enters the woman’s life to live off the welfare and other social services she and her new baby earn and that makes for a strange and vicious cycle of unwed mothers, absentee fathers and a crises in social and economic welfare of entire communities.

  7. Women being left behind to “suffer alone” with their kids creates a vicious cycle.
    Many women are looking for affectionate love and would like to get married or find a long term stable relationship, but aren’t ever able to find the right guy because he usually takes off at some point. Welfare doesn’t help — it’s a disincentive to getting married.
    Because people don’t want to be alone, women get involved in romantic affairs that are usually short lived and sometimes result in another child “left behind” with the mother.
    The people who usually end up picking up the pieces are the grandmothers who sometimes end up becoming the parents for the daughter’s offspring.

  8. Hi Chris —
    Yes, welfare is a vicious circle. It has no future economic benefit for a family other than paying-as-you-go today and that doesn’t invest a person or a family in the upward movement of society.
    Bill Clinton understood this and that is why he so dramatically did his best to get people — mainly minorities — off ongoing, never-ending, welfare so they could become a part of the political process. It was his shrewdness in realizing this problem and taking it on as President that, IMHumbleO, made him so viciously dangerous to the conservative core of the Republican Party. Less minorities on welfare and more minorities owning property and saving money with good jobs means more Democrat voters and for that political cunning and foresight Clinton was vilified by the ultra-Right on trumped up sexual charges.
    I agree the ghetto grandmothers become the mothers of their grandchildren because, many times, the mothers are unable to find a fit in society that allows them to provide for their children and their well-being.
    Again, Bill Clinton knew that and did his best to change the system and as much as the Republicans complain about the “welfare state” as a “way of life” they need that state to keep those people down and under the governmental thumb. Only a liberal, Democrat President, with a mandate and the power to enable a huge new wave of voters by taking away the welfare parachute that kept so many of them disinvested in the political process of governing.

  9. This could happen to any other child, because we have allowed our fears of insecurity to drive us into the hands of demons in humnan form pretending to be loving husbands and step-fathers.
    Nixzmary Brown was murdered, because there was nobody brave enough to dare the devil and this tragedy cannot happen wherever I am nearby. Even if the step-father was King Kong, I would have floored him and save Nixzmary Brown even if it would cost me my own life.
    We must save every Nixzmary Brown in danger everywhere.

  10. OSINACHI —
    I agree we have lost our faith in each other and let a system of governance make decisions for the welfare of our children.
    Your passionate response reminds me of my “Why We Don’t Beat Children” post:
    http://urbansemiotic.com/2005/10/25/why-we-do-not-beat-children/
    As I understand it, Nixzmary was a punching bag for most of her life and everything that was wrong with life was her fault.
    We need more of you in the world, Osinachi, and I am certain if you knew Nixzmary she would be alive today.

  11. A sad story but one that happens all over cities except the child does not die a physical death but an emotional one. I am familiar with this case. Nixzmary was missing from school for nearly 50 days and no one outside the home cared to measure up and find out why.

  12. Asking the right questions means you’ll get an answer you don’t want to hear because once you get a wrong answer you are required to do something about it. Never asking in the first place lets everyone but Nixzmary off the hook but it’s Nixzmary who is forced to pay the penalty.

  13. We have to ask those questions, Karvain, because the next time it could be us trapped or held against our will and if we can’t find kind ears or a welcoming eye to our silent suffering then there is no way to recover our humanity as a society.

  14. Hi Josh —
    It’s nice to meet you and I thank you for posting a first comment here!
    I agree the punishment should match the crime but it likely will not.
    I’m hearing Nixzmary was also “punished” the same day for “messing with the stepfather’s printer” and those two things, the broken computer printer and the missing yogurt were the two events that sealed her death.
    Of course, her mother and the stepfather are blaming each other already in the NYC press reminding us who remember of the terrible Lisa Steinberg case where a young girl was killed under a similar strange family dynamic:
    http://www.ipt-forensics.com/journal/volume2/j2_3_br5.htm

  15. This Story saddens me deeply. I don’t understand how anyone could hurt a child. Shame on the step dad and shame on the mother for not saving her daughter and getting out of the situation. She can never get her child back. Ever. Any involved persons and those who watched and didnt help save her life should go to prison.

