Great Job, Anderson Cooper… But Don’t Stop There!

Recently, CNN’s Anderson Cooper did a sad but powerful exposé on child abuse in some fundamentalist Christian sects in our country. The report, Ungodly Discipline, was definitely a positive step… but our examination of this topic shouldn’t be limited to the abuse of children by religious fundamentalists.

For the second time in weeks, a terribly destructive occurrence in our society has been exposed, but only as a practice in a fundamentalist group. The other time exposed Warren Jeffs’ having molested, violated, and sexually abused the children in his Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS Church) “family.”

The abuse of children in our country – sexual, emotional, and physical – is far from limited to religious sects. It’s more widespread than perhaps you can even imagine. So, instead of just pointing at others in extreme instances and families, we’d do far better coming into conscious awareness by looking at everyday occurrences all over our country.

After the exposé, Anderson spoke with Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s Senior Legal Analyst, who acknowledged no one is arrested for spanking, and that for corporal punishment that is more than spanking but less than a broken arm, the police don’t get involved. Shocking! Painful!

I myself, as a psychotherapist, am required by law to report suspected child abuse. This past year, once again I found myself making that dreaded phone call. I say dreaded, because I was concerned from previous times when nothing had been done by the department charged with protecting children. This time was worse. The child had been frightened; had asked his mother to call the police; had been threatened, hit, and dragged by his hair. And the department told me that in the child’s home state it was legal for parents to discipline their children, even hit them with a hand or implement, as long as no marks were left and as long as no one considered it excessive force. For me as a psychotherapist, a woman, a human with a heart, this was heart breaking! No one was protecting this child… and the abuse he was experiencing was minimized, discounted, misnamed, and legal!

Not only that, but after considerable research, I found that every state in our country has legalized abuse of children under some guise or other… or no guise at all.

Look at some of what exists in some of our “united states”*:

Abuse does not include physical discipline of a child if reasonable and moderate and inflicted by a parent or guardian for restraining or correcting a child…
A parent who is committed to correcting a child in non-abusive ways will find non-abusive ways.

Any investigation of child abuse shall take into account the child-rearing practices of the child’s culture.
This allows a group or a family in which abuse has taken place generation after generation to continue that abuse under the guise of ‘culture.’

… may use reasonable physical force, when and to the extent that he reasonably believes necessary to maintain discipline or promote welfare of minor
Even someone who could not control his rage at a child who is so hurt or so frightened he can’t stop crying can say he ‘believes’ the abuse was necessary. 

Corporal discipline of a child by a parent or legal custodian for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.
Every act of abuse, corporal discipline or otherwise, does result in harm of some kind to the child.

Abuse includes physical cruelty in excess of that required for reasonable disciplinary purposes.
Do you realize what this says? That some physical cruelty is reasonable for disciplinary purposes, but abuse is only physical cruelty in excess of that.

Abuse includes a parent, guardian, or other person with control or custody inflicting excessive corporal punishment (which must be excessive to the point that the child’s physical, mental, or emotional condition has been impaired or is in imminent danger of becoming impaired as a result).
I have worked with adults who were abused as children. Their mental and emotional selves were changed by even the threat of being hit. Their mental and emotional selves were changed by witnessing their siblings or their other parent being hit. The actual experience of being hit – even once – for whatever reason, deepens and escalates that change in ways most people cannot imagine… instilling terror in them, mind, body, heart, and soul.

Renowned psychoanalyst and pioneer, Alice Miller, worked tirelessly toward ending child abuse. In her book For Your Own Good, she wrote about Adolph Hitler having been beaten mercilessly by his father, under the guise of the German child rearing practices of the time. As part of his efforts to defend against the pain of his childhood experience, he eventually managed to go through his father’s beatings silently, counting the lashes and able to announce proudly to his mother how many times his father had beaten him. If you understand the human psyche, the defense against childhood pain, and the acting out of that which we defend against (until we are conscious of it and heal it)… it becomes clear as you read this book that Hitler was not the only one acting out his childhood and his response to his childhood when he became Fuhrer and tortured others as he was tortured. Many of his country people were also acting out their childhoods and their responses to their childhoods. People who had themselves been abused under the guise of child rearing too often got as close as they could to Hitler, to join with him in an effort to please him and not be at his mercy, just as they might have with their father as children.  They also joined with him in doing to others what was done to them in their young helpless childhoods.

We need to look at this and take it seriously.  Looking not only at Hitler and his childhood but also at childhood in Germany at that time… gives us a way to see the bridges from our individual lives as children, to our lives as adults, to our communal lives as families, towns, nations, and a world.

