A letter from PTAVE to the legislature of Tennessee
opposing Senator Pete Springer's SB 2154,
a bill designed to make Tennessee safer for child abusers.

March 1996

Dear Legislator:

Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE) urges you to oppose SB 2154, introduced by Senator Pete Springer, that would effectively decriminalize most acts of child abuse, thereby exposing the children of Tennessee to increased levels of maltreatment.

U.S. Justice Brandeis (1856-1941) said: "Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill it teaches the whole people by example." If Justice Brandeis was correct, what example, might we ask, is being taught by SB 2154? Is it a lesson for good or for ill? Please consider the following:

1) Will SB 2154, by stipulating new complicated obstacles to prevent the reporting and prosecution of child abusers, tend to legitimate violent, injurious acts against children and thereby set an example for the general public, resulting in an escalation of such acts?

2) The purported fiscal impact of SB 2154 would be a reduction of local and state expenditures by reducing the number of child-abuse prosecutions. The authors admit such savings would be insignificant. However, since violent adult criminality is always associated with early violent socialization, how can a government endorsement of corporal punishment of children do other than exacerbate the crime rate?- something we all know to be enormously costly. Would not a more aggressive, pro-active attack against the scourge of child abuse produce significant cost savings as well as be the morally correct and decent thing to do?

3) Since SB 2154 would limit prosecution to only those child abusers who have inflicted a medically verifiable injury, is it the intention of the drafters to effectively expose children to potentially dangerous, outrageous, cruel or sadistic acts just so long as those acts fall short of causing physical injury and are characterized by the perpetrators as "reasonable corporal punishment"?

4) In requiring "independent medical verification," what happens if 1) the examining physician is unwilling to lose valuable time testifying in court and therefore minimizes or misdiagnoses the injuries? 2) if the physician is fearful of social or economic reprisals by testifying against a prominent member of the community and therefore minimizes or misdiagnoses the injuries ? 3) if the abuse leaves no physical injury that can be diagnosed, as often happens in cases of rape and incest and invariably in cases of psychological abuse? 4) if the injury has healed before the medical examination has been conducted?

5) Is SB 2154's message to children: "Tennessee law offers you no protection against violent treatment unless and until you are seriously physically injured and someone can produce a medical certificate to prove it" ?

We believe that your serious consideration of the foregoing questions must lead you to oppose SB 2154.

Jordan Riak, Executive Director
Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education(PTAVE)

SB 2154 was defeated. Senator Springer said he'll try again.
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