  16. What a horrible story. They should both be in prison.
    I do have to say, I am one of the “stepkids” that does not fall under the generalization made at the top of this thread of comments. My stepfather has been a part of my life since I was an infant, and he is Dad – he raised me, he loves me, and that’s it. My biological “father” had no part in raising me and I consider him no more than a sperm donor. Not all stepparents are evil, and it’s up to the biological parent to make sure they can trust their children with someone before they bring them into the house.

  17. What a horrible story. They should both be in prison.
    I do have to say, I am one of the “stepkids” that does not fall under the generalization made at the top of this thread of comments. My stepfather has been a part of my life since I was an infant, and he is Dad – he raised me, he loves me, and that’s it. My biological “father” had no part in raising me and I consider him no more than a sperm donor. Not all stepparents are evil, and it’s up to the biological parent to make sure they can trust their children with someone before they bring them into the house.

  18. Hi Daria!
    Thanks for the comment and welcome to this blog! I have enjoyed your blog for a long while now and it is terrific to finally meet you.
    I appreciate you direct commentary on the issue of “stepfathers” and for sharing with us the truth of your life in enjoying being a “stepkid” without any sort of discomfort or abuse in the relationship.

  19. Hi Daria!
    Thanks for the comment and welcome to this blog! I have enjoyed your blog for a long while now and it is terrific to finally meet you.
    I appreciate you direct commentary on the issue of “stepfathers” and for sharing with us the truth of your life in enjoying being a “stepkid” without any sort of discomfort or abuse in the relationship.

  20. It’s been only seven weeks since Nixzmary has died. Seven weeks since the most horrible and wicked of people have killed one of the sweetest little children that I have not had the privledge to meet here on earth – look forward to seeing her in God’s Kingdom. What I would like for anyone who reads this is to make a promise to Nixzmary and to the many children like her, that if you know that there is something wrong and suspect abuse, please, please, please truly for the life of a young child, please call the proper authorities in your community so that intervention can happen. Not only make a call, but follow up on it…I could not believe that the neighbors who lived in that abuse factory in New York would not pick up the phone and call someone to help her – or better yet, go see for yourself. In every article that I have read or heard that a neighbor knew about this – every time – the neighbors sure seemed to know about her prior to her getting killed and knew the family as well. Why wouldn’t they help her??? That to me is what hurts my heart on Nixmary’s behalf is was she not enough for someone on this earth to show they care? Did she feel so unloved when she died because she knew nobody would come to help her? It is without a doubt the fault of yet another mother who had to “have a man” in her life that she allowed the devil himself into her house and take over every aspect of peace and tranquilty that this little could have had. But come on people, please help those little ones who have parents that don’t care…who have family members that deliberately choose to excuse their brothers and sisters for hurting their nieces and nephews. If you are wrong, the most it will cost you is an apology – if you’re right – you will save the life of a little child who would have otherwise suffered a horrendous, unimagineable death. Please make that promise with me. Thank you!!

  21. It’s been only seven weeks since Nixzmary has died. Seven weeks since the most horrible and wicked of people have killed one of the sweetest little children that I have not had the privledge to meet here on earth – look forward to seeing her in God’s Kingdom. What I would like for anyone who reads this is to make a promise to Nixzmary and to the many children like her, that if you know that there is something wrong and suspect abuse, please, please, please truly for the life of a young child, please call the proper authorities in your community so that intervention can happen. Not only make a call, but follow up on it…I could not believe that the neighbors who lived in that abuse factory in New York would not pick up the phone and call someone to help her – or better yet, go see for yourself. In every article that I have read or heard that a neighbor knew about this – every time – the neighbors sure seemed to know about her prior to her getting killed and knew the family as well. Why wouldn’t they help her??? That to me is what hurts my heart on Nixmary’s behalf is was she not enough for someone on this earth to show they care? Did she feel so unloved when she died because she knew nobody would come to help her? It is without a doubt the fault of yet another mother who had to “have a man” in her life that she allowed the devil himself into her house and take over every aspect of peace and tranquilty that this little could have had. But come on people, please help those little ones who have parents that don’t care…who have family members that deliberately choose to excuse their brothers and sisters for hurting their nieces and nephews. If you are wrong, the most it will cost you is an apology – if you’re right – you will save the life of a little child who would have otherwise suffered a horrendous, unimagineable death. Please make that promise with me. Thank you!!