The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 16, 1999

Too many parents still hitting on wrong idea--
No U.S. law forbids corporal punishment of citizens under 18.

By Michael Pastore

Standing in line at the library yesterday, I watched a young parent whap a child's backside. When the child cried, she was ordered to stop, and when the crying didn't stop, the parent hit her again.

Usually, in these situations, I'd watch now and feel guilty later. But this time, I spoke out. Politely, I said: "Hitting doesn't work. There are better ways to teach children how to behave."

The child stopped crying and looked at me with wide-open eyes. The glaring mother shouted at me to mind my own (expletive!) business, then picked up her child and hurried off.

Fifty years ago, it was almost universally accepted that parents had the right to hit their children. My grandfather unshakably believed that hitting his son was necessary for the child's intellectual and moral growth. My father often wondered whether he should have hit me but never did. And I will never hit my child.

Today, the old gospel of using force to control children is rapidly losing disciples. Although the diehards and hit-hards remain unconvinced, how we perceive our children and their welfare has moved overwhelmingly toward a more humane and nonviolent perspective.

But if our consciousness is changing, our laws are lagging far behind. Right now, in America, there are no laws to prevent 26 percent of our population -- the 70 million persons under age 18 -- from being corporally punished (smacked, spanked or hit) by their parents.

In this respect, other nations are far more advanced. Twenty years ago, Sweden became the first to pass a law forbidding the corporal punishment of children. What happened next? Parents found gentler and wiser ways to work with their children. Austria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Latvia, Norway and the United Kingdom soon followed Sweden's example.

Ironically, our schools are better protected than our homes. Corporal punishment is banned in the schools of 27 states. That may reflect the work of a number of child-protection organizations devoted to the elimination of physical violence against children.

Two of the most active of these are the Philadelphia-based National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment and Alternatives, directed by Irwin Hyman, and Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education, directed by Jordan Riak.

Riak will certainly make national headlines on Jan. 26, when he plans to propose to the Oakland, Calif., City Council that the city become the nation's first "no-spanking zone." The proposal would not outlaw spanking but simply spark Oakland to fund a massive education campaign aimed at eliminating spanking in public places.

As you might expect, many parents are fighting to retain their freedom to hit, and their right to harm their child in whatever way they see fit. But their arguments are weakening in the face of testimony from physicians, psychiatrists and academic researchers.

Evidence indicates that hitting children is more than ethically wrong, that it hurts them for years afterward and in many complex ways. Physical punishment harms the child physically and emotionally. Hitting children increases their hostility and teaches violence. And because hitting creates a frustrated and unhappy child, hitting increases, not decreases, the child's antisocial behavior.

Murray Straus, in his book Beating the Devil out of Them, writes that if we cease corporal punishment, children will reap many benefits. They will be less likely to engage in alcohol abuse, adult violence or masochistic sex. They have a lower rate of depression, a greater probability of completing higher education, and a better chance of earning a higher income.

One day in this young nation, children will be seen not as possessions to be manipulated by their parents' whims but as one-of-a-kind individuals who deserve the utmost respect. Until then, those who care about children must work to make our laws protect each child's body and natural rights.

Michael Pastore is the author of a number of books about how to work nonviolently with children.

1998 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.

USA TODAY, January 12, 1999

Spanking could get timeout in California
By Karen Thomas

The nation's child and adolescent psychiatrists Tuesday endorsed a proposal that Oakland, Calif., become the USA's first No Spanking Zone.

The proposal, which will be considered Jan. 26 by Oakland's City Council, is being put forth by Jordan Riak, executive director of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education, and is designed to discourage spanking of children anywhere, not just in schools.

It would not have force of law even if approved, but Riak believes it "will have tremendous moral persuasion." He has designed No Spanking Zone posters that he wants displayed in schools, libraries, parks and other public buildings.

In a letter to city council member Nathan Miley, David Pruitt, president of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), wrote: "If your no-spanking resolution is adopted, not only will your city enjoy the benefits, but other cities may follow your example." Richard Goldwasser, president of AACAP's northern California chapter, also signed the letter.

Riak believes that passing the proposal would encourage bystanders to step in when they believe discipline measures begin to resemble abuse.

He compares the posters to today's "no smoking" signs. "If you light up a cigarette, you won't be arrested, but it reminds everyone that it's not acceptable behavior."

