The Low-Down on the Beat-Down: How Corporal Punishment is Damaging Our Children and Continuing Racial Discrimination

January 13, 2015

By: Carla Vestal

Events within the National Football League (NFL) have once again brought up an age old argument: How should parents and schools discipline children?  Within the past weeks, you may have heard a friend or family member say, “I was whooped and I deserved it,” “No-one is going to tell me what to do in my home with my kids,” “The Bible says, ‘Spare the rod. Spoil the child,’” or other similar remarks.

The effect of corporal punishment is far more than the immediate physical pain a child will feel.  Corporal punishment breeds a culture of violence, has been directly linked to mental and emotional health issues, and continues a legacy of racial discrimination in the South.

What is Corporal Punishment?

Corporal punishment is defined as, “the infliction of physical pain upon a person’s body as punishment for a crime or infraction . . . In a broad sense, the term also denotes the physical disciplining of children in the schools and at home.”  Spanking, whooping, whipping, and paddling are all forms of corporal punishment.  Often times this type of action is carried out by the adult using their hands, belts, switches, paddles, and, in extreme cases of abuse, electrical cords, spatulas, and wooden cutting boards.

What is the law?

All states allow parents to physically hit their child as long as the force used is considered “reasonable.”  When cases of corporal punishment become extreme enough to constitute abuse it is likely the Department of Social Services (DSS) or the court system will become involved.  In these instances what is “reasonable” varies by geographic region and community standards.

Currently, nineteen states allow for corporal punishment in the public school system.  Interestingly, the majority of these states are in the South and are commonly referred to as the “slave states” or the Bible Belt.[1]  In these states, corporal punishment is administered in a racially and ethnically biased manner which targets African American, Native American, and Special Education children.[2]

What do the statistics tell us?

Multiple national surveys of parents report almost identical results.  In one cross-sectional study from Child Trends, 77% of men and 65% of women agreed that corporal punishment is appropriate for children.  The results of a study conducted on North Carolina parents showed that 74% of North Carolinian mothers admitted to hitting a child under two-years old and 5% admitted to using corporal punishment on a child younger than three months old!

A comprehensive study conducted by the American Civil Liberty Union (“ACLU”) and Human Rights Watch concluded that in schools where corporal punishment is allowed, the punishment is administered in a racially biased manner.  African Americans make up roughly 17.1% of the public school population yet sustained 35.6% of reported corporal punishment.  Males were paddled more frequently than females, but African American girls were paddled at a rate of 2:1 to Caucasian girls.

Another alarming finding of the study dealt with students with disabilities.  Children who need special education services in Texas comprise only 10% of the student body yet received 17% of the beatings by school administrators.[3]

What is the science behind the spankings?

Empirical data analysis conducted over a twenty year span links physical discipline, in any form, to an increase in a variety of mental health issues which may not even develop until later in life.  Mood disorders, anxiety disorders, aggressive/violent tendencies, depression and bi-polar disease, and alcohol and drug addictions have all been linked with having been hit as a child.  It does not matter whether the corporal punishment rises to the level of abuse in a legal sense.  The injury to the child’s developing psyche occurs when hit with any force.[4]

In the school setting particularly, corporal punishment serves to legitimize violence.  Students have to suffer the humiliation and indignation of having other students know that they were forced to bend over a table or chair, sometimes with exposed buttocks, to get hit.  Peer-to-peer and student-to-teacher relationships erode.  As a result of the student’s lack of trust in educators, students withdraw academically.  This eventually leads to a higher drop-out rate in school districts that use paddling.

In either environment, corporal punishment changes the trajectory of brain development.  In layman’s terms, children who received corporal punishment have less grey matter in their prefrontal cortexes.  It is well-established that less grey matter in the prefrontal cortex is an indicator of mental and emotional psychosis.  This area of the brain is also responsible for cognitive development.  Researchers also have found a significant correlation between corporal punishment and lower IQ scores on standardized tests.  The end result of the study conducted by The National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health concluded that the grey matter children need to develop into mentally and emotionally healthy adults who exhibit self-control is being eroded with each strike of corporal punishment.  Corporal punishment has the exact opposite effect on children than what the discipline technique is intended to encourage.[5]

Why do parents and schools still use corporal punishment in spite of the scientific evidence against it?

