The Legal Form Of Child Abuse

Before I get into this topic, let me put forth a few disclaimers:

1)  I know this topic is controversial, and some folks are going to disagree with me.  If you can’t handle someone disagreeing with you, you might not want to continue reading.

2)  I am not in the business of telling folks how to raise their children, so this post does not come with the intention of preaching to anyone.

3)  My intention with this post is to make people think, and to share my opinion on this controversial topic.

If you are still reading, then great!  Let’s begin…

About a week ago, I was talking with a friend about the topic of children’s civil rights.  My friend said, “Isn’t it strange how we allow people to spank their children, but if you spanked your spouse it would be assault?”  Even though I have given this topic lots of thought over the past few years, this comment blew me a away.  In that one sentence, it seemed like she had given a perfect example to the situation in which many children find themselves in.  A spouse who is hit has a way better chance at being protected.  That person can go to the police (assuming the police aren’t corrupt), go to a shelter, or possibly attempt to fight back.  A child, on the other hand, has no recourse.  Unless the parent who is hitting them leaves visible marks, the abuse could simply be explained away as legal spanking.

According to Wikipedia,  Corporal Punishment is defined as a form of physical punishment that involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable. The term usually refers to methodically striking the offender with the open hand or with an implement, whether in judicial, domestic, or educational settings.

Currently, forty-one of the United States consider corporal punishment of minors within domestic settings lawful.  Delaware outlawed it as child abuse in 2012.  Twenty-one states allow some form of corporal punishment while twenty-nine have banned the practice.  (Check out this list of the places that still allow teachers to hit children.)  When I read that many states think it’s ok for a teacher to hit a child, I just about lost my shit.  Really??!?!  I won’t even get into what I would do if my daughter came home and told me a teacher hit her.

Spanking Does Not Work:  My parents had two different philosophies on parenting.  If we did something wrong, my Dad would spank us, and there was rarely any discussion about it.  Having been spanked a few times in my life, I can assure you it doesn’t work.  For example, I can count the times I was spanked as a child.  I remember the spankings, how I felt during the spanking, and how I felt after.  That said, I can’t remember the reasons why I was spanked.  If spanking intends to teach a lesson, shouldn’t the child be able to remember the lesson?  I was so afraid of being spanked that I often completely missed the lesson I was supposed to be learning.

My mother, on the other hand, never spanked us.  I can remember distinctly the times that my mother punished me, and I remember what I was being punished for too.  Her way of discipline involved follow through and respect.  When me or one of my siblings was acting like a maniac, my mom would simply say something like, “one more word out of you and you will be left home next time we do something fun.”  My lesson came around the age of 4.  I was losing my mind in the movie theatre.  My mother warned me, but at the time I clearly didn’t believe her.  My fit only lasted about 60 seconds before my mother picked me up and left the theatre.  She made a point of bringing my brother to the movies soon after, and she left me at home with a sitter.  I remember being so sure she was kidding up until the point when she left me at the door crying and begging to go.  Later that day, my brother came home with a milkshake bragging about how great the movie was.  The lesson was learned.

Spanking vs. Beating:  When my father was young, it was common for parents to send their children outside to get a branch before being hit.  While it might seen perfectly normal to slap your child’s hand to keep them from touching the stove, or grab them by the arm somewhat forcefully to catch them from running out into the street, there is nothing ok about beating your child with a tree branch or a belt.  I don’t think it’s possible to NOT leave a mark when hitting someone with a belt or a branch.  The danger in our laws is that many people don’t know the difference between spanking and beating.  Our laws embolden abusive people, and leave many children feeling helpless and unsafe.  There is nothing in the law that states that people who cannot control their anger cannot spank.  In fact, our law makes it so that people believe they have the right to do whatever they want to their children.  That is…until the child turns up critically injured or dead.

I don’t believe that just because you choose not to hit your child, that child will then be out of control.  When I was a teacher, some of the most out of control children I had in my classroom where children who were being hit at home.  These children often repeated the same poor behaviors, even after their parents hit them.  When I walked into that classroom on the first day, I had a student throw a book at my head and another one run out of class and try to jump the fence to go home.  After a month as their teacher, however, I had them marching to lunch and asking permission to use the restroom.  I did this without spanking them, so why shouldn’t a parent be able to do that too?

I often think about the type of mother I want to be, and how I would like my daughter to see me.  I want my daughter to respect me, and I don’t want her respect for me to be tangled in fear.  I want her to know that I respect her, and I want her to feel safe.  I hope that she will tell me when there is a problem, and I don’t want her to worry that I will beat her up.  My daughter will know that I am a woman of my word.  She will grow up not wanting to disappoint me, and she will know right from wrong.  She will also know that even though our society may not respect the civil rights of a child, her mother does.

In December 2010, Luc struck his older son on the back so hard that the child had a bruise in the shape of Luc’s ring.  The child went to school and told his teachers about the abuse, and after some short court proceedings Luc was let off with no more than a slap on the wrist.  Luc was told that it was legal to spank your child, and that next time he should just be sure not to leave a mark.  Less than two years after that incident, Luc killed his youngest child.

Imagine living in a country where it were legal to spank your spouse.  Imagine it being legal to spank your spouse, and then one day finding yourself in a relationship with an abusive person.  Imagine having a bruise on your body, and your spouse being told by the police that the next time he beats you he should just make sure he doesn’t leave a mark.  That feeling you are getting right now in your gut just imagining what that would be like…that is likely not even half as terrifying as the feeling many children live with every day because of our laws.

Be the person you want your child to become.  Now let’s start some real discussion about how we treat children.