But Riak's symbolic proposal may not fare well. Oakland City Council president Ignacio De La Fuente told the San Francisco Chronicle that he would not support the resolution. "I'm not talking about abuse, but a slap on the butt is nothing that kills anyone," he said. The city council office did not return calls Tuesday.

Riak says he won't be surprised if the proposal fails: "We'll have to come back and do it again. However, if you ask, 'What do you think in 20 years will be America's attitude about spanking?' I'd be surprised if it was tolerated."

BBC News, January 12, 1999

Californians want 'no-spanking' zones

Campaigners want to put signs in public places

Campaigners against corporal punishment for children in California want to put up 'No-spanking zone' signs in public places.

Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education, which wants to end the use of physical punishment in schools and in the home, is proposing that Oakland City Council should put up the large red signs in places such as public parks and libraries. These signs, in the style of no-smoking signs, would be intended to make parents who use corporal punishment think again. "At the moment, people are whipping and beating and hurting their children with nobody telling them what they are doing is wrong and dangerous," said campaign organiser Jordan Riak.

"Today one cannot hit a dog in public without provoking the ire of bystanders, or even risking arrest. But when someone hits a child, in most places it passes unnoticed."

The signs, which would not have any legally enforceable status, are part of an ongoing dispute in the United States between those for and against corporal punishment, with 27 states, including California, having banned its use in schools.

Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education highlights cases of what can happen when physical punishment is allowed in the classroom, including claims last month that a teacher in Georgia had been suspended for washing out a pupil's mouth with soap and that another teacher had badly bruised a pupil in the course of punishment.

According to the National Coalition to Abolish Corporal Punishment in Schools, over 100,000 incidents of corporal punishment were recorded in Texas in a single year, although as a proportion of the student population more pupils in Arkansas were physically punished.

In a number of European countries, including Sweden, Norway and Denmark, the use of any corporal punishment for children has been outlawed, both in the home and in school.

In the UK, legislation passed last year banned it in all schools, and following a European Court ruling, the government plans to clarify the existing law on smacking which allows parents to use "reasonable chastisement" against their children.

Last September, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the British law on corporal punishment in the home failed to protect children's rights, after considering the case of a boy who, between the ages of five and eight, had been beaten by his stepfather with a three-foot garden cane.

San Francisco Chronicle, January 11, 1999

Oakland Will Be Asked to Declare `No Spanking Zone'--Activist calls for symbolic ban
By Thaai Walker, Chronicle Staff Writer

Jordan Riak wants to turn Oakland into the Bay Area's first ``No Spanking Zone.''

For the past 25 years, the retired Alamo man has crusaded against the act of spanking children. He participated in the 1980s push to end corporal punishment in California's schools. And he's formed his own nonprofit organization dedicated to the issue.

Whenever he sees a parent whack a child in public, he inserts himself into the situation, gives a street-corner sermon and then hands the parent a copy of his booklet: ``Plain Talk about Spanking.''

Now Riak hopes to motivate cities around the Bay Area to come out with a policy against spanking -- a disciplinary act that some view as child abuse no matter how mild the swat, and others consider a legitimate way to keep youngsters in line.

He wants to start in a big city in order to get the most attention. Oakland is 30 minutes from Riak's home in Contra Costa County. It's also a city that is often among the first in the region to take a position on controversial issues -- think medicinal marijuana and ebonics.

On January 26, Riak will bring his ``No Spanking Zone'' idea to the City Council's public safety committee. He isn't asking city officials to pass a law against spanking. Rather, he wants them to commit to a symbolic gesture.

``Physical punishment teaches violence,'' the 64-year-old Riak said. ``It undermines self-esteem, drives out trust and replaces it with fear, resentment and hostility.''

Riak has a ready-made resolution drafted for council members to sign. It denounces spanking and declares Oakland an official ``No Spanking Zone.'' He has also designed a ``No Spanking Zone'' poster that he would like placed in city buildings, parks, libraries and police departments. He envisions a day when ``no spanking'' signs will be as prolific as ``no smoking'' signs.

Whether it be by hand, paddle, belt or switch, spanking is a sensitive issue that touches people at a fundamental level.

Stirring up childhood memories and often igniting fiery debate, it is an issue that calls into question the rights and wrongs of child rearing. For some, there is a clear and definable line between spanking and child beating. For others that line is blurry.

