Summit Conference II: National Leaders in the Child and Nonviolence
Speech Delivered By Madeleine Y. Gómez, Ph.D.
April 7, 2006

A warm welcome to all and thank you for choosing to share your day with us at Summit Conference II: National Leaders in the Child and Non-Violence. Before we start with the individual and panel presentations from my esteemed colleagues who have flown in from around the country to be with us, I would like to present an update from when we last met, two years ago. There has been progress as well as challenges in all spheres, both of which I shall note.

The International Update:

There has been significant progress on the international front. In the year 2006, there are currently sixteen countries which have formal bans on the hitting of children. That is an addition of one country since the last conference. These countries are:

  1. Austria
  2. Bulgaria
  3. Croatia
  4. Cyprus
  5. Denmark
  6. Finland
  7. Germany
  8. Hungary
  9. Israel
  10. Iceland
  11. Italy
  12. Latvia
  13. Norway
  14. Romania
  15. Sweden
  16. Ukraine
Two dependent territories have similar bans. These are the Pitcairn Islands and Svalbard. (

In addition, in 2004, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recommended a ban on European corporal punishment of children. The recommendation according to the European Committee of Social Rights was such that for compliance with the European Social Charter and the Revised Social Charter, European states must ban all forms of degrading punishment of children, including corporal punishment. (Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth, 2004) Permit me to clarify: the proposed ban applies to corporal punishment by parents and other caretakers in the home in addition to the already-existing, and long-established, ban in European schools.

Even less “developed” countries seem to be embracing the need for non-violence towards children and though they may not have yet taken steps to outlaw, are making positive strides and beginning to promote and bring into public awareness. Jamaica, our neighbor to the south, has instituted “Peace Day.” On Peace Day, they ceremoniously if not juridically bury the strap, implement of corporal punishment ( Similarly, in Ghana, a dedicated group of child advocates has succeeded in the getting the issue on national television and vows not to stop until non-violence for children is outlawed and embraced by the people. (Personal Communication with Mr. Platini, Ghana, 2006).

Our neighbor to the North, Canada, has made tremendous strides as well regarding the rights of the child to non-violence and has limited the rights of parents to use corporal punishment. Parents are no longer permitted to use physical violence on children under the age of two or over the age of twelve. Such violence would now be considered assault and battery. Hitting children between the ages of two and twelve can no longer be done with an implement such as a belt, switch or stick. And, hitting of any child on the head or face is outlawed. Canada has also produced a notable document called the Joint Position paper which can be found at: . This document is in its third printing and has achieved 220 signatories. The document formulates a common and accepted understanding of how physical punishment negatively impacts upon a child’s development, summarizes the risks associated with corporal punishment, identifies factors that continue its use and supports non-violent discipline methods for children and their caretakers.

The National Update:

Since the last conference, two States have joined the growing list of banned school corporal punishment. ( With this addition of Pennsylvania and Delaware, the total number of States which no longer permit use of corporal punishment in the schools has reached 28. In a similar movement of support of non-violence, in 2005, the City of Chicago adopted a Positive Parenting Proclamation. This document supports and encourages non-violent discipline in an effort to reduce violence for all but especially within the family and as directed towards children. ( Brookline, Massachusetts and Broward County, Florida have also passed resolutions calling for nonviolence in child rearing. (http:/

Spank Out Day, which was started in 1998, has grown both on a worldwide level as well as within the United States. EPOCH – USA has declared each April 30th as Spank Out Day in order to bring attention to the need to end corporal punishment of children and promote positive, non-violent parenting. On Spank Out Day, parents are encouraged to avoid the use of physically violent responses to children and to seek positive methods of discipline which are now readily available through professionals, schools, the public library and the internet. From Taiwan to Cameroon to India to the United States, Spank Out Day has been marked with agency supported educational events for parents and children. In 2006, there was even a radio commercial noting Spank Out Day. (

