Members of the Oakland City Council, thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak.
Much of the recent news coverage has painted a grossly distorted picture of my efforts to protect children from mistreatment. More than a few journalists simply could not resist the temptation to indulge their talent for clever word play at the expense of accuracy. So please permit me to set the record straight.
I founded Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education in Sydney Australia, in 1978. That was the same year that Sweden made news by becoming first nation to protect children from assault and battery, exactly as adults are protected. My first order of business was to launch a campaign to rid the schools of New South Wales (Australia's most populous state) of the cane--a wooden stick with which children could be beaten on their hands. That campaign succeeded. It took about 8 years.
Upon my return to the United States, my first order of business was to launch a campaign to rid the public schools of California of the paddle--a wooden board with which children could be beaten on their pelvic area. The bill, known as AB 1617, which I drafted, and which was introduced by then Assemblyman Sam Farr and vigorously promoted by my organization, became law on January 1, 1987. That took two years. The success of AB 1617 meant that the number of legal beatings of California schoolchildren dropped from about 7,000 incidents per year to 0. California became the 9th state to protect schoolchildren. Since 1987, 18 additional states have enacted similar laws bringing the total to 27. But we are still decades behind Europe where not one country permits teachers to hit schoolchildren.
A few days ago a reporter called me for an interview and left this message on my tape: "Mr. Riak, it seems you're the guy with too much spare time on his hands." Later, after we spoke, he apologized.
Some critics have claimed that government has no business invading the privacy of the home and telling people how to behave toward their children. Now let's think for a moment about some the things that people may not do to others in the privacy of their homes: spousal battery, marital rape, incest, polygamy. And that's just the short list. It is time child battering were added to it.
Justice Brandeis once said: "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill it teaches the whole people by example." So I urge you to set the right example here tonight. The protection of children deserves swift, unanimous, unstinting, enthusiastic support.