corpunWorld Corporal Punishment Research

About this website

By its editor, C. Farrell



What's included in this website

What's NOT included in this website

History and structure of the site

Terminological and organisational issues

Technical and legal issues

Linguistic issues

Privacy policy


This is an independent, non-profit, factual website devoted to the study of corporal punishment (e.g. caning, paddling, birching, strapping, slippering, spanking, flogging) throughout the world, in history and in the present day.

Its main purpose is to provide objective information and background about this social and cultural phenomenon which has been a significant part of life for thousands of years.

It is NOT designed to promote particular opinions about corporal punishment. It is NOT part of any campaign for or against anything. It has no connection with any organisation. Nor is it an interactive forum for on-line debate on the issue (there are plenty of those elsewhere).

As to whether corporal punishment is a good thing or a bad thing, readers must make up their own minds, but please don't write to me about it.

This does not mean there are no opinions here. On the contrary, it is part of the site's function to report on the debate on CP at different times and places. Thus, views may be reproduced where these have appeared in the public domain (e.g. newspaper articles) since the existence of these opinions is a material fact in itself. Any opinions quoted are those of their authors alone.

There are also a few "op-ed" articles specially written for the site and clearly designated as expressions of personal opinion. (These form an extremely small proportion of the site.)

Likewise, readers may find editorial asides by me here and there -- this is after all my website and I am paying for the bandwidth -- but these are clearly differentiated from factual material such as extracts from media reports or documents. Sources for the latter are always attributed. Readers will in particular stumble across my personal views in the external links pages, where I write a little commentary for each link.

In its historical coverage the site also serves as a reminder that attitudes and views change, and that what may be happen to be a fashionable (or "politically correct") view at the present moment is not the only way of looking at things.

I am interested in more than just reports of specific cases of corporal punishment, or descriptions of what is or was involved, or arguments pro and con in a vacuum. How it relates to the broader cultural and social context, including how it is or was portrayed in the popular culture, is also important. Many of the media items reproduced here cast (sometimes perhaps unwitting) light on this question. Some of the site's feature articles attempt to go further into this aspect. A particular example is the Spank While You Sell feature, which considers how the advertising industry has used CP allusions and imagery.

A wide range of material is presented from many sources. Readers should remember that just because I have included something on the site it does not mean that I agree with what it says. At least half the time, I probably don't!

What's included

Most of the material on this site deals with fairly formal and premeditated kinds of corporal punishment (hereinafter "CP") in roughly the following categories:

  • Educational: typically the caning, slippering or strapping (UK, etc.) or paddling (USA) of students by teachers or administrators as a penalty for misbehaviour in school. A very large proportion of the website is concerned with this area. School CP has gone from present-day UK and Europe, but continues in the USA and many other countries.

  • Judicial: flogging, birching, caning or whipping, of adults or juveniles, ordered by a court of law for criminal offences as laid down in a particular country's legislation. In Europe and North America, this now lies entirely in the past. It remains current in certain countries in some other parts of the world (South-East Asia, Africa, Middle East, Caribbean).

  • Institutional: CP in prisons, reformatories, children's homes and other official institutions as punishment for breaches of internal discipline; to a lesser extent also in certain organisations like youth groups, though this sometimes shades into the "illicit" category (see below). In practice, Prison CP and Reformatory etc. CP are treated as separate categories in the news archive section of the site.

  • Military: historical floggings in e.g. the British Army and Navy.

  • Parental/domestic: spanking of children within the family. But material on this topic forms a fairly small proportion of the website. Much present-day controversy over "corporal punishment" swirls around this question, but I don't think that most current parental "smacking" (UK) or "spanking" (USA etc.) really counts as corporal punishment, in the traditional meaning of the phrase, because it isn't done in a formal or premeditated way as part of a considered scheme. I think if we stretch the definition of CP to include, say, a parent clouting his child around the head in a fit of anger, or a mother slapping a toddler in the heat of the moment when he runs into the road, the phrase "corporal punishment" ceases to be very useful. I believe that anti-smacking campaigns in the UK and elsewhere have muddied the waters here.

  • Illicit: covers CP which, though of a formal and premeditated kind, does not have any proper legal or official basis (or in some cases may be downright illegal), such as workplace birthday spankings, CP within religious sects or cults (though note that some of this might count as "institutional"), college fraternity paddlings, folkloric traditions, and some other situations that are not always easy to categorise. There may be room for debate as to whether some of these phenomena are properly described as corporal punishment, particularly for instance where college fraternity paddlings shade into "hazing". At all events, this area does not form a very major part of the website.