The answer to this question has deep societal roots.  Many parents continue to spank and whip their children because, as children, they were subjected to corporal punishment themselves.  This is how the cycle of ineffective parenting and in extreme cases abuse is passed from generation to generation.

Elizabeth T. Gershoff, the nation’s leading advocate of alternative parenting techniques which do not include physically hitting a child, has concluded that corporal punishment is the result of lower educational levels in parents and geographic location.  Her research, which has spanned fifteen years, posits that corporal punishment in the South is a remnant of slavery and the concentration of conservative Christian religions.

When parents possess a college education, the use of corporal punishment in the home drops drastically from 55% to 38%.  This is due to the parents understanding the long term negative effects of spanking, having better coping techniques and using alternative methods of discipline.

Conservative Christian religions, which are heavily concentrated in the Bible Belt, often recite the “Spare the rod, spoil the child” mantra found in the Old Testament.  Focus on the Family, a conservative religion website, even goes so far as to teach parents how to hit their children without leaving evidence of bruising or welting of the skin and what type of “wooden spoon or paddle” to use.

http://www.fpnotebook.com/legacy/Peds/Prevent/CrprlPnshmnt.htm

Moving Forward and Repairing the Damage

As of now, corporal punishment will remain a choice for parents and schools.  As more of the public becomes educated about the adverse effects of physical punishment, parents will hopefully do some self-reflection and explore other avenues to help their children respect boundaries in the home and school.

Public school systems in the South should be open to review their policies on corporal punishment, to absorb the scientific data on its use in the academic setting, and examine the links between slavery and how societal norms across the country no-longer support paddling in schools.

It is a difficult endeavor to challenge parents to think differently about corporal punishment when they use religious convictions to justify its use.  However, this relates back to education and particularly scientific breakthroughs.  The often cited “Spare the rod, spoil the child” defense goes back to the time of Solomon (roughly 3,000 years ago).  Grey matter in brain development could not be monitored through MRIs 3,000 years ago as it is today.[6]

In the end, the use of corporal punishment will remain a heated debate among parents, educators, church groups and society in general. One thing is for sure: it is a personal choice that each person in the position to administer corporal punishment will have to weigh out in his or her consciousness.

If you feel that you have been subjected to extreme corporal punishment in the form of physical abuse, please contact your nearest police department immediately.

National Domestic Violence Hot-line: 1-800-799-7233

National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453)

[1] States that allow corporal punishment in the public school systems include: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

[2] For statistics applicable to North Carolina: http://www.carolinaparent.com/articlemain.php?Who-s-Getting-Spanked-in-N.C.-Public-Schools-3299.

[3] For a more in depth analysis of special education and corporal punishment see: https://www.aclu.org/impairing-education-corporal-punishment-students-disabilities-us-public-schools-html.

[4] http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-me-in-we/201202/how-spanking-harms-the-brain

[5] For a meta-analytic review of how corporal punishment discourages positive long-term behavior and encourages a lack of self-realization see: http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-1284539.pdf.

[6] Interestingly, Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, went on to become a tyrant of a ruler whose subjects revolted against him.  He exhibited signs of extreme aggression and lacked empathy for his people.  “Whereas my father laid upon you a heavy yoke, so shall I add tenfold thereto.  Whereas my father chastised (tortured) you with whips, so shall I chastise you with scorpions.  For my littlest finger is thicker than my father’s loins; and your backs, which bent like reeds at my father’s touch, shall break like straws at my own touch.”  (1 Kings 12).  This adds weight to the scientific evidence that we have today that hitting children leads to anti-social behaviors and mental disease.


