Corporal Punishment: When Love Hurts

“I brought you into this world and before the police get a hold of you, I will take you out.”

-A mother, speaking to her 13-year-old son

“I had a single parent, and hey, she had to discipline us. Yeah, I got hit by an ironing cord, but it made me a better person. It saved my life… she explained why she had to hit us, why she had to discipline us, why we had to be home at a certain time,” Villa said. “It just is not easy for black women in America.”

-Mr. Villa, an 83 year old elder

Dear Dr. Kane:

Raising kids is a challenge these days. Many parents feel they are “damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.”  On one hand, if those children had been caught breaking into that house by the police, the media and the members of the greater society would have questioned where the parents were at the time and blamed them for not disciplining their kids. On the other hand, attempts to discipline children vary in techniques and efficacy. Some, like corporal punishment, are viewed as effective, but abusive and detrimental to a child’s development.

We have a serious crime problem.  I can see that this woman is trying her best to keep her kids on the straight and narrow so they can grow up to be productive men.  I hope they drop the charges against her and she gets her kids back.  Maybe they can also help her get them counseling. What do you think?”

-Single Parent Mother, Seattle, WA

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My Dear Readers,

There are many questions being asked whether we should physically discipline our children.  All 50 states have laws that allow corporal punishment, but its legality does not mean that it should be utilized.

Last week a woman we will call Ms. Spears, mother of three sons ages 13, 12 and 10, was arrested on charges for felony child abuse.  It happened when the mother witnessed her sons breaking into a neighbor’s home.

In disciplining her sons, she admitted to hitting them.  It is alleged by her eldest son that she used a RCA extension cord.  The eldest son is reported to have lacerations on his arms and marks on his leg, shoulder, back and stomach.  The other two boys reportedly had cuts and scratches on their arms and hands.

Ms. Spears was arrested on two counts of cruelty to juveniles.  She has no prior convictions and was released on a $1,000 bail that was posted by individuals who had read about the incident.  A lawyer has volunteered to take her case without pay.  The children have since been removed from the mother’s custody and placed in state foster care.

Ms. Spears feels that she has been victimized. She states:

“It’s been hell.  I never imagined that trying to be a good mother would end me up in jail with a criminal record like I’m a predator out to get my kids who I live for.  Everything I do is for my kids.”

To add more fuel to the firestorm, Ms. Nicholson, the neighbor whose home was the target of the break in, says that Ms. Spears should be commended and not punished for her actions:

“If it was me, I’m gonna beat you before I let the cops kill you.  I’m gonna do what I have to do.  I’m not going to let my children steal and kill and do all of that.  I’m not gonna let them fall to the streets.”

Several questions arise:

  • Is there a difference from a spanking, whipping and a beating?
  • Will such discipline prevent or reduce black male criminal behavior?
  • Can psychological trauma result from corporal punishment? If so why do black parent contribute to the trauma?
  • Should the mother face legal sanctions including removal of the children from her care?

What is the difference between a spanking and a beating?

 Spanking is defined as a type of corporal punishment involving the act of striking the buttocks of another person to cause physical pain.  It is usually done with an open hand.  More severe forms of spanking include the use of an implement such as a paddle or a belt, instead of a hand.

Beating is defined as a punishment or assault in which the victim is hit repeatedly and violently so as to hurt them usually with an implement such as a club or whip.  The objective of a beating may be to overcome a problem or take action to avoid difficult effects of an event or circumstance.

Will corporal punishment prevent or reduce black male criminal behavior?

It doesn’t appear so. Studies show that black parents are more likely to use corporal punishment than any other ethnic or racial group.  However, statistics on the incarceration of black males show that although African-Americans make up 12-13% of the national population, black males constitute 35% of jail inmates and 37% of prison inmates of the 2.2 million inmates in 2014.  Statistics by age group:

  • A black male born in 1991 has a 29% chance of spending time in prison at some point in his life.
  • One out of nine African American men will be in prison between the ages of 20 and 34.
  • Black males ages 30-34 have the highest crime rate of any race/ethnicity, gender and age combination.
  • In 2014, 6% of all black males ages 30 to 39 were in prison.
  • The lifetime chances of going to prison are 32.2% for Black males.
  • 1 in 3 black males will go to prison in their lifetime.

Can psychological trauma result from corporal punishment?  If so why do black parent contribute to the trauma?