Sometimes these categories may not be quite as clear-cut as they at first sight appear, and there are a few grey areas and possible overlaps, some of which are referred to in Terminological and organisational issues below.

Items quoted are generally from mainstream publicly available sources: press, tv, radio, books, government reports, documents from bona fide organisations. The sources are always attributed. Accounts that are purely anecdotal are clearly identified as such. Fictional portrayals of CP are referred to only in a very few cases where they seem to illuminate some aspect of reality, e.g. a staged but known-to-be-authentic reconstruction of a CP scene in a fictional film; in such a case it will always be emphasised that it is "not the real thing".

What's NOT included:

  • General casual brutality, gratuitous violence, "beating up"
  • Unpremeditated hitting
  • Torture
  • Fantasy fiction and fetish material
  • Punishments which, though physical in nature, are not what is generally meant by the term "corporal punishment", such as being made to run laps or do push-ups, imprisonment, shackles or restraints, the death penalty
  • Parental smacking of toddlers in the heat of the moment

History and structure of the site

This website started in 1996. To begin with, it was only a handful of pages. It has grown steadily, and there are now over 3,500 pages. To a large degree these are still inhabiting the original structure. Were I starting now, I should probably devise a different structure, but it is far too late to change it now.

The core of the site is its collection of some 4,000 media items from the 17th century to the present. These are articles and reports (or, often, extracts therefrom) from newspapers and magazines, the occasional radio or tv transcript, and, for very recent years, some items from news organs that exist only on the internet. All this material is housed in a section called The Archive.

This collection called The Archive is organised by year or group of years. For each year or group of years, there is an index page listing the items, broken down alphabetically by country. Generally, the media items themselves are gathered on one page covering that country for one particular month and one particular kind of CP (judicial, school, etc.).

For 1999 onwards, there is also a different way into The Archive via a chronological list of all items for a particular year, irrespective of country. Unlike the archive index pages, these "news chronology" pages provide a separate hyperlink to each individual press item, rather than just to the overall country/month page.

Do not look to this site for up-to-the-minute CP news. I am taking the long historical view here. The latest items are usually at least three or four months old. Readers wanting to keep abreast of the latest press coverage can nowadays do so for themselves with such tools as Google News.

The site also features a key section now called Country Files, which seeks to give for each country a brief overview of the history and current position for each kind of CP, with links (internal or external) to relevant legislation, case law, legal discussion, eyewitness reportage, regulations about modus operandi, pictures, and any other documentation that seems germane.

In addition, there are several pages with a more specific focus. The Picture parade and JCP pictures pages feature photographs that may not have full source and date information and on which readers' assistance is sometimes invited. Meanwhile, all the pictures across the whole site (most of which are attached to media items in The Archive) are listed in the Picture Index.

There is also an expanding selection of video clips.

Another popular area is the school handbooks section with some 1,000 external links to the online handbooks of present-day schools, mostly in the USA and Singapore, which say they use CP. I have written a comment for each link.

External links of a more miscellaneous kind, other than the ones in Country Files already mentioned, are listed with my comments on separate pages for each kind of CP.

There are some 20 feature articles, mostly produced specially for this site, ranging from the detailed 12-part series Judicial corporal punishment in South Africa to the light-hearted collection of imaginary spanking machines.

Finally, there are some Questions and Answers and a small collection of book reviews.

Terminological and organisational issues

As to what constitutes corporal punishment and what doesn't, see What's included above. My own feeling is that the phrase is used too loosely in current discourse. For instance, press coverage in the Indian subcontinent and in Africa has used the phrase to describe brutal and indefensible actions by schoolteachers which involve students getting injured or even killed and which, to me, plainly go a long way beyond anything that can reasonably be described as corporal punishment. It seems that campaigners against CP in those countries are (fraudulently, in my view) using cases like this as ammunition to have proper CP abolished. I am increasingly disinclined to include news items of this kind on the site, even though they announce themselves as being about "corporal punishment".

Spanking has different meanings in British and US English. In UK usage it has hitherto referred only to smacking the recipient's bottom with the open hand. It certainly could not be used to mean paddling or caning or using any other kind of implement to deliver the punishment. In North American English, however, it is so used, and can refer to more or less any kind of CP. The American meaning is now beginning to seep into some British/European usage, but texts written by me will stick to the traditional British definition except where they are part of an article entirely about American CP.

