You don’t have to wait until the next Halloween to visit a Hall of Terror. You can just look up Florida Statutes. It specifically allows beating up a child. But do it with a phone book so it doesn’t leave marks. You can whip, whack, smack, spank, belt, bash, paddle, flog, thrash, punch, shove, shake or throw a child, as long as the assault does not amount to intentionally malicious or mental harm.
The law pretends to define terms like “malicious” and “mental” but calls on “expert testimony” to explain what that means. Words like “torture” and “intentional” are not defined. There is no age cut-off. You may smack a 1 year old no less than a 15 year old.
The law is a ragbag of subjectivity. The summer’s school board meetings reminded us better than Casey Anthony, Annie Ernaux, and Humbert Humbert how parents, those overrated know-it-alls, can be as loving as they can be toxic. Do we really want to leave it to them to draw the line between discipline and abuse, especially in a South so fond of evangelizing violence against children?
A little over a week ago in Flagler a 29-year-old father was found guilty of brutalizing his son to the point of fracturing his skull, burning his arm, and leaving him covered in bruises from beatings with a club and a belt. The whippings were so violent that the belt buckle left days-old imprints on the boy’s skin and the boy’s blood was left on the buckle. The boy was 20 months old. Somehow, he survived.
The father disputed having anything to do with the skull fracture. He said the boy fell. He claimed the burn was accidental. But he conceded that yes, he beat his child, just as he himself had been beaten, just as his mother testified to beating him–and to being beaten herself when she was a child. These two goons literally claimed that discipline by “thorns and briers” was a family custom–no differently than North African brutes claim that clitorectomies are a family custom–and that as a father he should not be punished for it.
He wasn’t entirely wrong. When state law condones brutality, when the whole scheme depends on an invisible line that threads a difference between discipline and cruelty, you’re oiling the slope, inviting the abuser to walk it then blaming him for slipping. Abusers will exist as long as humanity will. But we shouldn’t be writing them invitations in law.
Almost 60 countries–more than a quarter of the world’s total–have banned corporal punishment, whether at home, at school or by the judicial system. Not a single American state has. Nineteen states still allow it in schools, including Florida. We never tire of talking about children’s screen time, children’s diets, children’s risks of concussion in football practice. Not a word about domestic violence on children disguised as “discipline,” a cloak for brutality that, when all else fails, can always appeal to the ultimate barbarity: I assault you because I love you. Meanwhile five children die of abuse or neglect every day in the United States, nearly 2,000 a year.
Almost nine out of 10 of those deaths occur in children 7 and younger. That’s children who haven’t yet reached the age of reason, children on whom any act of physical violence is by definition useless except as an expression of violence and power, an attempt to humiliate or shame or worse. (“Devoid of all morality in his actions,” Rousseau writes of the young child in Emile, “he cannot do anything that is morally bad and that deserves either punishment or reprimand.”) So any violence is foremost, and only, an expression of parental brutality and stupidity, or if you want to be generous, a pedagogical failure in which the child–whatever the offense, bar none–bears no responsibility.
But our laws still reflect the standards of a cruel age, spelled out in the nonsense of legal sophistries that no two physicians, no two psychologists, no two ethicists will ever agree on when dueling in court over an abuser’s acts.
“Child abuse,” for example, means in Florida law the “intentional infliction of physical or mental injury.” “Malicious” means that the violence is intended “to cause the victim unjustifiable pain or injury.”
But how is any act of physical violence by an adult against a child ever not intentional, even when allegedly “loving”? How does any act of physical violence, by definition, not inflict pain, and under what moral code not hooked to the barbarism of Hammurabi is the infliction of pain by an adult against a defenseless child ever justified? You don’t spank to please. You don’t spank to make a child reflect. You spank to hurt, to shame, and of course to make yourself feel better, you goon. The difference between hurt and harm is nil. I can hear them now, those legions of voices excusing the brutality with the pride of their battle scars: “I was whipped as a child, and look at how I turned out.” If that’s what you’re saying now, you shouldn’t be too eager to advertise how you turned out.
Under Florida law, the difference between justifiable parental “discipline” and “abuse” requires a $300-an-hour expert witness to nail down, assuming the abuser’s $400-an-hour expert doesn’t clobber the $300 one in a smackdown of jury-rigging jargon. So we get trials that should never go to trial. You smack. You pay. We don’t argue about it when it’s between two adults. A mere unwanted touch–a poke, a flick, a brush of the hand–is battery. Between adults. That’s how it ought to be with children, against whom any violence, no matter how it is defined, constrained or qualified by nonsensical legalese like “malicious” or “intentional,” is child abuse. Period. Anything less is an open door to abuse posing as discipline.