Psychological trauma, in the form of complex trauma, has already impacted generations of African-American males.  Historically, the bodies of black males have been subjected to terror associated with racial control through centuries of slavery, lynching, sexual violence, surveillance, segregation, mass incarceration and police practices.

In cultural practice, Black parents in their actions are responding to a system that targets black males.  This is done through harsh physical punishment being meted out in a manner to protect their male children from the consequences of interactions with the police or incarceration by impressing upon them severe consequences for disobeying them—impressing upon them the critical importance of their message.  However, underlying all of this is the parental fear based on their experiences of suffering and random violence at the hands of white people.

 Concluding Remarks

“I’m from the South.  Whipping-we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”

-Charles Barkley, sports commenter/former NBA basketball player

Charles Barkley is correct. Corporal punishment is a reality in the African-American community.  In fact, many would state that spanking children has long been a badge of superiority and morality in black communities.  It has been viewed as a centerpiece of black identity, quality parenting and responsible citizenship.

There is no empirical evidence that corporal punishment prevents or reduces criminal behavior.  As a result, if we are to succeed in parenting, guiding and mentoring our children and adolescents we must want to find other means and methods in disciplining, and communicating our concerns that are effective in not only protecting those children from police contact, but protecting the wider society from their bad behavior.   While the intent of corporal punishment is to protect our children from the system, in doing so, we may be adding to their trauma as they are preparing themselves to live in a world that is hostile to both their race and in the case of African-American girls, their gender.

Should Ms. Spears face legal sanctions, including the removal of her children from her care?

Yes.  The mother should face legal sanctions.  She may have meant well in her attempts to guide her children, however her actions resulted in physical lacerations, bruises and cuts on the physical areas of minor children. There is a possibility that those children now suffer psychological trauma, not only as a result of the physical wounding, but also due to them being removed from their home.

Instead of holding to the role of being victimized by a harsh and careless police department and child welfare system, the mother must want to understand the role she played that led to her children’s physical and emotional condition and their removal from her care.  Saying “I beat them to save them from themselves” is not acceptable.

If the mother is not held accountable to her actions, the children may be placed at risk again.  Furthermore, this may send a message to others that places other children at risk.  The mother should not be incarcerated, but she should be provided with counseling, mentoring for her children and community supervision. This woman should not be criminalized for using the wrong method to protect her sons from a system that historically has targeted black males.

This mother must learn, as we all must learn, to live with fear and not in fear.  We must learn to hold our fear while teaching our children how to strive and thrive in a world that may be hostile to them.

Until the next crossroads… the journey continues.

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Love: Protection, or Control?

 

“For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet.  We all breathe the same air.  We all cherish our children’s future.  And we are all mortal.”

-John F. Kennedy

“Why are we training girls how not to get raped but not teaching boys not to rape?”

-Kappa Alpha Fraternity member

My Dear Readers,

Father’s Day should be a positive and happy memory for those of us who are honored to be called Dad (or Daddy, DaDa, Pops, Old Man, etc.) As a father, the day reminds me to work towards transforming this world in a better place—something that I think of as my responsibility to my children.

Now that Father’s Day 2016 has passed, I want to share with you a letter I received from a father who is tormented by the fact that his daughter was sexually exploited and victimized at the age of twelve. While it is important that we honor the father’s suffering as described in the letter, it is also essential for us to remain focused on the trauma, pain, and recovery of this young woman.

No female either child, adolescent or adult should have to endure such an experience. Sadly, however, such experiences are becoming more and more common.

In the United States, there are approximately 150 million women, epidemiological data indicates that of this, 68 million women will be victimized over the course of their lives.

  • 1 in 4 females in the United States will be a victim of either sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional neglect, being the offspring of a parent who has depression, or substance abuse.
  • 12% of women are likely to be raped at some point in their lives.
  • If the female is in the military, this rate could jump to 50%
  • Domestic violence occurs once every 15 seconds in the United States.
  • The epidemiological data indicates that 38% of women will be repeatedly victimized.

Beneath these horrendous statistics, however, lie the very real and very human stories of those who have survived these assaults, and those who are charged with helping their loved ones to heal.

Below is such a story…

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Dear Dr. Kane,

As I begin to prepare to celebrate Father’s Day with my two children, Todd (age 16,) and Brittany (age 13,) (NOTE: Names have been changed for their protection), I am painfully aware that my daughter was inappropriately touched in a sexual manner by a stranger while she waited for a bus that would take her to school.  I came across this information while browsing through one of her old journals.

