What are the legal limits of corporal punishment in Texas?
Correspondence between Tom Johnson and Texas Representative Harold Dutton
April 2003*

April 16, 2003

Rep. Dutton,

If you'll indulge me, I have a few questions about what is allowed under the current law in Texas, as well as some others about your own opinion of what the law should be.

First, the questions about current law:

  • Can a person age 18 or over legally be subjected to corporal punishment in Texas, either at school or at home?

  • Is it ever legal for a minor to administer corporal punishment?

  • In Texas, can any adult be granted legal authority by a minor's custodial parent(s) to spank said minor?

  • If a male adult has legal authority in your state to administer corporal punishment to a female minor, can he spank her on the bare buttocks without incurring liability under statutes pertaining to sexual violation?

  • Is it against Texas law to make, possess, or distribute videotape of minors being spanked?

  • What limits, if any, does Texas law place on the intensity of pain that corporal punsihment can inflict.
Next, to get your own opinion:
  • Do you believe there should be a minimum age below which it is illegal to spank or otherwise strike a child (or infant, as the case may be)?

  • Do you believe there should be a maximum age above which it is illegal to give bare-bottom spankings to a child (or teenager, as the case may be)?

  • What limits do you think there ought be on pain severity? What other methods of pain-infliction besides spanking should be permitted, if any, and by what criteria?

  • Should there be a law against physically punishing a child while under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
If you are unable to answer any of these questions, I hope at least you and your colleagues will give them serious thought before proceeding further with HB 374.

Tom Johnson

April 16, 2003

Why don't you provide me the answers to your test? I am sure you can pass it.

April 16, 2003

Yeah, but I'm not a lawmaker charged with safeguarding children's welfare. It's not nearly as important for me to be able to answer questions such as these (many of which, you'll notice, concern the extant law of your state--which I'd hope you could speak to better than most).

April 16, 2003

Since you seem to be from anther state and certainly not from my district, I don't attach much importance to you or your test.

April 16, 2003

OK, I just hope you attach some importance to whether kids can be legally tortured in your state. Or how safe they are from, say, folks like these:

Chicago Tribune, Washington Bureau, March 13, 2002
Porn fighters break ring of kid-spanking fetishists
By Naftali Bendavid

WASHINGTON -- Investigators are in the final stages of breaking up a ring of child-pornography enthusiasts in the United States and Canada who derived sexual pleasure from the severe spanking of children. Nine people already have pleaded guilty, including one in west suburban Chicago.

Members of the loose-knit group, which investigators have nicknamed "the Spanking Club," harshly beat children--often their own--with paddles, canes or other devices, and then exchanged videos of those spankings through the mail, officials said. The videos also featured close-ups of genitalia and other pornographic elements.

Those who investigate crimes against children say they cannot remember another such case, featuring an organized group focused on the pornography of spanking children. In all, authorities have removed 12 children ranging in age from 4 to 14 from their parents or guardians.

`Brutalizing' the young

"What we're talking about, it was not just a little paddling with the hand on a kid's backside," said Raymond Smith, a senior U.S. postal inspector who worked on the case. "They're using paddles, whips, canes and severely brutalizing these very young children, sometimes as young as 4 years old."

Some of the defendants have yet to be sentenced, and other arrests may be made. But whatever the final numbers, the case illustrates a phenomenon becoming increasingly known among law enforcement: that the Internet has made it much easier for child pornographers to find each other and create and exchange material in violation of the law.

Five years ago, the FBI created an initiative called Innocent Images, sending agents undercover to stop on-line child pornographers by, for example, entering chat rooms in the persona of girls. These agents opened 113 cases in 1996. That jumped to 1,541 last year.

In the spanking case, the pornographers sent videos through the mail because it is difficult to transmit a 90-minute video online. But they often communicated with each other on the Internet, authorities said.

Veteran investigators said that even by the disturbing standards of child pornography, the activities of the Spanking Club were chilling. The films did not involve ordinary spanking, but rather beatings, and they included a clearly sexual element.

"Any time children are brutally beaten, it's the most outrageous type of conduct that we have to deal with," said Michael Heimbach, chief of the FBI's Crimes Against Children Unit. "It wrenches your heart. All the children's issues do, but when you see children being beaten on videos and their genitalia are being filmed, it's very, very disturbing."

Canada provided 1st break

Investigators' first break occurred in May 2000, when Canadian authorities intercepted a video mailed to an assistant school principal, David Wadsworth, and arrested him. He was carrying a phone bill that led investigators to David Patterson, a computer programmer in Dalton, Ga., who appeared to have been at the center of the ring.

A tape from Wadsworth's house showed Patterson "administering repeated spankings to four naked children, who cried out in pain during the prolonged beatings," said a prosecutor. Two of the children were Patterson's children, another was the child of a former wife, and the fourth was a family acquaintance, investigators said.

