From his poolside apartment on the island, Paul Newman watched in horror as a teenage girl whipped her 2-year-old brother with a belt.
It wasn’t so much the spanking that bothered Newman. She was smacking him so hard with the leather belt it was “like she was beating a dog” in the middle of the Captain’s Landing apartment complex in plain view of everyone, Newman said.
As Newman dialed 911, a man and woman confronted the girl, a fight ensued and both were stabbed. Almost two weeks later, the 13-year-old girl has not been charged with any crimes.
The spanking and subsequent stabbing of the two adults who tried to intervene raises the questions: When does corporal punishment cross the line into abuse?
Officers investigating child abuse claims must rely on their common sense to determine if spanking has crossed the line, said detective Holly Johnson. Officers examine the children for injuries. If those injuries are on vital body parts, such as the child’s head, officers are more likely to consider corporal punishment abuse, Johnson said. It’s a difficult judgment call for officers, she said.
In the case of the spanking-turned-stabbing, officers examined the child at the scene and found no injuries, fresh or old, on the boy to charge his teenage sister with a crime, said detective Ron Daniels, who is investigating the case.
But Newman said he thought the spanking was excessive.
He claims that during the spanking, the toddler fell and hit his face on the concrete and the girl yanked him up again to continue the beating.
“I’ve never seen anything like that in my life,” Newman said. “It was just horrible.”
Newman said he doesn’t understand why police didn’t arrest the girl for child abuse. Police said there were no indications of abuse at the time, but Child Protective Services is now investigating, Daniels said.
Spare The Rod?
State law allows parents the right to discipline their children.
But one person’s appropriate corporal punishment is another person’s abuse.
“Corporal punishment is a kind of brute force and bullying — law-of-the-jungle type parenting,” said Aaron Cooper, psychologist and author of “I Just Want My Kids To Be Happy: Why You Shouldn’t Say It, Why You Shouldn’t Think It, What You Should Embrace Instead.”
Spanking teaches children that violence is OK, but parents condone it because they were spanked as children, Cooper said.
When Cooper was a boy, his father spanked him and, at least five times, smacked him with a belt, when he misbehaved, he said.
“When I have a memory of that, I get terribly sad,” he said. “I have to think my dad made some mistakes. I feel angry and I feel sad ... Most people don’t want to go there. They don’t want to go to feelings of anger toward a parent or sadness that they went through that.
“What’s the best way to avoid all those sloppy, messy feelings? To decide it was a good thing to get spankings. They defend it because to not defend it opens up the door to these painful feelings.”
Others disagree, choosing instead to think that a strong smack on the butt every now and then helped them to become upstanding citizens.
Precinct 4 justice of the peace Judge Mike W. Nelson, famously known for the paddle he calls “the board of education,” has always believed in the power of corporal punishment. He’s proudly spanked his own children to keep them in line, he said.
“The good book says ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’ and look at where our society is today by sparing the rod,” he said.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has said that corporal punishment is ineffective and could have disastrous effects on children.
Dr. William Mize, an associate professor of adolescent and behavioral health at The University of Texas Medical Branch, wholeheartedly agrees.
“Spanking should be avoided at all costs,” he said. “When parents resort to spanking, they haven’t got any other alternatives defined in their mind.”
Spanking is such an emotional experience for children that they often forget the lessons parents were trying to teach them.
“Nobody learns well when they’re upset,” Mize said.
Mize advocates his own brand of time-out as an effective disciplinary technique, including using a kitchen timer instead of a watch during time-out to redirect a child’s anger at being disciplined at the timer instead of the parent.
Despite the advent of child protection laws and a stronger movement against corporal punishment, Mize doesn’t see spanking disappearing any time soon.
“There are countries in the world, like Sweden and other places, where corporal punishment is banned,” he said. “Our society is maybe the most violent society on earth. I think the spanking prevalence reflects that.”
Detective Johnson, who investigated the murder of Riley Sawyers, also known as “Baby Grace,” said anyone who sees a child being treated in a manner that makes them uncomfortable should phone police.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry, period,” she said.
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