Growth in the interest of non-violence towards children and positive parenting methods has been experienced by child advocacy and mental health groups. PTAVE (Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education) Executive Director, Jordan Riak, has reported the requests for free printed materials regarding spanking as well as the child safe zone/no spanking stickers has grown so much that it has been hard to keep up with the demand (Personal Communication, 2006). Similarly, PsycHealth, Ltd., a behavioral health care organization which as part of its mission distributes booklets and pamphlets promoting positive and non-violent discipline as well as the “Rights of the Child” posters, has noted a marked increase in the request for these free materials. While in past years, requests would come in several times per month, currently, requests come in a least several times per week. In addition, requests have come in from all parts of the world.

Even this Summit Conference on the Child and Non-Violence has demonstrated growth from the prior one in 2004. The first Summit Conference was marked by slow but steady enrollment. With the help of outreach phone calls during the last week prior to the conference, the Conference reached maximum participation. By comparison, Summit Conference II, 2006, was full almost one month prior to the conference date. The need for the information appears clear as does the interest in this area that affects us all.


However, the news in the area of non-violence, positive discipline and the child is not all good. On the international front, Portugal was once on the list of Nations which had banned corporal punishment. Due to the Portuguese Supreme Court ruling finding in the contrary, it can no longer be listed as such ( closeup.asp?infoID=7979) and Portugal can not be considered a country that has banned the use of corporal punishment against children in the home. Surely the court will reverse its position in the future - hopefully the near future - but for now, Portuguese children are unprotected against being battered in their homes. One would wonder if Portugal was aware of the ruling by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Likewise, a backlash in the State of Delaware has been launched by a State Representative ( dsn01.txt). His attempt is to return the decision making process to the individual districts regarding the option use of the corporal punishment issue in schools.

Legally, the reasonable assumption would appear to be that children should be viewed as people and as such be entitled to equal or greater protection under the U.S. Constitution from acts of violence and assault. However, children have not yet achieved the ranks of women and past slaves, with regards to their rights and equality and remain as chattel, like the women and slaves of the pre-emancipation era.

As a field, mental health has yet to adopt a unified stance regarding the use of violence on children. There are instances where “professionals” support such violence and utilize their credentials to do so. It is unfortunate that they do not see the ethical breeches involved in this as well as their own unresolved abuse/violence issues. It is clear that they have not kept up with the ever growing body of literature and brain research that shows the clear and negative impact of violence and trauma (and as such, by definition corporal punishment) upon the developing brain as well as psyche. Likewise, religious fundamentalists have perpetuated the notion that the child needs violence in order to enact the will of God. Again, the tragic implications of blaming and justifying violence within religious parameters can condone the most heinous of acts as it has throughout the history of mankind.

At the time of this writing, the APA has not formally responded to an open letter requesting the updating of the Child Corporal Punishment Policy. This letter was forwarded to them almost three years ago. A positive communication has indicated that the report is under review with the next date set for September/October of 2006 (Personal communication with Mary Campbell, 2006). Related and dating to 1979, a brief by Gertrude M. Bacon and Irwin A. Hyman entitled; “Brief of the American Psychological Task Force on the Rights of Children and Youth as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioners in the case of Ingraham v. Wright”, found the following:

"We respectfully submit this brief based on the following resolution passed by the Council of Representatives- the governing body of the American Psychological Association: "The American Psychological Association opposes the use of corporal punishment in schools, juvenile facilities, child care nurseries, and all institutions, public or private, where children are cared for or educated." (p. 169) Clearly, the family home can defined as a private institution where children are cared for or educated. As such, any future conclusion or recommendations by the current CP Task Force, other than to support a position opposing all forms of corporal punishment against children, regardless of the setting, would appear to be in direct opposition to the historical framework that has thus far been established by the APA, as well as principles of logic as applied to this framework. Furthermore, the article concludes with, "We feel that this practice is ineffective as well as cruel and unusual and is disadvantageous to all the parties concerned." The Task Force for the APA Ethics Committee would ostensibly appear to concur and was clear in their updated position (2006) regarding human rights issues that psychologists shall not support, direct, engage in or offer training in inhumane or degrading treatment and torture. However, this update was regarding prisoners and victims of war and did not specifically pertain to the human rights of the CHILD. Likewise, the January 2006 edition of the APA Monitor noted the resolution that calls for the reduction of violence in video games and interactive media. It seems that the APA has no difficulties noting the effects of violence upon the child from outside of the home. If the research indicates that (mere) "exposure to violence and active participation in video games increases aggressive thoughts, aggressive behavior and angry feelings among youth", what logical argument could be posited to indicate that the actual experiencing of violence within one's home would not follow the same if not more profound results? I continue to urge APA, and every human agency, to stand for the rights of all, including children to safety and non-violence. Standards must be applied in a non-discriminatory manner and include children as humans, with human rights. While it may be more difficult for us to look within, as psychologists, it is our ethical and scientific responsibility.
It is time we stop waiting for the research to fully address this issue. Unequivocal research in the fields studying humans is rare indeed. It is amazing that the realization that there could never be an ethical and randomly assigned experiment, a true experimental design, regarding the corporal punishment of children, has not become an accepted and logical reality. Per APA ethics, children are a special sub-population and must be given special protection under human subject review guidelines. A randomly assigned experiment where one group is assigned to violence as in corporal punishment and another assigned to non-violence would not even make it to the first level review due to the inherent risks that are well documented in the area of violence.

At this time the literature and research are sufficiently clear that we know that even the mere exposure to or witnessing of violence has negative effects on the person. Furthermore, it can logically be argued that the biological research is continuing to prove that violence negatively affects the brain, reduces connections/choices, and adversely impacts memory and learning. Trauma research specifically is, similarly, full of data documenting the detrimental and negative psychological effects of experiencing violence but no one has taken the step of putting one plus one together – that is; by definition, violence is trauma, and spanking is violence, therefore; spanking is trauma, even if it is administered under the guise of “love” or “discipline”. Sadly, children appear to be the sole group that we need to “prove” that they should be protected from violence. If such violent treatment were advocated for animals, prisoners or any minority group, outrage and protests would likely ensue. It would appear that traumas of childhood for most individuals promote defenses that do not allow them to remain in contact with the little child within themselves. Without these defenses, people would be able to see the pain inflicted upon children, remember their own pain as children and protect the children from these painful repetitions through history.

Importance for the Future:

In a personal communication with Lloyd deMause (2006), he stated, “Yes, we, of course, have to be politically active in progressive directions all the time. But, the central source of our activities must be to improve childrearing.” Mr. deMause was kind enough to share the following, a section of his speech on Ending Child Abuse, which was presented in England.

“In Sweden, studies show that the ban on corporal punishment in 1979, followed by its intensive public education campaigns, has made parental use of corporal punishment a rarity and the use of implements virtually unheard-of. [1] England can now take the step in parenting evolution that Sweden took in 1979. If the suggestions I have made are followed, the 25 years it took Sweden to virtually eliminate physical and sexual abuse of children should be reduced measurably for England. The time is ripe. It is now possible to end our massive denial of the disastrous effects of child abuse if we are to prevent its re-enactment in social violence, wars and terrorism. England's child protection system must now move from punishment to prevention. Our children need not continue to be turned into time bombs. We can for the first time in our long, violent history make our world safe to live in. All that is needed is the will — at long last — to raise our precious children without abuse."