Because here we are, still arguing that shaking a baby doesn’t really cause head trauma (that was one of the arguments in last week’s trial), that belting a child still in diapers is reasonable discipline, that law reflects justifiable customs, and that parental rights, after all, reign supreme. As crocks go, you can’t do much worse than parental rights, the last redoubt of boundless, hidden, unaccountable criminality.
It’s superfluous to say that there is nothing so sublime as a parent’s love, or that an article on child abuse shouldn’t be interpreted as a condemnation of all parenting, if not most parenting. The sublime is in the ordinary, too, and the ordinary doesn’t lead to the courtroom or command headlines. But nor can it absolve the unordinary, especially when it, too, is so ordinary. There’s nothing so depraved as a parent’s violence toward one’s own child, or a society’s laws that still condone and dress up the violence in statutory exemptions left over from the days when eye-gouging contests and cat-burning were favored entertainments at county fairs.
“Somewhere, always, a child is being beaten,” goes J.M. Coetzee’s heartbreaking line. In Florida–in the United States–legally so. This must end.
Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.
Judge Roy Bean says
When the judicial system only fines them and releases them, the problem will only get worse. What is needed is “Corporal Punishment” administered to the abuser. Hard and Shift…… If they don’t learn from that then execute them on LIVE TV. I guarantee you after 5 or 6 of them are hung or fried (Old Sparky), this abuse of children will decrease by 90%.
Earl Richards says
Corporal punishment is one of the causes of domestic violence. See, http://www.nospank.net.
Jane Elizabeth K. says
Some people should NEVER be parents!!! Because you’re capable of reproducing doesn’t mean you should. Never harm a child. Get some help !!! Please.
You cannot equate corporal punishment with child abuse. A swat on the fanny is not child abuse. All corporal punishment is not child abuse, hence the exceptions in the law. Typical liberal nonsense.
I agree 100%. Thank you for your comment. You are right.
Mondexian Mama says
loved the way you finessed politics into the discussion. Maybe you slept through the sermon that claimed politics is the religion of the feebleminded.
Imagine getting such little respect from your own child, having such little control of your own child that you feel you must resort to violence as a means of correction. What a sick twisted world when one would hit spank or physically reprimand a child in order to gain control.
Im dealing with a 6 year old. With an AWFUL attitude. “GO TO THE CORNER”, I said…And you know why she said? NO…blatantly and out right.
All parenting is different, and all children are not raised the same.
I believe that consistency in SPANKING, no matter a BELT OR A SWITCH. The child will learn. Period. And if the behavior continues, then what?
Exactly, nothing… because it won’t. I will correct the actions before it goes any further.
We create these kids in this world. If our children are brought up, thinking life is SWEET and they don’t have to listen to adults… this world would be in HAVOCS. Spanking a child is necessary at times. Children are VERY curious, and wondering. ABOUT ANY AND EVERYTHING.
And as PARENTS, it is up to US AS ADULTS TO CORRECT THE BEHAVIOR BEFORE OUR CHILDREN ENTER THE REAL WORLD.
Little black children are TARGETS, and I teach my child NOT to become one. And it is SICKENING. Because why do I have to be extra hard on MY CHILD OF COLOR. Simply, because of her color.
Y’all are CRAZY to believe this man intended to Harm his child.
AS ADULTS, when someone comes incorrect, what do we tend to do? Set them straight….& WE ARE ADULTS.
Alot of y’all let your children talk to you any kind of way….& that’s why you are defensive.
WE ARE THE PARENTS and what we say goes PERIOD.
And we either raise are kids to understand that, or when the times comes that the step hasn’t been learned. We mold them into understanding, especially BLACK CHILDREN. Our kids are rail road everyday.
I teach my daughter to act accordingly. Because no matter what we think, the color skin really does matter.
Be careful of what you want here. What happened is abuse and can not tolerated. Some people are just sick. If eliminated, a controlled smack fir a 15 year old could result in you being arrested. A controlled spanking could result in you being arrested. Liberals always take things to be terrible. Disciplining a child with a controlled smack or spanking is not a terrible thing. When you lose your temper, it must be a crime. There’s a fine line here and good parents know it and stay within it. A smack now and then demands respect, which most children no longer have. It is NEVER OK to spank a young child that young. We disciplined out child maybe twice with a controlled spanking, or smack, and he needed it. Usually when mouthing off, mom would give a little tug on his hair behind his ear and he got the message. Respect was demanded both ways within our home. Love your children and teach them respect and it will last a lifetime.