My wife has already screamed at me for reading her journal, but kids today are so secretive– how else would I know what’s going on in her life?   When I confronted her about what happened, she became extremely upset.  She said that she told her friends, but didn’t want to tell me because she was afraid of how I would react, and that I wouldn’t allow her to ride the bus anymore.

I am livid.  I am her father, and I have the right to know these things. She may not consider what happened to her to be molestation, but I do—and it is my responsibility to protect her from harm.

So, I’m going to protect her.  She can no longer ride the public bus.  Her mother and I will simply drive her to whatever activities she wants to attend.  I will have her brother serve as an escort for social outings.  I will develop a check-in policy that will ensure that she is safe.

This upsets my family, but we are African-American; as the head of the house, I expect them to follow the structure that I am laying down.

My wife has suggested that I write and seek feedback from you.  I am doing so, but my mind is already made up.

-Not Budging, Seattle WA

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My Dear Sir,

First, please accept my sincere regrets as to what happened to your daughter.  Second, although you say that your mind is made up, I will assume that since you have taken the crucial step of writing to me, you are open to dialogue and you are willing to listen.

To put it bluntly, the very next actions you take may decide the psychological impact this incident has on your daughter for the rest of her life and whether your family will be able to remain together.

You have justified your intrusion into your daughter’s private writings, your limitation of her access to travel outside your purview and the restructuring of the family’s comings and goings by claiming that you are “the protector” and the head of the household.  However, you are assuming this role simply   because of your own pain and anguish under the concept of male privilege.

Male privilege can be defined as a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to individual as a class due to their institutional power in relation to women as a class.   Here’s how I see you asserting your male privilege in this situation:

Reading your daughter’s journal

Your daughter may have utilized the journal as a way to work through the aftermath of the traumatic incident she experienced.  That journal was a source of healing and protection for her, and by reading it without her consent, you have violated her for a second time.  In essence, because of your actions, your daughter experienced the traumatic event once again.

Limiting your daughter’s travel

Your daughter will not see this as you protecting her.  Instead, she will see this as you punishing her for being victimized.  Essentially, you are telling her that if she hadn’t been where she was, this would not have happened.  This is a disservice to your daughter because it makes her responsible for what happened to her, when it is not her fault at all.  As a result, this reinforces any negative self-concept she may have.

Your daughter may start keeping secrets

Your daughter may feel that you are punishing her for not sharing information with you that was traumatic and extremely overwhelming for her.  Instead, she chose to share with close friends who provided comfort to her.  Once again, she is being re-victimized, this time by her father.

Sacrificing personal freedoms

There appears to be no input from the other family members, who now have to change their routines or plans to provide the “protection” that you now deem necessary for your daughter. Essentially, you are sacrificing their personal freedoms to “protect” the “victim.”

 Disclosing information

You seem to be concerned about the impact on the family’s image if your daughter’s experience is made public.  By prioritizing image over the psychological wellness of your daughter, you may be further de-stabilizing the family, particularly as your daughter realizes that all of these changes are because of her.

Recommendations

  • Acknowledge and accept responsibility for reading the journal. Extend the gift of an apology and seek forgiveness for your actions.

  • Encourage your daughter to engage in an assessment to determine whether further counseling is warranted.

  • Consider family counseling focused on understanding the rights of adolescents in decision making and activities that may impact their lives.

  • Consider marital counseling focused on transforming the structure from a traditional male-headed household to a shared partnership.

  • Consider individual psychotherapy for yourself focused on processing your own feelings of powerlessness associated with your daughter’s sexual assault.

Concluding Remarks

There are two victims here: a 12-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted on her way to school, and her father, who is trapped in his status of male privilege.

Every man experiences privilege differently due to his own individual place in the social hierarchy, but nonetheless, every man, simply by virtue of being male, benefits from male privilege. We make the mistake of viewing these adverse experiences as challenges to our own roles, and instead of providing comfort to those we love, we instead assert control so that it makes us feel better about where we stand in the situation.

As fathers, sons, brothers, and husbands, we must want to utilize our privilege to advocate for change.  We must not accept the status quo without demanding the change that others deserve in order to live without fear of abuse.

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

Rape Culture and The Two Sides of Privilege

“We need to change the culture and it’s on all of us to do that.  Today a Santa Clara County jury gave a verdict that I hope will clearly vibrate throughout colleges, high schools and everywhere.”