What does the legal ok to children being abused in our country tell us about us as a society? Especially in light of the existence of 28 countries in our world (including Germany) that make corporal punishment of children by parents unlawful!** How does this awareness affect us when we realize it means more children are being abused in the U.S. that we can possibly imagine?  What does it reveal to us about the state of our politics in these times?  What does it show us about the state of our country at this time in history? What does it begin to say to us about what we need to do?

If we don’t look at this… if we don’t take this seriously… if we don’t address this now… we will continue to allow destructive things to happen to our children and to our country, too. And we will continue to disclaim any knowledge or power in relation to the destruction… when in truth, we have far more power than we can now imagine to end the cycles of abuse.

This is the first part of a two-part article on this theme. Look for part two in the next few days.

Notes:
* It breaks my heart that the only sites we can find that provide the text of, and links to, the actual state statutes are pro-spanking websites, such as the website of the “American Family Rights Association.”
** See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporal_punishment_in_the_home

© Copyright 2011 by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jared

    October 4th, 2011 at 3:52 PM

    Funny how so many people will bury their heads in the sand and look the other way even when they are pretty certain that there is abuse going on in a home or any given situation. Too many of us feel like we don’t want to get involved, or that maybe we shouldn’t get involved, that it is really none of our business. But I would like to take a moment to express just how wrong that is. Wouldn’t you want someone to step up for you if they thought that you were being abused? Anyone deserves that courtesy. I am tired of hearing of all these stories where people say that they thought that something strange was going on but did not want to step on any toes. It is time to step in and step on some toes people! If you suspect abuse then please report that to someone. It may be a mistake but I would rather err on the side of caution than to think of someone being harmed seriously just because I did not want to get involved.

  • hannah

    October 5th, 2011 at 12:17 AM

    who would be more vulnerable and ‘in the mood’ to spank his or her child and ‘discipline’ the child in these ways-a calm and content parent or a frustrated parent with a million problems on his or her head? I believe it would be the latter group that would be more prone to abusing a child.

    and there is no denying that there are more and more frustrated people now more than ever before-due to loss of jobs,high usage of drugs and alcohol,marriages and relationships falling apart and a lot of other reasons. the question here is not just about the child abuse but the degradation of mental health and satisfaction from life for a large majority of the people.

    our life quality is decreasing on the whole.and it includes not just our financial condition, or how big the house is but includes all aspects of life.they’re on the decline and our tolerance in all aspects is decreasing.rage on the other hand is saying hello to the clouds!

  • MIKE

    October 5th, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    We humans are losing even the little bit of humanness left in us.To abuse little children sexually and in other ways takes not only a monster but a monster who is not scared of the law,or a lack of specific laws in place.

    i certainly believe it is time to relook at the laws concerning child abuse and amend them as per the current scenario wherein a parent will not hold back from sexually abusing his child.its time to provide better protection for children all over.it is not magic and things will not change in a day but they sure will with time and the right intent through laws.

  • Mae

    October 5th, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    What bugs me is the idea that we are putting far too much responsibility for spreading the message about this than we are our community leaders who should be the ones making the effort to stop this kind of abuse in our cities and neighborhoods. People are always grumbling that the press and media have too much power over what we think and wht we say/ Who is to say that they are not being biased reporting this too. I am not saying that I do not think that stories like this are a good idea- it is just that I don’t think that you can have it both ways. You either want this medium to speak up for the people or not, and it can’t be only when you want it to be.

  • NATASHA

    October 6th, 2011 at 5:25 PM

    There’s no measure to abuse.We cannot quantify it.Because even the slightest form of abuse can have lasting effects on an individual,the only way forward is ZERO abuse.Yes,only when we practice the zero abuse rule can we eliminate these dark things!

  • Frank Levitz

    October 8th, 2011 at 7:39 AM

    It’s scum like him that ruin the name of Christians of all churches. Many of us are good people who don’t make a huge fuss out of our good deeds. The fact that men like him exist and there are people out there not reporting them is a massive stain on our reputation as a whole. If you let someone abuse a child and you don’t report it, you are simply an accessory to the crime, and a disgusting cowardly human being. God is love!

  • D.L. Hope

    October 8th, 2011 at 5:15 PM

    @MIKE – We already HAVE these laws. It says it quite clearly that using a child for “sexual gratification” is child sexual abuse. The reason there is a problem is because there will always be those that have an inbuilt sexual attraction toward children and that cannot be changed. You actually cannot outlaw being something-you can only outlaw the actions. There’s a difference.