Recommendations for the Mental Health Services:
  1. Acknowledge the reality and effect of corporal punishment and violence. Be prepared to deal with the facts that many still use it and many more have been raised with it as normal or witnessed it. Be prepared that it is not a comfortable area to deal with and will stir up many feelings – both on the part of the therapist and the client.
  2. Asking about violence history and exposure to corporal punishment or use of it, must become a standard part of the clinical interview. This data is essential in understanding, approaching and treatment of the individual.
  3. Be prepared for the arguments that support violence and corporal punishment – from culturally acceptable to religious to I was hit and I turned out fine, to toughening the child, to if I don’t do it someone else will. Familiarize yourself with these and approach them logically from the framework of non-violence, peace and human rights, as well as the current base of research.
  4. Euphemisms for corporal punishment, including spanking, whooping, smacking, etc. must be relabeled as the violent acts they are. Jokes about such violence should become as politically incorrect as jokes about someone’s ethnic background. Violence is not funny.
  5. Resolve your own abuse/violence issues so that you do not repeat or reenact these issues on those you love or those you work with in therapy. Individual psychotherapy may be essential in resolving these issues.
  6. As a field we must resolve and take a clear stance support the human rights of all, including children, against violence. Our code of ethics clearly does not support the mistreatment or violent treatment of any individual.
  7. Advocate for children’s treatments that are not based upon violent treatment, deprivation, abuse or neglect.
  8. Expand definitions of corporal violence to include, genital mutilation, forced retention of bodily waste, forced calisthenics, abusive boot camps, and other impinging punishments based upon humiliation and pain.
  9. Apply psychohistorical techniques to understand and debunk those who promote corporal punishment.
  10. Acknowledge the vast resources, including financial, medical, and cost of lives, that violence and corporal punishment is costing the society and the world.
  11. Lead and model by example. “Your actions are so loud that I can’t hear what you are saying.”
  12. Familiarize yourself with the biological data regarding the negative impacts of trauma and violence upon the individual, the brain, the family and the system. Utilize the power of the science to empower others to not choose violence as a means of interacting with or controlling children.
  13. While the United States remains one of two countries in the world that has not ratified the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, acknowledge the rights of the child, especially to non-violence and utilize human rights as framework for any work with people, including children.
  14. Incorporate theories, such as attachment, trauma, and psychodynamic object relations into understanding the effects of violence upon the human psyche.
  15. Never fail to remember, that if violence as “discipline” was a positively effective intervention, the patient who presented for therapy, would never have needed to be seen.
  16. Model by example. Do not “hit people over the head” and as such lose the message of non-violence through excessive vehemence. Change for many will take place in steps. Neither lose empathy for the victim, nor the abuser. The abuser, too, will have his/her own abuse history which will allow us to understand him/her. Through this understanding and logical, scientific approach, we can retain an empathic stance. Without empathy and modeling by example, we risk become the abusers or repeating the traumas that we are seeking to heal.
  17. Sometimes logic is the most formidable tool in the repertoire available to mental health professionals. It is very difficult for individuals to argue that what the world needs more of is violence. Similarly, one can point out, how long would a patient return to therapy if each time he/she presented, the therapist hit them?
  18. Learn from the animal activists and animal trainers who staunchly oppose the use of violence on animals. Read the “Horse Whisperer”.
  19. Remember there will be days when the message of non-violence and positive discipline will not be welcomed. Surround yourself with individuals who share the position of non-violence for all so that you can maintain and renew the energy necessary to confront this area regularly. Continue to value the work you are doing in promoting non-violent treatment and understanding. It may take several generations before the full effects of the positive work are fully known. It is within this framework that true healing from micro to macro levels can occur.


Never underestimate the importance and professional necessity of supporting non-violence and an orientation of understanding for all, especially children. Take care to remember that much of the work in this area is still that of planting seeds. Many of those seeds will take root though it may take several generations before the full effects of the positive work are fully known. Such encouraging results are beginning to come from Sweden, a country which outlawed corporal punishment several decades ago. Planting new seeds of change means: facing our pasts, our profession, our ethics and our world. It means bringing to light the rights of the child and the effects of violence on all of us. May the simple seeds sown in our daily work bring forth redwoods of peace and non-violence, so that we can go on to address the many other challenges in our world that have grown from violence and mistreatment of one another. May you feel watered and supported in this work. May you see the fruits of your labor (of love).


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