Attention turns to mother in beating; Police investigating action while teen was being hurt Attention turns to mother in beating; Police investigating action while teen was being hurt
By Mike Conway, Bee Staff Writer

The Modesto Bee, October 12, 2004,


TURLOCK Police are looking into what a mother was doing while her 13-year-old son was allegedly being beaten with a belt by his father.

The teenager received more than 100 lashes Thursday morning during a beating that was recorded by 911 operators. Marcus Shoals, 45, was arrested and charged with felony corporal punishment. He is out on $50,000 bail.

"The mom is being looked at, although no action has been taken at this time," Sgt. Matt Speckman said.

Police records don't show any calls to the two-story luxury home in the 600 block of Wendy Way before Thursday.

At about 8:30 a.m. that day, someone in the home called 911 and left the phone off the hook.

Dispatchers listened to the sounds of a man hitting the boy more than 100 times with an object that turned out to be a belt, investigators said.

The case is being turned over to the Stanislaus County district attorney's office and Stanislaus County Child Protective Services.

Meanwhile, experts say the Turlock teenager's case wasn't an unusual one.

"Physical abuse is incredibly common," Modesto psychologist Elizabeth Swearingen said. "It does pretty much happen across the board and in all types of neighborhoods."

There were more than 1,000 calls reporting child abuse last year, sometimes involving multiple children, according to statistics from the county's Community Services Agency.

"Those calls come from all over our county," said Lyndalee Whipple, assistant director for child welfare services. "These calls can and do come to us from every neighborhood, from every walk of life, regardless of who the parents may be."

Physical abuse is the second leading form of abuse in the county, far less common than a general-neglect category that covers bad parenting skills from poor house maintenance to lack of food.

But Whipple said that while some forms of abuse may have fuzzy lines, the definition of physical abuse is clear.

"Any time you leave a mark or a bruise on the child you have potentially crossed over (to child abuse)," she said. And even without welts, burns or other marks, physical abuse is sometimes indicated through a medical diagnosis of shaken baby syndrome, in which someone shakes an infant so violently that the brain is bruised inside the skull.

Swearingen said that parents walk a fine line between discipline and abuse.

"Probably any parent has the capability of physically abusing their child," she said. "The ones with anger management problems are more likely to have it happen."

She advised parents to avoid spankings and other forms of corporal punishment because it's too easy to cross the line from punishment to abuse.

"Corporal punishment, if used without anger in a measured way, probably could be effective," she said. However, if the parent is angry, or the child doesn't respond to the punishment, it can incite the parent.

"Crossing the line from a couple spanks to child abuse isn't very hard," she said.

Speckman agreed that the problem shows itself across economic lines, in rich families and neighborhoods as well as poor ones.

"It's not just a socioeconomic issues," he said. "It can be stress and anger management issues. Some people kick the dog, some people kick their kids."

Bee staff writer Mike Conway can be reached at 381-0208 or mconway@modbee.com.


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