Yes Dennis I think it is terrible the Repubs are trying to make it almost impossible for people of color to vote. The Repubs are terrible too. Harsh punishment on a young child is terrible. Lynching people of color because they wanted to vote and have a better life was terrible. White men raping Black Women was terrible, white women lying on Black Men was terrible, White cops killing unarmed Black Men and other people, is terrible. The riot on the capital 1 6 21., was terrible. I guess we libs see a lot of terrible things in this country.
A Concerned Observer says
No; corporal punishment IS NOT child abuse. Corporal punishment is a discipline method in which a supervising adult deliberately inflicts pain upon a child in response to a child’s unacceptable behavior and/or inappropriate language. The immediate aims of such punishment are usually to halt the offense, prevent its recurrence and set an example for others. Defining corporal punishment as child abuse is kind of like Justice Potter Stewart’s response to a request to define pornography; “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced… but I know it when I see it.”
Unfortunately, public schools today are looked upon by many as free day care. For that opinion you must simply look at the justification of parents demanding the immediate return of in-school classes shortly after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, even to the detriment of the child’s health. Parental responsibilities to teach their children civility, self-control and what will and will not be tolerated behavior have gone by the wayside. Today, parents actually call 911 for a deputy to come to their house because their child is “out of control” and refuses to go to school. Seriously? YES! If I ever came home and told my parents that a teacher spanked me, I would have been in for another spanking, likely a more attention getting one than the one received by my teacher. And don’t even mention parochial schools where the nuns meted out a ruler across the knuckles or paddle board to the behind resulting in immediate attention-getting and positive behavior modification. Societies “Everyone gets a trophy and there are no losers or winners, everyone gets to play and just have fun” and “I understand, let’s talk about it” has only created a self-centered, entitled, I can do whatever I want to and a there will be no repercussion mentality. It manifests itself today in young people fighting with law enforcement officers rather than complying with initial and overwhelmingly polite initial directions (primarily to gain control over a possibly dangerous situation for everyone’s safety). It also generates a belief that the government owes them more money and free stuff rather than a obligation to obtain the skills and a determination to earn a better and productive livelihood . There is no obligation to work for what they want and live within their means until they reach a better life. They need only to take it from someone else they see as having what they do not. Remember folks, the government cannot give anyone anything without first taking it away from someone else.
Corporal punishment in schools is only necessary when the abject failure of the parents in their parental responsibilities to properly raise their children to live within a community. It does not take a village to raise a child but it takes responsible and committed parents!
Florida Girl says
Wait till they figure out discipline stems from the word, disciple. I believe it means leading by, teaching, and example. I wonder how keen they will be on discipline then.
Land of no turn signals says says
Nothing wrong with a little foot to ass therapy.
I am not anything close to perfect, but I never spanked or laid a hand on either one of boys. Now that they are respectable young men with manners and self confidence I think I did ok for a divorced dad.
It’s not cute! says
Why do you assign cute or funny little phrases for hitting your children? I didn’t hit them. It’s not abuse! I just swatted their fanny. I just tapped them on the bottom. I just use foot to ass therapy. Say it for what it is. You hit your child/children. You hit the person/people hardwired to trust you the most in this world. Your intention is in the right place, possibly. But that’s what you did. You hit them. You hurt them to get your way. You parented with fear due to your own fears. It’s hard to look closely at things so engrained and admit that they are wrong. The first step is to stop sugar coating it. If you would be appalled with a police officer spanking you for a tail light out, then don’t do the same to your child. It’s 100% possible and normal and acceptable to parent without violence. And if that makes me a cute silly ole ‘lib’ for believing that then so be it. Sticks and stones… quite literally.
Land of no turn signals says says
If I didn’t know my tail light was out I shouldn’t get hit but now I know then yea smack me that would make me remember.That’s the point smack don’t beat.If more of that was done at home maybe less of these young punks wouldn’t be roaming the streets in the wee hours of the morning thugging.
Inflicting punishment in response to bad behavior is barbaric. Grow up.
So if someone breaks into your house and murders a family member that “bad behavior” shouldn’t be Punished?
To murder someone is a lot different than the convo here.
WOW! Talk about jumping to extremes. . . Why in the world would any “intelligent” person even try equate the subject of childhood corporal punishment to murder?
How about some actual FACTUAL analysis of studies. . . for those who still believe in something beyond the BS in FOX/Facebook.
This from the Encyclopedia of Early Childhood:
In a meta-analysis of 88 studies, corporal punishment was found to predict more aggression, delinquent and antisocial behaviour, mental health problems, and risk of becoming physically abused during childhood as well as less moral internalization and lower quality of parent-child relationships.