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News-Journal, Daytona Beach, Florida, 3 August 2000
Georgia man acquitted in Panhandle spanking case
News-Journal wire services
PANAMA CITY - A grandfather has been acquitted of child abuse charges for a "whipping" that he gave his grandson, bloodying the 9-year-old boy's bare bottom, for hiding dirty underwear with his clean clothing.
A Circuit Court jury deliberated an hour Tuesday before agreeing with defendant William Horace Williams that the beating he gave his grandson with a leather belt on Sept. 6 may have been corporal punishment, but it was not aggravated child abuse.
The 62-year-old Talbotton, Ga., man could have faced a sentence of up to 30 years in prison on each of two felony counts, one for the spanking and another for allegedly striking the boy with his hand.
Williams had custodial care of the boy and a 10-year-old grandson at the time. They were visiting his daughter, the children's aunt, in Mexico Beach, a Florida Panhandle town about 25 miles southeast of Panama City.
Williams testified that he had warned the younger boy twice about failing to put his dirty clothing in a laundry basket where it belonged.
"We had an agreement," Williams said. "The first two times you get a warning. The third time and there's going to be some sort of punishment."
Williams, who operated a restaurant in Georgia and co-owns another in Mexico Beach, denied he ever struck the boy with his hand as his daughter, Christy Jackson, had alleged in a complaint to police.
He said the spanking was the first time he had used a belt on the boy, who also had been in trouble for fighting and stealing.
"If you don't have some kind of control, what are you going to do?" Williams told the jury.
His daughter's husband, Gary Jackson, witnessed the spanking.
"He was giving him a whipping, but it wasn't a bloody-murder type thing," Jackson testified. He said the boy "got a whipping, pretty much like I did all my life. Except I didn't have to pull my underwear down so it'd leave marks."
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The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, 27 August 2000
Attitude is everything -- if you really must do it
By Peggy Burch
Kelli Grissom's memories of being spanked as a child are anything but morbid. Her description of a typical spanking at her house conjures an amusing domestic scene.
The announcement, "The dreaded spanking will occur at 6 p.m. in the living room, that's what the torture was," recalls Grissom, now a social worker and mother of an 18-month-old. "It was more the dramatic buildup to the event of the spanking than the spanking itself" that was distressing. "It never was a thing done in anger. It was done calmly, it was very matter-of-fact."
She wasn't spanked after age 6. "My mom learned in a hurry that it was going to be more effective to take things away from me," she says. And her parents were model spankers. Child care experts agree that if parents are going to use corporal punishment, they should be calm not angry, and use an open hand on a clothed bottom.
But Grissom's work has introduced her to people whose "discipline" has gotten out of hand. As education and training coordinator at The Memphis Child Advocacy Center, for children who are victims of abuse, she has counseled people whose punishment tactics have amounted to mis-treatment.
When she's asked what she thinks about spanking, she says she doesn't believe it works. Then she asks a question in return. What did her peers in social and psychological services have to say about it? "I have found in this field, there are a lot of conflicting opinions about spanking," she says.
The most apparent difference of opinion in the spanking debate may be between parents and the experts. The American Psychological Association says the (negative) message a child gets from a spanking is: "If you love someone and need to correct or control them, then in certain situations it is okay to hurt them." But, the organization says, surveys show "the majority of people believe that sometimes a child needs to be disciplined with a spanking."
The American Academy of Pediatrics took a firm stand against spanking in April 1998, saying the practice teaches children that "aggressive behavior is a solution to conflict." But, the AAP noted that research shows 90 percent of American families report using spanking as a means of discipline and that most adults were spanked when they were children.
Six months after making its anti-spanking statement, the AAP issued findings of a survey of its own members. Four out of 10 pediatricians who participated recommended spanking as a form of discipline "under limited circumstances and with specific conditions or rules." Only half the AAP members surveyed said they would categorically discourage the use of corporal punishment. The pediatricians' attitudes showed how complicated the issue of spanking is, the AAP said: "Responses cannot be summed up in simple 'for' or 'against' statements."
Both sides of the debate have standard-bearers, from authors of academic studies to syndicated columnists who give advice about child rearing.
There are anti-spanking books, among the best-known Beating the Devil Out of Them, by Murray A. Straus, founder of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire, and The Case Against Spanking by Irwin A. Hyman, director of the National Center for the Study of Corporal Punishment and Alternatives.
And there are books that defend the effectiveness of spanking, such as The New Dare to Discipline by James Dobson and To Spank or Not to Spank by John Rosemond.
Rosemond, who advocates the light swat on the bottom as "a relatively dramatic form of nonverbal communication," writes a syndicated column called Affirmative Parenting, which runs on Sundays in The Commercial Appeal's Living section. In the same section, readers can find the Families Today column of T. Berry Brazelton, confirmed anti-spanker.
"Every time you strike a child you are passing on the message that violence is the way to settle things," Brazelton told a reader in a column published in March. His readers responded. "The idea that you should never resort to physical punishment is a preposterous overreaction to the problem of child abuse," wrote a parent from Cazenovia, N.Y. "Your answer was absolutely ridiculous," said one from Bethesda, Md. "My brother and I were spanked as children. We show no signs of violent behavior as adults," wrote another from Eugene, Ore.
Brazelton gave himself the last word. "Discipline is about teaching, not punishment," he wrote back. "You, and the others who wrote, certainly have missed my point."
The conflict isn't confined to writing. Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Austria and Cyprus have passed laws against spanking. The city of Oakland, Calif., last year considered a resolution to post stop signs that said "No Spanking Zone" in its public buildings.
On the other side, Oklahoma and Nevada last year passed laws giving parents the right to spank their children.
The Memphis school board rejected a proposal to ban corporal punishment in 1998, by a 6-3 vote. Judging by the numbers of paddlings in public schools, the South is the region of the country that has been least receptive to the message of anti-spankers. When the U.S. Department of Education issued its biannual report about the use of corporal punishment in public schools, the South dominated the list, with Mississippi first in the frequency of paddlings, followed by Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee.
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