Smacking, too, affords scope for transatlantic misunderstandings. When used in British (or Australian or NZ) English in this specific context, it usually refers to a light slap administered to a young child, often on the spur of the moment rather than as part of a considered plan, with a parent's or teacher's open hand. Unlike "spanking", which generally refers rather specifically to a punishment given on the child's bottom, a smacking can just as easily be applied to its arm, hand or leg. There is heated political controversy in the UK at the moment (often described, incorrectly in my view, as "debate about corporal punishment") over whether parents should be allowed to "smack" their small children. Americans do not much use the word in this way, and tend to think it means something much more serious. Anyway, I don't put much of this kind of stuff on the website, because it doesn't mostly involve what I would describe as proper "corporal punishment", for reasons explained in What's included above.

Beating of course normally conveys the idea of a fairly serious assault by one person on another, usually having nothing to do with corporal punishment. However, in the context of UK schools, especially in the semi-private language of "public" (i.e. private) schools, it was often used as a synonym for a formal caning. In this one fairly narrow universe of discourse, a "beating" was thus understood to mean something quite different from a "beating-up".

Whacking, etc. To a lesser degree one might say the same about words like "thrashing" and "whacking" (or indeed "whopping" and "swishing" and "swiping" and "tanning"), each with its own overtones and nuances but all used colloquially in certain UK school settings to refer to formal CP. Context is all-important. Of these, the only one I use myself very much on this website is "whacking", because it is a neutral word with no judgmental overtones, one which schoolboys themselves widely used in a purely matter-of-fact way, and because (unlike for instance "swishing", which could only mean caning) it is not instrument-specific: a whacking could equally well be a caning or a strapping or a slippering, and the term thus neatly embraces the whole gamut of normal school CP in England and Wales (though possibly not Scotland).

Note however that "whacking" can mean different things in other parts of the world. For instance, when Singapore schoolboys talk about whacking, they are referring to beating each other up in fights; they do not use it to refer to school CP, which they always describe as caning.

Abbreviations. The one abbreviation used constantly throughout this site is CP, for corporal punishment. "JCP" means judicial corporal punishment. "SCP", for school corporal punishment, has been glimpsed elsewhere on the internet but does not yet seem to have caught on, and is not much used here.

Caning. Misunderstandings sometimes arise from the fact that this word can refer both to a quite moderate formal punishment for school students (now abolished in the UK but still used in some other countries) and to a horrendously severe judicial punishment in, most notoriously, Singapore. What is common to both of them is the use of an implement that can be described as a cane, but that can vary greatly in length, size and weight, as well as in the way it is administered. Few school canings (in recent centuries, anyway) can ever have been nearly as severe as a judicial flogging with a cane in Malaysia or Singapore! Incidentally, both those countries currently also allow British-style caning in their schools and, oddly, use the same name for both of these rather different things.

It should also be noted that the punishment cane used in British Commonwealth and European schools is/was always a thin, flexible one (typically of rattan). The modern use (especially in American English) of the word "cane" to mean a thick, rigid stick such as a walking stick (as in "white cane" for the blind, "candy cane", etc.) seems to be leading some people to have the wrong idea about the nature of caning as a punishment.

The slipper is often a misnomer. A slippering in a UK school was sometimes a very informal and even jocular affair, but could equally be a punishment of the "semi-formal but unofficial" kind -- in some cases as painful an ordeal as a caning, and in many schools a good deal more common than official canings. It was actually inflicted, more often than not, with a large tennis shoe or gymshoe, a much weightier implement than the domestic carpet slipper. The latter was mostly used parentally in the home.

Whipping was traditionally the word used in British legal texts to refer to judicial corporal punishment. It continued to be so used until JCP was abolished, even though the instrument used had long ceased to be a whip. In Britain itself, after about 1850, it usually in fact meant birching, and a distinction is sometimes drawn between "whipping" (with a birch) and "flogging" (with a cat). In countries of the former British Empire, "whipping" in legal texts usually means JCP with whatever is the local instrument -- often a cane, as in Malaysia and several African countries. Singapore is unusual in having substituted the word "caning" for "whipping" in its more recent legislation.

A reformatory here means any residential institution for young offenders, whether or not the word forms part of its official name. Unfortunately, in some North American contexts, particularly in Canada, it sometimes seems to mean a prison for (young) adults. These latter are counted as prisons for the purposes of this site.

Readers should also note the peculiarly opaque term "Approved School" from 1933 onwards in the UK; these were always officially described as not being reformatories (I think this was because they were "open" and not secure, i.e. it was easy to abscond from them), but for all practical purposes that is exactly what they were, not schools.

