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I Wasn't Going to Write About This

By Yvette Vignando - 7th November 2011

Last week, a Twitter contact shared one of the most horrific videos I have seen in a long time. It was so traumatic that I couldn't watch more than a few minutes. I didn't retweet it because the vision was so violent that I thought it required a warning. I was unsure about its origin because the video was dated 2004 yet seemed to have just hit the internet. Since then, the video has gone viral.

Having waited until the mainstream media had investigated the video, I can tell you that these are just some of the established and admitted facts:

US Judge Mercilessly Beats his Disabled Daughter With a Belt

  • in 2004 a young American girl aged about 12, who has cerebral palsy, secretly filmed her father beating her with his belt in the most violent and awful manner while shouting awful things at her. I use the phrase 'awful things' because after I heard a bit of it, I was not prepared to listen to more, and that's the best I can do. Some of it is reported in newspaper articles online if you are inclined to search for it.
  • the beating went on for minutes - more minutes than I could bare to watch - and the young girl was screaming. And apparently at the end of the video, the girl's mother also joined in and hit her once.
  • the father is a US family law judge called William Adams; reportedly he presides over child abuse cases.
  • the daughter, who is now 23, says she recorded the video because she was beaten regularly over a period of time and she could tell things were escalating. She has told US show Today that by waiting until now to release the video, she has been able to "distance" herself from the consequences. Amazingly, she says all she really wants is for her father to have counselling. It is reported that the police are investigating.
  • Judge William Adams has acknowledged that it is him on the video tape but has told reporters "It is not as bad as it looks."

It is WORSE than it looks - to be there in person, either as an observer or a victim of the few minutes of indescribable abuse I saw on that video, would have been unbelievably traumatic. And to be told by the daughter that this was a regular occurence is truly heartbreaking - and that sounds like an understatement and cliche when compared to the extract I allowed myself to see.

I'm not so naieve to think that this kind of abuse, and much worse, doesn't go on in homes across the world every day. Most of us try not to think about it. But just imagine for a minute that a family law judge that is determining outcomes for children in family law matters could be behaving like this at home - it makes me cry inside with anger.

In 50 states in the UnitedStates*, like in Australia, corporal punishment* is allowed in homes. In Australia, although the law differs slightly in each state, parents and carers are allowed to use corporal punishment with restrictions.

But think about this: if a legally trained judge, aware of the law, and aware of the criminal law on assault can 'cross the line' as far as I saw in that video - and still have the view that "it is not as bad as it looks" then isn't that a convincing reason for us deciding we should not let parents use their discretion about using physical punishment with a child?

I know this view is controversial. I know that in most cases, parents don't exceed their authority and abuse their children. But is this a good enough argument for you to be prepared to leave some leeway out there for all parents to interpret as they please? Because the potential victims are children - people who are under the authority of adults, and who are mostly powerless and voiceless when it comes to abuse in the home.

I have written about this before - and I wrote that when our children were younger I did smack them a small number of times - and I wrote that I think this was wrong. I smacked them because I was angry with them and I didn't know what else to do at the time. Sure, our children are fine - but for the sake of the children out there who are in the hands of carers who cannot or won't control themselves, and who are not fine - I am now prepared to say, I think corporal punishment of children should be illegal.

What is the Law in Australia Right Now?

The Australian Institute of Family Studies*** states that:

In most states and territories, corporal punishment by a parent or carer is lawful provided that it is carried out for the purpose of correction, control or discipline, and that it is "reasonable" having regard to:

  •     the age of the child;
  •     the method of punishment;
  •     the child's capacity for reasoning (i.e., whether the child is able to comprehend correction/discipline); and
  •     the harm caused to the child

Honestly - how many of us, before smacking a child, are considering the four points above for more than a nanosecond? And would you be willing to give up your right to administer 'reasonable' physical discipline to your child, in return for knowing that people like the U.S. judge in this case, would be prosecuted? And in return for knowing that more children (obviously not all) would be protected by this law?

In New South Wales, the Crimes Act tells you that corporal punishment of your child will be 'unreasonable' if the force is applied to any part of the head or neck of your child or to any other part of the body of your child in a way that is likely to cause harm to your child that lasts for more than a short period. How do you determine this? And are you willing to give up your right to determine this in order to protect the children of parents who either don't have the willingness or capacity to make this determination?

I am.


For more on this - please read this brilliant opinion piece by Professor Kim Oates: Children Require Discipline - but Not Smacking or The Slap

A Poll on Smacking in Australia

We are currently running a poll on this site - see over to the left hand side. It tells me my view is a minority one.

Currently the votes on Do You Think Physical Punishment Should be Illegal in Australia? are:

Yes:   22%

No: 27%

No, but I do not think parents should smack children: 51%

Update - There's More - 9 November 2011 - Children's Deaths Linked to Evangelists' Encouragement from a book called 'To Train Up a Child'

In this New York Times article it is reported that children's deaths are now being linked to practices encouraged by religious pastors. You can argue that these are extreme cases - yes. But the book referred to in the article is quoted as telling parents to use implements for hitting children on the arms, leg or back including a "quarter inch flexible plumbing line that can be rolled up and put in your back pocket". And parents are reading this disgusting book - and then interpreting the 'instructions' their own way.

In my mind, this is another story to illustrate why corporal punishment needs to be banned outright. The vast majority of parents would not be cruel enough to follow the practices referred to in that article - but if you know that some are - then I think we owe it to their children to make the legal position black and white.


reported by the Sydney Morning Herald here.
*"the use of physical force towards a child for the purpose of control and/or correction, and as a disciplinary penalty inflicted on the body with the intention of causing some degree of pain or discomfort" from NCPC
*** Want to read more about the law in Australia? See here: National Child Protection Clearing House (NCPC) Resource Sheet
image Samur Nualpradid

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