Patterson pleaded guilty and was sentenced last November to 10 years in prison. His ex-wife, Shirley Blaney, received 2 years.

More important from the investigators' perspective, Patterson agreed to cooperate, leading agents and inspectors to others involved in the group. Some of them beat children and made videos, while others simply trafficked in them.

There was Jim Nain, a railroad employee in Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., in whose house agents found hairbrushes, a rattan cane and other items.

Teacher, nurse caught

There was Gordon Murray, an elementary school teacher in Brewton, Ala., who met Patterson through an ad in Domestic Discipline Digest.

There was Richard Roll, a male nurse and former scoutmaster from Jamestown, N.Y., who called his pornographic films "Rick Roll Videos."

And there was George Kelly of Lombard, Ill., who pleaded guilty last month to possession and distribution of child pornography. Kelly, 63, had been a volunteer Sunday school teacher at Christ the King Catholic Church in Lombard.

Kelly was creating spanking videos, investigators said, but they involved mannequins rather than children. During the search of his house, Kelly admitted to agents that he had manufactured and distributed simulated child pornography in exchange for "the real thing."

Kelly's sentencing is scheduled for April 19, and he faces a potential term of 70 to 87 months in prison.

Officials say they had to take down the organization quickly, rather than drawing out the investigation, because children were being abused. They do not believe there will be many other such cases, they said, because the group revolved around a relatively rare fetish.

Still, such people have a drive to get in touch with one another, and the Internet provides an easy way to do so, according to Smith, who heads the child exploitation unit at the Postal Inspection Service.

"They have a real innate need to communicate with others because deep down inside, they know what they're doing is wrong," Smith said. "But by communicating with each other and sharing experiences, it's a psychological support thing. It's a validation system. It makes them say, `See, I'm not so weird. There's a lot of other people out there that like the same thing as I do.'"

April 17, 2003

Your arguments are becoming more and more idiotic.

April 17, 2003

Try telling that to these folks:

The Plain Dealer (Cleveland), August 19, 1997
Dad could get jail for 'whupping'--Pleads guilty in bare-bottom spanking case
By Stephen Hudak, Plain Dealer Reporter

ELYRIA--Use the rod and you could go to jail.

Raymond Boyle could get two years in prison after pleading guilty yesterday to child endangering for spanking his teenage daughters with their pants down.

Gary A. Crow, executive director of Lorain County Children Services, said the case shows how blurry the line can be between discipline and abuse.

Ohio law permits use of reasonable corporal punishment, but prosecutors said Boyle's methods were a mental risk to his daughters, 15 and 13.

"It's not that he administered corporal punishment, but how," said Lorain County Prosecutor Gregory A. White. "He was way over the line."

Amherst police Detective Alex Molnar said Boyle, 39, required his daughters to strip naked from the waist down before spanking them last year.

Officials said one girl was spanked three times, with the first in January 1995 and the last in April 1996; and the other was spanked in April 1996.

Molnar said they confided the humiliation to a school counselor after the April incident.

Molnar said the girls were punished by their father repeatedly for minor things, including misbehaving on the school bus or disobeying his rules.

Boyle pleaded guilty yesterday rather than go to trial.

Prosecutors had planned to call a psychologist to testify that spanking the girls while they were nude posed a substantial risk to their mental health.

White said he doubted that Boyle would have been charged in Lorain County Common Pleas Court had he spanked the girls with their clothes on.

Although neither Boyle nor his lawyer, Michael Boylan, returned calls yesterday, court documents say Boyle did not touch either girl.

In an interview with Molnar, Boyle said he "whupped" his daughters with a belt, requiring that they strip because it added humiliation to the punishment.

He conceded this was wrong, the documents say.

Children Services said Boyle no longer has contact with the girls.Crow, the director of the agency, said parents often try to disguise child abuse as discipline.

"Ninety-five percent of the time we see child abuse, it's explained as an accident or [parents say,] 'The child was out of control. I was disciplining my child, and that's within my right,' Crow said.

While many parents and pediatricians consider corporal punishment an acceptable tool of discipline, new research calls it heavy-handed and ineffective.

The American Medical Association last week published research that suggests spanking has harmful long-term effects, including increasing aggression.

It concluded "spare the rod, spoil the child" was a myth.

Patti-Jo Burtnett, spokeswoman for Lorain County Children Services, said the agency suggests parents try nonphysical alternatives, like timeout.

"If you're unsure of where the line is, if what you do leaves a mark, hurts or humiliates, then you probably shouldn't do it," she said.

Boyle, who was free yesterday on a personal bond, will be sentenced by Common Pleas Judge Thomas Janas in about six weeks, after he is interviewed by the County Probation Department.

* This correspondence was prompted by Rep. Dutton's H.B. 374 which was defeated. His H.B. 383, along the same lines, passed both houses of the Texas state legislature and (as of May 26, 2005) awaits Governor Perry's signature or veto.


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