Judge Adams Loses but Not by Enough

Judge Adams Loses but Not by Enough

Have you heard about this child abuse case, where a Texas Family Judge repeatedly beat his daughter with a belt under the guise of discipline?  His daughter, Hillary Adams, posted a video of the assault that went viral and made national news.  Judge Adams received a year paid leave only to be reinstated to the bench.  The latest news is he ran for re-election and lost, but by an astonishing close margin.

47% of voters supported him!

Unbelievable. That’s Texas for you, right? That is certainly the response I hear from many people who hear this story.  Sadly, this isn’t just a problem in Texas.  This is a problem in our own communities – in our own back yard.

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So, how many of these parents actually cross the line? Don’t expect CPS to answer this question accurately.  Child abuse statistics collected from “substantiated” child abuse hardly captures the frequency of domestic violence against children.  Courts don’t even know how to define assault against children.  Case in point, a court in Santa Clara County ruled that a mother spanking her daughter with a wooden spoon is ‘reasonable discipline,’ even though she left bruises that warranted a CPS investigation.  Across the nation, courts struggle with where to draw this arbitrary line.  Frustrated with the inability to protect children in child abuse cases, Delaware actually modified the definition of child abuse to include “an intent to cause pain.”  Attorney General Biden supported this legislation in order to more effectively prosecute child abuse cases, because so many parents were using the defense of discipline to avoid prosecution.

Despite confusion in the courts, most Americans agree there is a big difference between spanking and abuse, but exactly where to draw this “fine line” seems completely arbitrary.  Just ask your Facebook friends the difference between spanking and abuse.  You will see what I mean.  Can you hit on the bare bottom? Can you use implements like a spoon or a belt?  Can you leave marks that go away by the next day?  Can you hit a child under 2-years-old or under one-year-old or a child that has reached puberty?  Can you hit the child 10 or 20 times? Most states allow for all of the above.

In Kansas, Representative Gail Finney was worried about parents being prosecuted for child abuse, and wanted to clarify exactly how much hitting is appropriate, so she proposed a bill that would allow parents to hit their children harder, up to 10 times, enough to cause redness and bruising!  Rather than addressing poor parenting practices that lead to child abuse, Rep. Finney simply attempted to change the definition only to confuse parents further.

Many parents vehemently defend their right to spank their children, claiming that they know how to do it with compassion, moderation, and consistency.  Interestingly, the belief that spanking isn’t harmful if the parent is loving is actually not supported by the research.  Many parents are surprised to learn that maternal warmth does not mitigate the negative effects associated with spanking.

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 10.44.11 AMHow many parents hit their children too hard, or hit a child that is too young or too old? Consider the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study that examines the frequency of family violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente conducted one of the largest longitudinal studies of its kind, looking at family dysfunction.  This study included more than 17,000 middle class Americans over a 15-year period and found that 29% reported being physically abused by their parents!  88,000,000 Americans have been physically assaulted in the home.

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We’ve begun to produce a documentary looking at the “fine line” between spanking and abuse.  This Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 10.24.10 AMfilm investigates the link between harsh punishment and child abuse in this country.  We are raising money to finish filming.  The intent of the film is to investigate the role that spanking plays in perpetuating violence in the family.

There has been a national campaign against spousal abuse that has been very successful.  Since 1994, the rate of spousal abuse has dropped 64%.  There are a variety of contributing factors to this decline, but one central factor is the message was clear – it is never OK to hit your spouse.  What is the message we are sending parents about violence and discipline? Each time we defend spanking, we muddy the waters. When we draw a line between spanking and abuse, we give parents permission to strike their children.

The question we have to ask ourselves is…

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