Target Practice: Victim Blaming and the Cross-Sections of Race and Gender

November 4, 2014

By: Tierra M. Ragland

Victim blaming is a devaluing act that occurs when the victim of a crime is held responsible in whole or in part for the crime committed against them. Victim blaming can occur in the form of negative social responses from the media, society, legal professionals, medical professionals, and immediate family members. Some victims of crime receive more sympathy from society than others. Often, the responses toward victims of crime are based on negative societal stereotypes. These responses may lead others to believe that the victims deserved what happened to them.

Victim blaming can happen to anyone, but it overwhelmingly affects victims of rape, indigent populations, and victims of domestic violence. When victims are African-American, they may also become the subject of victim blaming.  Victim blaming can occur from media coverage that focuses on a victim’s unrelated or alleged criminal past, the physical attributes of the victim, how the victim was dressed, and any actions they may have taken that led them to becoming a victim. Victim blaming is problematic for a variety of reasons. Societal tendencies to victim blame encourage crimes to go unreported. Often, victims of crimes do not get adequate assistance and the accused go unprosecuted, leading them to get away with the crime they committed.

Domestic Violence

Recently, National Football League “NFL” running back Ray Rice was suspended from the NFL for domestic abuse against his then fiancé, now wife, Janay Rice. TMZ released surveillance footage of the incident, which sparked a media frenzy. Social debate soon followed with conversations surrounding the actions of the victim.  Conversations in the media speculate as to why she married him, what she did for him to hit her, and how and why she would defend him. This example of victim blaming is problematic because it places all of the blame on a victim of domestic violence and attempts to justify the actions of the alleged abuser. High profile victim blaming such as this can lead to future incidents of domestic violence not being reported, and potential cycles of violence to continue.

Rape

Last year the Steubenville Rape investigation was a constant fixture in the news media.  A 16-year old girl was raped at a party by two local high school football stars. After the rape, pictures of the victim being violated were sent throughout the high school and social media. During the trial of the two young men, the focus of many local and national new broadcast consisted of victim blaming. There were questions surrounding what the victim was wearing, whether she was drinking, and how the accusation would affect the promising football careers of the young men.  Instances of victim blaming such as this contribute to rape culture, which focuses heavily on policing the actions of victims and not the actions of predators.  Even after the boys were convicted of rape, the community, her peers, and the news media harassed the victim and her family.

Earlier this year, one of the rapists was released from detention and returned to playing on his high school football team. Upon his release, there was a press release about how this incident has affected him and his family but there was no apology to the victim. When the purpose of the juvenile justice system is to rehabilitate, what message does it send to the victim when her convicted rapist serves less than a year in juvenile detention and gets to pick up his life right where he left off? A victim has to spend the rest of her life with the reality of public humiliation through pictures on social media, harassment by the community, and blame for ruining the promising future of her rapist.

Race

In a country that has a history of discrimination, brutality, racism, and systematic oppression against African-Americans, Blacks are often blamed for the crimes committed against them under the guise that race no longer matters in “post-racial America.” This becomes problematic because the United States is far from, if ever, being post-racial. We, as a country, have not effectively dealt with the consequences and vestiges left behind from slavery, segregation, and disenfranchisement. Our history of systemic oppression makes the cross-section between race and victim blaming a tense and complicated issue.

In February 2012, seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman.  During the media coverage of Zimmerman’s trial, the focus quickly turned to race. The media coverage focused on the physical size of Martin, his alleged prior drug use, and whether a black hoodie is or is not suspicious. This type of victim blaming is problematic because it suggests that if you look a certain way, dress a certain way, or have participated in certain activities, murder is justifiable. This instance of victim blaming is also interesting because much of the focus was on the actions of the victim and very little focus was on his age: Martin was still considered a child in the eyes of society and the law.  Zimmerman was ultimately acquitted of all charges.