Riak's proposal is sure to inspire Oakland council members and the public to share their own war stories: whether they were or weren't spanked as children and whether they think they are better people because of it.

But a question that is already being asked is whether city government has any business setting policy on what many see as a private family issue.

``Is this really within the purview of the council -- don't they have more important issues to deal with?'' asked Oakland resident, lawyer and City Hall watcher Clinton Killian. Besides, Killian says, ``My mom whupped me and I turned out OK.''

Councilman Nate Miley, who chairs the public safety committee, said he thinks it is a legitimate issue for the council to take up and is leaning toward supporting the proposal. Still, he admits to being torn by it.

``Spanking is the ultimate discipline and there are a number of things you can do short of that,'' said Miley, who says he can count on one hand the number of times he has spanked his two children. ``But unequivocally, a parent has to have control of children and a child has got to respect the parent.''

But councilman and vice-mayor Henry Chang isn't sure he will support the campaign.

``Where do you draw the line -- how do you define spanking? If it's spanking like I got spanked, it's no big deal,'' Chang said. ``I think the line is already drawn by existing law that prevents child abuse. I don't see why we need to go further.''

And City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente said he expects to oppose the proposal.

``I feel discipline sometimes needs corporal punishment,'' said De La Fuente, adding that he was spanked by practically everyone while growing up -- parents, grandparents and teachers -- and thanks them for it today.

``I'm not talking about abuse, but a slap on the butt is nothing that kills anyone. I don't think I would support (the resolution), even if it is just symbolic.''

But on the national scene, Riak's idea is gaining support.

Irwin Hyman, who runs the National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment and Alternatives at Temple University in Philadelphia, said although a city resolution opposing spanking won't have the force of law behind it, it would serve as a form of moral persuasion.

``The more we bring this to the public's attention and raise its consciousness about it, the better things will be eventually,'' said Hyman, a psychologist who has testified against spanking before Congress.

Riak doesn't have a degree in psychology, sociology or other behavioral sciences. Before retiring in the mid-1980s, he was a photography instructor.

His advocacy isn't based on any terrible personal experiences -- he wasn't spanked by his parents nor did he spank his three sons while they were growing up.

His crusade against corporal punishment began in the 1970s while living in Australia. He was motivated by the ``horrible Dickensian tales'' his school-age sons would tell about other students who were caned by teachers for misbehaving. He was further incited to action by reading reams of research on the issue written by psychologists.


1. Spanking teaches children two lessons: that hitting people is okay and that violence works.

2. Spanking destroys self-esteem, damages children's ability to learn and sets the stage for future emotional problems.

3. Children learn good behavior by imitating good behavior and respect by being respected. --Jordan Riak

1999 San Francisco Chronicle
Page A13

Reuters, January 11, 1999

Ready For A "No Spank Zone"?

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) - Californians are proud to be smoke-free, fat-free and stress-free. But are they ready to be spank-free?

Child welfare activist Jordan Riak said on Monday he was proposing that the city of Oakland establish itself as the country's first official "No Spanking Zone" to discourage parents from hitting their children.

"At the moment, people are whipping and beating and hurting their children with nobody telling them what they are doing is wrong and dangerous," Riak told Reuters. "We want to break down that wall of silence."

Riak's proposal will be put before the Oakland City Council's public safety committee on Jan. 26. He has a "No Spanking" proclamation already drawn up and ready to go, along with "No Spanking" posters that he would like to see displayed in Oakland's libraries, parks, schools and police stations.

While Riak's proposal would not carry the force of law, he hopes that it will encourage concerned adults to step in when they feel that child abuse is being committed in the name of discipline.

"We feel that children should get exactly the same protection against assault and battery that every adult enjoys," the 64-year-old former teacher said, adding that current California law allows parents far too much latitude in how they treat their children.

Riak, who runs a one-man non-profit organization Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education and an anti-spanking website (, said that successful passage of his proposal in Oakland could open the way for a broader debate over the merits of spanking.

But several leaders in Oakland said they were not sure that a "No Spanking Zone" was the best way to go.

"I feel discipline sometimes needs corporal punishment," City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente told the San Francisco Chronicle, adding that he himself was spanked frequently as a child.

"I'm not talking about abuse, but a slap on the butt is nothing that kills anyone. I don't think I would support (the resolution), even if it is just symbolic."

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