-Jeff Rosen, District Attorney (speaking about the rape convictions of Stanford University student Brock Turner)

“She broke down upon hearing the verdict, but she feels validated, that finally her voice has been heard; she was violated and she was happy to hear that the jury saw that too.  Turner now faces up to 10 years in prison.”

-Alaleh Kianerci, Prosecutor

“The case came to a close Thursday when the judge sentenced Turner to six months in county jail and then probation, and ordered him to register as a sex offender (lifetime) for three sexual assault counts; assault with intent to commit rape, sexual penetration, with a foreign object of an intoxicated person and sexual penetration with a foreign object of an unconscious person. When handing down Turner’s sentence, the judge in the case said he feared that imprisonment would have a “severe’ impact on Turner.”

-Palo Alto Online News

My Dear Readers,

I don’t need to rehash the outrage of the judge basing his sentencing on the impact of prison on the offender and not on the crime’s impact on the victim.  We know how wrong that is. This week, I want to think more about the victim, and the concern that should be shown to her.

The 23-year-old victim, known as Emily Doe to protect her privacy, delivered the following words to the judge and the convicted defendant:

“You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my confidence, my own voice until today.  The damage is done, no one can undo it.  And now we both have a choice.  We can let this destroy us, I can remain angry and hurt and you can be in denial, or you can accept your punishment, and we can go on.”

—from Emily Doe’s impact statement

These are the words of a young woman with a strong will. The district attorney stated that the victim’s impact statement was “the most eloquent, powerful and compelling piece of victim advocacy that I’ve seen in my 20 years as a prosecutor.”

Reading this, we can comfort ourselves that she is fine, and is moving on with her life. This enables us to return ourselves to our own lives, moving through this highly paced society with the assumption that all is well.

However, all is NOT well.  It is imperative that we do not simply accept this part of the victim’s impact statement and look closely not only at how this young woman continues to survive this sexual assault and how she has responded to its impact upon her life.

This legal case started out as a “no-brainer.”  Two male graduate students, on a late night bicycle ride, observed a male behind a dumpster “with an erect penis humping a half-naked body.”  When they approached him, the young male ran away, was caught by the two bicyclists, and was held until the police arrived and took him into custody.

I have written before about white male privilege and the subtle impact it has on the daily life of so many people. This case may well have been resolved expediently had the assailant been a person of color, a religious minority, or a member of the LGBT community. I am sure that the “concern” that the judge showed for Turner would not have been extended to people with those backgrounds.

However, in this case, this was a young white man from a family with money who was a varsity swimmer and a member of an elite fraternity on campus—which makes this verdict—the judge’s concern for preserving his welfare over that of the person he victimized—the essence of privilege.

So instead of moving on with her life, which a legal hearing, a settlement, and a formal apology would have allowed her to do, the victim must now face powerful attorneys hired by the family, expert witnesses and private investigators who would focus on finding details about her personal life to use against her, loopholes to exploit, and concoct ways to invalidate her account of the sexual assault.

Concluding Remarks Dr. Kane

As I stated at the beginning, all is not well. However, with time, work, and her own strong will, Emily Doe can balance this life-changing event within her psychological self and eventually use it to drive her life and thrive in the future.

This event is a textbook example of complex trauma, and the experiences that Emily Doe shares in her statement show the effects of complex PTSD.  Aside from the initial traumatic event, there are vicarious and remembered traumas that she will continue to suffer, and will need the assistance of significant therapy to recover from.  From her full statement, linked here, she appears to be on her way.

Until the next crossroads, the journey continues…

 

Bobbi’s Saga: Believing In Life

“I have had lots of clouds, but I have had so many rainbows.”

– Maya Angelou, Poet & Writer

“I wonder what and where I would be if I had a normal childhood.”

-Bobbi

My Dear Readers,

This month, we continue with another installment of Bobbi’s Saga, the story of a woman walking her journey of healing from repeated sexual abuse that she endured as a child and pre-adolescent.

Bobbi’s story is one of shame, blame, guilt and a lifetime of suffering in silence.  In this month’s journal entry, she shares her continuing empowerment and journey of self-discovery with the hope that someone else can also take the steps of self-awareness, discovery, and empowerment.

I always start out a new journal with a life update.  I am now seeing Dr. Kane once a week after 6 years of therapy.  I have gone from having sessions three times a week and phone calls on opposite days of sessions to two days per week and phone calls on days without a session.  Then I went to two sessions per week and no phone calls.  Now I am at one session per week and no phone calls.