In August 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American man, was shot six times, including twice in the head, by Missouri police officer Darren Wilson.  The shooting occurred during an encounter with Wilson, while Brown and a friend were walking down the street. This shooting sparked protest in the small town of Ferguson, Missouri, and received national media coverage. While the topic of the media coverage did focus on the “trend” of shooting deaths surrounding unarmed black men, elements of victim blaming still occurred. Media coverage and police statements made it seem as if Brown may have been involved in the theft of a cigar from a convenient store earlier that day, and accusations were made that Brown’s physical size may have intimidated the officer.  There were additional comments by the community and media that Brown was starting college soon, therefore his death was more tragic, suggesting that being shot while unarmed and surrendering is not tragic enough. Victim blaming as related to this incident is problematic because it devalues the life of the victim, and focuses on the actions of the victim, suggesting that his or her death or injury could have been preventable if only he had acted differently.

Protests surrounding Brown’s shooting also received media attention. The protestors were described as rioters and met with Ferguson police equipped in military gear. The protestors were gassed, harassed, and categorized in the media according to the actions of only a small number of looters.  Protest and civil unrest is still continuing in Ferguson. Darren Wilson has not been charged for the shooting of Michael Brown.

The above instances are a just few examples of victim blaming and the damaging effects that it can have on recovery and justice for the victim.  Racial aspects of both of the young men’s victim blaming consists of the physical size of black man, which is seen as intimidating, and their actions as criminal even when they have not been convicted. Many more victims of domestic violence, victims of rape, and unarmed black men have been the subject of victim blaming by the media and society.  Since the shooting of Michael Brown, thirteen African-Americans have been fatally shot by police. An entire book could be written on the subject.

The media and society have not only constructed socially acceptable victims but also socially acceptable alleged perpetrators of crimes and other forms for wrongdoing.

In comparison to the protest in Ferguson, similar protests have been categorized sympathetically by the media. For example, after the firing of long-time coach Joe Paterno by Penn State, thousands of students stormed the campus to express their outrage. Students gathered in the streets, overturned a media news van, tore down lampposts, and threw rocks and fireworks at police. The police responded with pepper spray. At no time were the protestors met with tear gas or police in military gear. In the media, the students were described as hurt by the firing of their beloved coach.  The media described demonstrators as “filing down into the streets.” The media expressed empathy and understanding as to why the students were outraged. Comparing this to the protesting in Ferguson where the protestors were arrested and met with tear gas and police in military gear, it begs the question of why such a vast difference in media coverage exists when, at the core, both protestors were expressing their outrage using their first amendment rights.

In July 2012, James Holmes opened fire into a crowded movie theater killing twelve people and injuring fifty-eight.  The media coverage surrounding the shooting described Holmes as mentally ill and a disturbed young man. In contrast, Martin and Brown, the victims of shootings, were described in the media negatively to justify the crimes against them, whereas Holmes is accused of committing the deadliest shooting since the Columbine school shootings and his actions are described as the result of mental health issues.

In a society ruled by social perceptions, victim blaming can be used as a tool to describe victims as worthy and unworthy. When this occurs, real social issues based in race and gender get lost in the conversation. There is little to no solution on how to effectively address these issues. However, the first step to end victim blaming is to allow victims to be victims and not condemn them in media


Domestic Violence and the NFL

September 22, 2014
The NFL has been facing intense criticism in the media following recently uncovered video footage of NFL player Ray Rice hitting his then-girlfriend.  The public is not happy with how the NFL originally handled the allegations of abuse when they arose last February.  Due to this overwhelming negative publicity, NFL teams have been tightening their policies regarding domestic abuse, many of them retrospectively.
One such NFL team is the Carolina Panthers.  WFAE reported Thursday that Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy will not play until his domestic violence appeal has been resolved.  A judge found Hardy guilty of two counts of domestic violence in July and he is now awaiting a jury trial.  Charlotte School of Law Professor Christopher Woodyard offered his legal expertise to WFAE in reporting the story.
Listen in to WFAE’s account of the Greg Hardy story here: http://wfae.org/post/panthers-hardy-wont-play-until-domestic-violence-case-resolved.

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