[On PTAVE stationery]
May 1, 1997
Sonoma State University
1801 East Cotati Avenue
Rhonert Park, CA 94928-3609
Dear Ms. Nissen,
Thank you for your response of April 21, 1997. I was unaware that your project is no longer in operation.
In my very brief letter of April 16, I asked one question: "Can you tell me if, as an integral part of Project CHILD, any effort has been, or is being, made specifically to persuade parents and other caretakers to cease hitting infants, children and youth?"
You acknowledged my question, then responded with a cryptic non sequitur. You quoted the ambiguous, unenforceable, self-contradictory definition of child abuse in the California Institutions Code - a bit of verbiage that purports to define child abuse, but in fact shields abusers and promotes the beating of children. It was written by politicians whose enthusiasm for the welfare of children is quickly chilled by the prospect of losing a single vote."Child abuse is a physical injury which is inflicted by other than accidental means on a child by another person. It also includes emotional abuse and sexual abuse . It does not include spanking that is reasonable and age appropriate and does not expose the child to risk of serious injury."I am enclosing for your information a copy of my letter of March 29, 1994 to Ed Henderson, Superintendent, Napa County Office of Education in which I criticized his irresponsibility in advertising this very same definition in a bulk mailing to parents of schoolchildren throughout Napa County. The ostensible reason for the mailing was to inform the public of an $80,000 grant to be applied to child abuse prevention. However, the inclusion of the above-quoted definition must have worked heavily toward the opposite effect, i.e., to encourage child abuse. Since his office served as the conduit for the $80,000 to your group, you may already have seen my letter to him.
I suspect that Mr. Henderson's motive in disseminating the definition was to allay the apprehensions of child abusers in the community who might have feared that the grant would be used in some way to create an unfavorable climate for battering children or even infringe their legal right to do so. Viewed in retrospect, they had nothing to worry about. The fact that Mr. Henderson was running for public office at that time, may have influenced his conduct.
In your letter, you acknowledge that people in your organization, among others, contended the definition needs improvement. Then, in the very next sentence (another non sequitur), you assert that "...we served as advocates for children and for the prevention of all forms of child abuse."
I will not complicate matters here by asking whose definition of child abuse applied to the behaviors you were trying to prevent, and what, if anything, your group did to improve the definition you say needs improvement. From my perspective, the definition can't be improved any more than one could have improved Jim Crow laws when they were on the books. It is a disgrace and should have been scrapped long ago. It would have been scrapped long ago if those operating under the banner of child abuse prevention were not so habituated to soft options.
You close your letter saying that it is important for organizations like PTAVE to advocate for changes in the state and local codes and you wish us best of luck in our efforts.
Thank you for your warm encouragement. I must point out, however, that entities like yours are the ones that receive $80,000 grants and then promptly close shop when the money has been spent. Which brings me back to my original, as-yet-unanswered question: Can you tell me if, as an integral part of Project CHILD, any effort was made specifically to persuade parents and other caretakers to cease hitting infants, children and youth?
cc: Superintendent Ed Henderson
[On Project CHILD stationery]
April 21, 1997
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE)
P.O. Box 1033
Alamo, CA 94507-7033
Dear Mr. Riak,
The Department of Social Services, Office of Child Abuse Prevention (OCAP) funded Project CHILD in the communities of Napa and Southwest Santa Rosa from 1993-1996. The project is no longer in operation and since January 1997, it has been up to the agencies who provide direct services to carry on the activities originally funded through Project CHILD. A list of these activities was included in the packet I sent you on April 14.
In response to your letter of April 16, I understand that Penal Code Section 11165.6 and Welfare and Institutions Code Section 300 state:"Child abuse is a physical injury which is inflicted by other than accidental means on a child by another person. It also includes emotional abuse and sexual abuse. It does not include spanking that is reasonable and age appropriate and does not expose the child to risk of serious injury."
We at CHILD share the concerns of many parents, teachers, nurses, and social workers who contend that this definition of child abuse needs improvement. Since its inception and during the funded life of Project CHILD, we served as advocates for children and for the prevention of all forms of child abuse.
We believe that Project CHILD's efforts to change potentially abusive behavior though such activities as parent education and bilingual in-home services has had a positive impact. It is equally important for organizations such as PTAVE to advocate for changes in state and local codes so that we can all work together towards an abuse-free society.
Best of luck in your efforts!
[On PTAVE stationery]
March 29, 1994
Ed Henderson, Superintendent
Napa County Office of Education
1015 Kaiser Rd.
Napa CA 94556-6205
Dear Mr. Henderson,
Your letter, circulated in February 1994 to parents of schoolchildren throughout Napa County, announced your office's receipt of an $80,000 grant to reduce child abuse and neglect and invited public input. The letter contained a definition of child abuse taken from the California Criminal Code which condones, with vague qualifications, the battering of children and refers to it by the popular euphemism "spanking."
While we acknowledge the accuracy of the quote, we question the wisdom of circulating it in such a manner. There is a very real risk that some readers will perceive the letter as an endorsement of physical punishment of children -- a position which is utterly incompatible with child abuse prevention. The effect could be that more, not fewer, children will suffer mistreatment.
We'll devote the balance of this letter to a critical look at the definition of child abuse so that you will understand why we see it as a cynical and pandering bit of verbiage, a smoke screen intended to exonerate child batterers while pretending to promote children's best interests.
Child abuse is a physical injury which is inflicted by other than accidental means on a child by another person. It also includes emotional abuse and sexual abuse. It does not include spanking that is reasonable and age appropriate and does not expose the child to risk of serious injury.
Let's examine its parts.
Child abuse is a physical injury which is inflicted by other than accidental means...
Before the recognition of the "battered child syndrome" children who were bruised, bloodied, maimed or killed by their caretakers were presumed to have suffered accidents. Victims were routinely diagnosed as being "accident-prone." Even today one hears in courtrooms across the country: "I didn't mean to break my baby's leg. It was an accident. I was only spanking her." It is the most popular defense because it is the most successful.
It also includes emotional abuse and sexual abuse
How is it possible to batter a child without inflicting emotional trauma? How is it possible to batter a child's buttocks without there being a sexual component?
It does not include spanking that is reasonable...
What is reasonable battery?
..and age appropriate...
What is the appropriate age to batter or be battered? Is it age appropriate for a 40 year old mother to hit her 8-year-old son for wetting the bed? Is it age appropriate for a 40-year-old son to hit his 80-year-old mother for wetting the bed?
...and does not expose the child to risk of serious injury.
At what point does the exposure become risky or the injury become serious? Many abusive adults are eager to be reassured that, because they haven't drawn blood, broken bones or worse, their behavior toward children is appropriate. The above phrase reassures them.
Some will argue that the vagueness of the definition gives greater latitude to a judge or jury to decide a particular case on its merits. But first there must a victim. Then there must be a social service agency available and willing to intervene and a D.A. willing to investigate and prosecute. Finally, no matter what a court's decision about intent, age appropriateness or the seriousness of an injury, nothing can undo the damaged suffered by a battered child.
Because of their vulnerability and because the effect of trauma on them is permanent, children's protection against battery should be equal to or greater than that afforded adults. Certainly not less. Until we give them such protection, we cannot qualify as a civilized society. It is time we ceased using children's dependent status and tender years as excuses for condoning violence against them. It is time we rescinded the ready-made legal defense for child batterers. What is desperately needed is a new definition and a new law that forbids everybody from battering anybody. When that is accomplished, we will have taken the first serious step toward reducing child abuse which, in turn, will lead to a reduction in societal violence generally.