January 19, 1998

Tom Johnson reports outcome and comments on Litchfield, Conn. case, "Family friend charged with bare-bottom spanking of girl." See: n-a68.htm

Today I learned the judicial outcome of this case from the Litchfield Superior Court records (via phone inquiry). The defendant, Ronald Ellis, pled guilty to the charge of risking injury to a minor. For this he received a sentence of five years probation. He never faced the sexual assault charge in court, however, as prosecutors dropped it from the case against him. We should wonder whether to what degree this exclusion, even if it was part of a plea bargain, might be attributed to prosecutors' reluctance to acknowledge the potential for sexual exploitation through spanking, considering how that would threaten to impeach such a cherished, time-honored practice. Even without the acknowledgement of sexual violation, though, this judgment has great promise. "Risk of injury" is a fairly strong indictment of this spanking--one which nullifies the usual discipline defense (unlike with the more socially constructed "assault"). The article didn't reveal the extent of the spanking's severity in terms of how many slaps were applied or how hard, but whatever it was, this ruling sets a precedent by which any spanking of comparable severity--even from a parent or a teacher--can be denounced as beyond legal limits, despite the absence of actualized injury. Unless someone's prepared to argue that Ellis would have the parental right to spank his own daughter in the same manner, subjecting her to the same "risk of injury," this case could actually increase the liability of spankers across the board. Sorry I took so long in getting this information, especially to those who inquired about it. Tracking it down was a little more complicated than I anticipated. --Tom

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