  • Nigel James

    October 9th, 2011 at 7:24 PM

    I can’t believe that no marks being left constitutes an acceptable level of beating. I saw Anderson Cooper and also saw that guy demonstrating how to use a switch and not leave a mark on a child! Pulling hair doesn’t leave a mark either, does it? NO level of beating is acceptable, period.

  • S. Torres

    October 9th, 2011 at 7:32 PM

    My husband used to get hit with a switch when he was a child. His mother would make whoever was in trouble go out to the yard and get it themselves. Then she would leave it lying in plain sight for them to see all day long, knowing they’d get it later-to prolong the agony I guess. And just when they thought she’d forgotten and they had got away with it, she’d give them a whipping with it. A switch wasn’t a soft option.

  • Emily Pope

    October 9th, 2011 at 7:45 PM

    “It breaks my heart that the only sites we can find that provide the text of, and links to, the actual state statutes are pro-spanking websites, such as the website of the American Family Rights Association.”

    Oh, mine too! So they are only on sites that tell these people what they can get away with before they get in trouble with the law???? That is SHOCKING!!!! It’s like providing a guidebook to abusive behavior. I’m speechless. I never dreamed it could go so far and be unpunished. Thank you Judith for bringing this to light.

  • rose b.

    October 9th, 2011 at 8:05 PM

    @Emily Pope: I too am horrified that our laws are so lax. On the one hand we’re teaching our children in school that if they are abused to tell an adult in authority like a COP immediately. Yet on the other when that happens the cops do nothing! And we cannot lay blame at their door as they can only operate within the confines of their state’s laws. I’m sure many of the officers are parents too and as sickened as we are that their hands are tied in such cases. WHY does there need to be broken bones before anything is done?

    Please everybody, write to your state representative and ask about these shocking standards. These children are counting on us to effect change.

  • Adam T. Schroeder

    October 9th, 2011 at 8:15 PM

    “Any investigation of child abuse shall take into account the child-rearing practices of the child’s culture.”

    No, it should not! If a culture breaks the law, the culture is wrong. We are all equal in the eyes of the law and that includes communities who have been beating their kids for a century. Anyone who uses their culture as an excuse to break the law should pack their bags and go to a country where that’s acceptable. The United States believes in equality, not one law for you and one law for me. Again I say, we are all equal.

  • Judith Barr

    October 12th, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    Thank you all for commenting on my article on child abuse.

    Great question, Jared. . .for each of us to ask ourselves: “Wouldn’t you want someone to step up for you if they thought that you were being abused?”

    The most important thing for each of us to discern as we decide what action to take: “How do we take action to help without abusing someone ourselves?”

    It’s like “How do you stop bullying without being a bully?”

    And Hannah, you are accurate . . . the level of stress and frustration amongst people is rising and many are taking it out on others . . . particularly children.

    Again, the crucial thing here is this: when a person’s stress and frustration are triggered, what is really being triggered? My professional experience has showed me that when the levels of stress and frustration are high, something from early in people’s lives is being triggered. And if they think it’s just something from today . . . they will become more stressed and frustrated; for if you don’t know the real root of your intense feelings is from long ago, you will find yourself spinning in the present day trying to resolve something that isn’t really about today, but rather about long, long ago.

    This is a wonderful lens through which to see that although laws are important, the real resolution, the healing of child abuse to the root isn’t going to come through laws, but rather through each person doing his or her own inner healing work with whatever wound, when triggered, results in their abusing a child . . . or anyone else, for that matter . . . including themselves.

    So in part you are accurate, Mike. We can outlaw the actions but not the inner thoughts and feelings. That impulse to sexually abuse a child is not “in-built,” though. It is caused by wounds to that person in his or her own childhood…..wounds to their sexuality, which they may or may not remember, but which they act out in their adult lives. It is possible to help people heal the wounds that bring forth the thoughts and feelings and actions. But they do need to want to, or at least be willing to have the help to truly heal. And isn’t that true for all of us? We each have our own wounds . . . and in order to heal them, we need to want to, or at least be willing to.

    Thank you, rose b . . . for your encouragement to everyone: “Please everybody, write to your state representative and ask about these shocking standards. These children are counting on us to effect change.” We all need to remember that in order to truly end abuse, child abuse or any other kind of abuse, we both need to do our own healing work in our inner worlds and also take actions in our outer world.

    Thank you again and many blessings,
    Judith

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