At today’s session, we discussed why I’ve continued my therapy for the last six years.  It is only now that I can be comfortable in discussing how I perceive myself and how others perceive me.  At that point, I didn’t think there could be a difference between when I started therapy and now.  I realize now that there may be a difference between what I see and feel and the way others see me.

There is so much that I don’t want others to see. The shame and guilt is gone, but that doesn’t mean that I feel comfortable revealing my history and sadness.  It still shocks me that I feel so much less pain.  I am surprised that the suicidal thoughts are gone.

Yet, the nightmares continue to be a major concern for me.  I recently had one where someone was robbing the house.  I was frantic and upset, and I woke up sobbing.  I then remembered to plant my feet on the floor, look around and see for sure where I am, then getting up, going to a different room and acknowledging the fact that I am safe and that no harm will come to me.

Although I hadn’t had any suicidal thoughts in a while, I continue to have intense flashbacks of these small, baby-like white panties in the corner.  They remind me of how young, small and vulnerable I was when I was raped.

The flashback also reminds me that my mother left me alone in the house at four years old while my rapist worked in the yard.  Talking about it now helps.  It used to overwhelm me for days at a time.  I would become intensely depressed, cry, and not be able to concentrate on anything else.  Now I am aware of it and although it bothers me, it does not overwhelm me. I am now having both the nightmares and flashbacks less often.

The only good thing that I can say about my mother is that because of her, I became a different type of parent.  I am happy the way the kids turned out.  I am not sure I would have been so careful with their lives if my own life had not been so terrible.  I want to make sure they know they are loved, that they are cherished, and that there is nothing they could do to make us (my husband and me) not love them.

I want them to understand that to me, there is no other important job than being a mom.  I feel that I’ve succeeded at that.  If I die tomorrow, I know that I was a good mom.

As we closed out this week’s session, we talked about the progress I’ve made in the last six years.  Whenever I thank him, Dr. Kane asks me: “Who gets credit for the work done in therapy?” I know that the answer is that I do—the patient always does—but I don’t feel that I deserve any credit.

I have always questioned and doubted what Dr. Kane tells me.  I thought I would never get better.  I didn’t know if I would live.  I never believed I would get to a place of harmony.  I hung on to every word Dr. Kane said, listening, processing, and being aware when there was a disconnect.  I started to feel his words, then believe them.  My only hope was to keep listening, processing, hoping and dreaming of getting to a better place.  I didn’t believe it would happen, and yet here I am today.

I want to add the word “believe” to the outside of this journal.  I want to believe more in myself, believe I can enjoy the rest of my life.  I want to believe that there will be time to enjoy life.

Concluding Words

Bobbi has traveled a long distance in empowering the psychological self and the journey of self-discovery.  In my concluding remarks, I would like to provide some context for clarity as this relates to her journal entries.

Bobbi grew up blaming herself for the condition she had been placed within.  She isolated herself from others, feeling that others had the ability to look in her eyes and see into her past.

Recalling Bobbi’s comments about comparing herself to her mother and excelling in the role of mom, Bobbi in the role of protector, intentionally sacrifices herself so that her children could lead lives free of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.   When she says that she is ready to die, she is not being suicidal—instead, she feels complete, accomplished, and prepared to die with the knowledge that unlike her mother, she was a loving and caring mother, and doted upon her children.

Bobbi has done well in her psychological work over the last six years.  She has accepted that although she bears no guilt, blame or responsibility for her sexual, physical and emotional abuses, she can learn to balance the traumatic experiences that were forced upon her.  To gain balance, she has had to accept that nightmares and flashbacks may always be a part of her life. However, with processing and relaxation techniques, these flashbacks and nightmares can lose the potential to overwhelm her and consequently drive her to suicidal thoughts.

While Bobbi is to be congratulated for her willingness to stay the course and continue to process this trauma, the work remains incomplete. One matter of concern is Bobbi’s desire to give the credit of her outstanding work to the therapist.   As Bobbi states in her own words about belief:

“I want to add the word “believe” to the outside of this journal.  I want to believe more in myself, believe I can enjoy the rest of my life.  Believe there will be time to enjoy life.”

This belief can only come once Bobbi takes ownership of the therapeutic work and its outcome.  It is and will continue to be the therapeutic goal that the patient can finally feel fully empowered within the psychological self.

Until the next time ….Bobbi’s saga continues…