Something of the same ambiguity may arise in the case of certain institutions in the USA that are described as residential schools or boarding schools. If they are essentially places to which teenagers get sent for misbehaving, whether by the authorities or by their parents, I am inclined to classify them as reformatories rather than schools. This category also includes "teen camps" and "boot camps". I may rename this category "institutions" in due course.

Another category problem in the UK is that several institutions for bad boys were run as naval training ships. Does one classify them as "reformatory" or "navy"?

Also, in a number of countries, including Britain and Canada, it can sometimes be difficult to discuss Prison CP separately from Judicial CP because the judicial CP (or anyway some of it) was carried out in prisons under the same regulations as the prison CP.

Countries. Much of the information on the site is organised by country. As a general rule, for the sake of simplicity I have used the present-day names of countries even where the items concerned date from a time when the country was called something else. This won't always work for historical material from places where boundaries have substantially changed (Poland) or where a present-day country was once part of some other country that itself still exists (Ireland/UK; Pakistan/India). I have judged each such case on its merits and tried to follow the dictates of common sense.

Jurisdictions. In the case of fully federal countries like the USA, Canada, Malaysia, Australia or Germany, I have categorised news items under those names rather than under individual states or provinces, even if the individual states are for many purposes separate legal jurisdictions. However, where there is a lot of material and it seems particularly appropriate -- as in the US school handbook pages, and certain information in the Country Files section -- I have subdivided it by individual state. This is not always entirely satisfactory, but life is never perfect.

When it comes to an asymmetrical quasi-federation like the United Kingdom, matters get even more complicated. Should I have listed Scotland as a separate entity from the outset, since it has its own legal and educational systems that are quite distinct from the rest of the UK, and now (though only recently) has its own Parliament? Maybe. On the other hand, there are a lot of social, political and cultural factors that can only sensibly be discussed on a pan-UK basis, whatever the judicial or institutional specificities. If the result is a muddle, it is perhaps because the constitutional situation on the ground is a muddle.

Technical and legal issues

This website is designed to load fast and to work on all browsers. Simplicity is the watchword. There is a deliberate absence of java scripts, pointless graphics, annoying animations, confusing clutter and silly gimmicks of all kinds. The site contains no pull-down menus (you should be able to navigate all my pages without a mouse, if you really need to) and absolutely NO FRAMES. What you see is what you get. If you get lost, you can always go back to the front page ("main menu page") by clicking on the Corpun logo at the top left of every page.

No advertisingThere is no advertising on this site. There is nothing for sale. It does not seek donations. It generates no revenue of any kind. It is funded entirely out of my own pocket. This puts the fact that it is a non-profit site beyond doubt, which means that I can quote external material under the "fair use" doctrine without getting copyright permission. It also means that I am not beholden to anybody.

All hyperlinks are underlined, and everything underlined is a link.

The site contains over 2,000 external hyperlinks. These are all checked every three or four months and weeded or updated as appropriate. External links open in a new window. This symbol denotes an external link that will open in a new window.

The site is hosted by a company which, when I first bought web capacity from it, was based in Amsterdam (Netherlands). Rather to my surprise, the site now appears to be on a server in Texas, USA. This presumably means that the applicable copyright law is US and Texas law. For more information about copyright and other legal issues, see this page.

Linguistic issues

Nearly all the material on this website is in English. There is a small number of items in other languages (French, German, Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Afrikaans) with rough English translations provided. A couple of passages on the JCP Pictures page are quoted in languages (Atesot, Luganda) for which I await the assistance of some friendly linguist.

My mother tongue is British English, so that is the language of all texts by me. The only exception is that, on pages that are entirely about the USA, I have used American spellings and, where I am aware of it, American terminology. I have tried to avoid using narrowly British idioms while striving at the same time not to fall into the bland, lifeless, lowest-common-denominator mush known as "International English".

Naturally, all the news items and other quoted material on the site (which constitutes most of it) remain in whatever form of English they were written in.

When reproducing material from outside sources, I have tended to correct obvious typos and in some cases spelling mistakes, but errors of grammar and syntax have mostly been left untouched. In a particularly egregious case I might put "[sic]" in square brackets to emphasise that error is not mine.

Privacy policy

This site does not use cookies of any kind. Absolutely no information is collected about the identity of visitors to it.

If you write to me, your e-mail may or may not be kept in my private files indefinitely. It will not be quoted on the site, or passed to anyone else, in any form that might identify you, without your permission.

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Page updated July 2015