Testimony of Susan Lawrence in support of HB 1787
Massachusetts State Legislature, June 7, 2005

Susan Lawrence - In Favor of HB 1787
H.B. 1787

SECTION 1. Chapter 265 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2002 Official Edition is hereby amended by inserting after Section 13J, a new Section 13J 1/2, as follows:

Section 13J 1/2. Corporal punishment of children prohibited; use of reasonable force.

(a) For the purposes of this section, the following words shall, unless the context indicates otherwise, have the following meanings:

“Child”, any person under eighteen years of age.

“Corporal punishment”, the willful infliction of physical pain, including but not limited, to hitting, whipping, slapping, spanking, kicking, biting, striking with an object, pinching, punching, poking eyes, twisting limbs, boxing ears, shaking, “hot-saucing” (putting undiluted Tabasco sauce or soap in the mouth), administering electric shocks, or any other unreasonable use or degree of force. (b) It shall be unlawful in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for any adult to inflict corporal punishment upon a child.

(c) The provisions of this section shall not preclude any adult from using such reasonable force as is necessary to protect himself and others from imminent, serious, physical harm, including assault by a child, to divest a child of a dangerous instrument, to prevent injury to property, or to remove a child from a life-threatening or injurious situation.

(d) The provisions of this section also shall not preclude any adult from using incidental or minor physical contact designed to maintain order and control, or other discipline which does not constitute corporal punishment. The provisions of this section are not intended to be used to separate children from their parents or to discourage discipline of children, but are intended to encourage the use of other means than corporal punishment to discipline children, because of the emotional harm and risks of bodily harm associated with corporal punishment of children.

Adults are legally protected from corporal punishment in all situations, but children are only protected in schools, group homes and daycare in Massachusetts. The US Department of Health & Human Services reports that 142,000 children are seriously injured from corporal punishment every year in this country, 18,000 of them are left permanently disabled. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, between 1000 and 2000 children die in this country every year from corporal punishment. And while we have laws in Massachusetts against causing substantial injury or death to a child, it is impossible to predict how striking another human being will affect that person's body. Adults forget how much bigger and stronger they are, and children vary in their capacity to withstand being hit. Nearly 70% of child abuse cases in CPS agencies result from corporal punishment. The defense of "discipline" is raised in 41% of homicide prosecutions against parents who "accidentally" killed their children.

All forms of hitting entail risks. Even spanking can cause spinal damage, nerve damage, persistent pain in the tailbone and damage to the testes. Hitting a child's face or head can cause brain and eye injury, and is the form of corporal punishment most likely to cause death.

Corporal punishment is risky behavior that CAN lead to injury and death. Not restraining children in car seats is also risky behavior that CAN lead to injury and death. Just as we have a law requiring children be restrained in car seats, there should be a law requiring children be protected from being hit.

Not only can hitting cause physical injury and death, but over 100 research studies have shown many emotional and social problems from spanking: impaired parent/child relationships, increased aggression, behavior problems, learning problems, lower IQ, lower academic scores, and antisocial behavior. Adults who were spanked as children are more prone to be angry, depressed, to suffer from addictions, to commit more domestic violence and other violent crimes. One research study shows that adults who were spanked as children are more likely to hit their elderly parents.

Not a single study on spanking has shown ANY benefit that cannot be achieved by non-physical forms of discipline. Corporal punishment is risky and harmful. Medications have been taken off the shelf with far less evidence of risks. 16 countries have banned corporal punishment with excellent results, Massachusetts can do it too.

For many adults, spanking is a sexual activity. Try Googling "spank"! An adult touching another adult's buttocks is considered a sexual act; the buttocks are considered a private, sexual area. The sciatic nerve, which goes directly to the genitals from the lower spine, is profoundly and painfully stimulated by hitting the buttocks. We adults should not hit the private, sexual areas of children, or sexually stimulate children.

In the Bible there are several verses in the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament, that speak of beating sons with a "rod" or wooden stick. Fundamentalists taking these verses literally, led to the development of this nylon whip for whipping babies and children (show "The Rod"). According to the MSPCA, if someone whips their pet dog with "The Rod" they can be charged with FELONY animal abuse. Children deserve at least as much protection as animals!

We have an obligation to stop the violence because children can't vote or lobby for their rights, yet they are citizens too. Children are far more vulnerable than adults, physically and emotionally. Therefore it is our duty as responsible adults to act with their interests in mind, and to grant them legal protection from being hit.

Ending corporal punishment is the most important thing we can do to reduce violence in Massachusetts.

"If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against the physical punishment of children would be a good place to start." That quote is from Dr. Benjamin Spock.

Thank you for listening.

See related: Letter to Masschusetts State Legislators re: H.B 1787, By Jordan Riak, June 11, 2005

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