Crossed signals, Mixed messages
One court calls it child abuse, another calls it normal

The phrase "reasonable corporal punishment" is a contradiction in terms. This becomes most apparent than when courts attempt to reconcile real events with the legal constructs that purportedly define them. "Gentle rape," "truthful lying," and "ethical fraud" would be analogous. We learn from the two accounts below how one court ruled that a bruised child had been abused, not because the treatment was fundamentally abusive, but because it crossed over a mysterious threshold from being good treatment to becoming bad treatment. The other court decided that the bruising of a child was just a "normal" consequence of paddling. Presumably, it also sees paddling as normal. Where is the invisible line is that separates good corporal punishment from bad corporal punishment, normal bruising from abnormal bruising? There's no consensus. Ask any number of spankers to describe the correct method for hitting a child, and you'll get as many conflicting descriptions. Furthermore, what they say and what they do rarely agree. Twelve other advanced countries have resolved the matter by declaring through legislation or court rulings that hitting, to whatever degree, of anybody, by anybody, is illegal battery. In the United States, however, the courts merely reflect and perpetuate the state of confusion surrounding the issue. In so doing, they abdicate their proper role as a moral authority.
J. Riak

High court upholds judge's ruling that spanking was child abuse
By Chet Brokaw, Associated Press
Aberdeen News, South Dakota, 15 May 2003

PIERRE, S.D. - A circuit judge had sufficient evidence to find a 12-year-old boy was abused and neglected when his stepfather spanked him with a belt, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The high court's unanimous ruling upheld Circuit Judge Kathleen F. Trandahl's decision that the boy, identified in court records only by the initials T.A., was abused and neglected. Her rulings in the case allowed officials to place the boy in a facility for treatment.

The boy's mother and stepfather argued that the spanking was proper under a state law that allows parents to use reasonable and moderate force to restrain or correct their children,

However, the Supreme Court said Judge Trandahl had sufficient evidence to find that the force used by the child's stepfather was not reasonable in manner nor moderate in degree.

The high court also rejected the parents' arguments that South Dakota's child abuse law is unconstitutionally vague. The law is constitutional because it provides sufficient warning on what conduct is prohibited, the justices said.

"A reasonable person would be aware that forcing a child face down on a mattress, grabbing the child's arm tight enough to leave bruises and beating him hard enough with a belt to leave bruises constitutes abuse rather than reasonable corporal punishment," Justice Richard W. Sabers wrote for the court.

The Bennett County case started when the boy's family was moving from an old house to a new house on the same property in October 2001. The boy, who has behavior problems associated with Tourette's Syndrome and Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder, apparently refused to help with the move.

Late in the day, the boy's mother repeatedly asked him to retrieve a trash can from the old house. When he finally complied, he emptied the trash can onto the kitchen floor of the old house before tossing the trash can onto the floor of the new house, according to testimony.

The boy was confronted by his stepfather, who said the child cried, screamed and became out of control. The stepfather said he took the boy by the wrist, led him to a bedroom and spanked him eight to 10 times with a belt.

Officials of the state Department of Social Services and the Bennett County Sheriff's Office investigated several days later and discovered that the boy was bruised. Authorities filed a petition alleging the child was abused and neglected.

Judge Trandahl last year found the child was abused and neglected. The boy was placed in a residential facility where he attended school and received treatment.

South Dakota law allows parents to use force to restrain or correct a child if the action is required by the child's misconduct or refusal to obey commands. The law says such force must be reasonable in manner and moderate in degree.

The parents argued that the spanking of T.A. was reasonable punishment made necessary by the child's continuing bad behavior over the three months before the spanking.

The Supreme Court said testimony by witnesses indicated the boy was not out of control, so the judge had reason to find the spanking was not necessary. The stepfather's testimony and statements by others also showed the spanking was not reasonable nor moderate, the high court said.

In addition, the boy's mother testified that she knew the stepfather spanked the child with a belt. Her testimony supports the allegations that she failed to provide proper parental care by not intervening to stop the spanking, the high court said.

Court Paddling Case Not Child Abuse - Boy, 13, Was Paddled More Than 12 Times
WTAE-TV, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 18 April 2003
PITTSBURGH -- Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has ruled that a woman and her male partner do not belong on a state list of alleged and confirmed child abusers for paddling her 13-year-old son.

The court said Friday that the injuries do not justify keeping the two on the list following the paddling at their Blair County home three years ago. The boy suffered bruises and had trouble sitting for several days afterward.

The state Department of Public Welfare's Office of Hearing and Appeals had rejected their request to be removed from the list.

Neither adult was identified by name in the case.

According to court records, the boy was paddled more than 12 times on March 6, 2001. His parents said he'd become aggressive and verbally abusive and took a swing at his mother when questioned about items removed from a bedroom.

Court records stated the boy kicked his mother in the stomach at one point during the paddling. She was five months' pregnant at the time.

The man, who has a doctorate in psychology, called police and the boy was taken to a shelter. Ten days later, Blair County Children and Youth Services filed reports indicating possible child abuse. No criminal charges were filed.

The court said there was no evidence of malicious intent or negligence and that the boy's bruises were the "normal regrettable result" of a paddling.

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