Spanking – Parental Discipline or Child Abuse?

Spanking has a long history of being used as a form of discipline and while still a prevalent form of punishment in several homes throughout the United States, is mistakenly considered by many to be a form of child abuse.

Corporal punishment

Photo by: Wesley Fryer

Spanking is a way in which parents and other authority figures have used to punish children and minors into submission by inflicting physical pain to their body; usually the buttocks. This type of discipline is known as corporal punishment. Corporal punishment was used freely by any adult wishing to discipline a child up until the late 1970’s when spanking by anyone other than parents, such as teachers or school staff, started to receive criticism. 31 states have now banned corporal punishment in schools while the other 19 including Idaho and Arizona are either for it, or not openly against it. Corporal punishment at home is still allowed in all states to some degree.

Parental discipline

Although the number of adults who approve of spanking is on a steady decline nationwide, many parents and guardians still respond to their children’s unruly behavior by giving them a swat on the behind. Spanking is often done with an open hand but can also be done using items such as a belt or a switch, which usually inflicts more severe pain than a hand alone. While not all parents agree on spanking, a large number of adults believe spanking with an object is most certainly unlawful.

Belts and switches

The use of belts, switches and the like in carrying out corporal punishment at home may seem harsh, but they aren’t against the law. In B.T. and S.T. v State of Utah (2017), the parents of four children under the age of 18 were said to have been abused after the parents used belts to spank their children. The courts concurred with the abuse charges, stating “the court cannot envision a scenario where striking or hitting a child of any age, would be appropriate or reasonable discipline.” They also acknowledged that the use of spanking was decreasing in popularity stating that “[w]e’ve evolved beyond it being appropriate to strike a child with an object” and “[t]he simple striking of the child with a belt caused pain and is abuse.”

Justification as defense

Contrary to the court’s original ruling, spanking children with or without a belt is not illegal under Utah law. In fact, Utah Code 76-2-401 states: “Conduct which is justified is a defense to prosecution for any offense based on the conduct. The defense of justification may be claimed: ( . . . ) when the actor’s conduct is reasonable discipline of minors by parents, guardians, teachers, or other persons in loco parentis [unless] the offense charged involved causing serious bodily injury.” The parents the above mentioned case admitted to using a belt to discipline their children, however there were no physical signs of abuse visible from their discipline. The court later reviewed their ruling in which they claimed that hitting a child with an object is abuse and deemed it too vague, giving the examples of how a pillow fight or playing with Nerf swords would fall into the same definition. Utah Code 76-5-109 reiterates that child abuse means “those offenses that cause physical injury to the child” and not for conduct that includes “the use of reasonable and necessary physical restraint or force on a child.”

Ineffective punishment

While spanking may be legal, pediatricians and researchers continue to discourage parents from using it as a form of punishment. Spanking is often done to stop unwanted behavior, such as disobedience and aggression, however current research has shown it to be ineffective, with unwanted behavior escalating instead of diminishing. The American Academy of Pediatrics has also done studies regarding the connection between children who are punished physically and future mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. For those parents who have failed to learn and put into practice a more effective way of disciplining their children, they should ensure that any corporal punishment used in the home does not escalate to the point of child abuse and to consult with an attorney should any charges arise.

Intentional Child Abuse Charges for Utah Mom Who Locked Son in Bathroom for a Year

A southern Utah mom is facing intentional child abuse charges after authorities discovered she had been keeping her 12 year old son locked in a bathroom for over a year.

Neglected basic needs of a child

Photo by : Purgatory Correctional Facility

Photo by : Purgatory Correctional Facility

Authorities responded to a welfare check at a southern Utah home after a dramatically underweight and malnourished 12 year old boy was brought into the local hospital by his father. Police obtained a warrant and searched the home of the boy’s mother, 36 year old Brandy Jaynes of Toquerville, Utah. There were three children who were living in the home with Jaynes; two of the children appeared to be in normal health while police found evidence that the emaciated boy who was brought into the hospital had been living in a locked bathroom among his own feces ,with no light and little to no food.

Intentional child abuse

Photo by: C.P.Storm

Photo by: C.P.Storm

The 36 year old mother of three was booked into Purgatory Correctional Facility on a $10,000 bail and is facing up to 15 years in prison for second degree intentional child abuse. According to Utah Code 76-5-109, “any person who inflicts upon a child serious physical injury ( . . . ) is guilty of an offense as follows: If done intentionally or knowingly, the offense is a felony of the second degree. “ This section defines seriously physical injury as “injuries that:

(A) seriously impairs the child’s health;

(B) involves physical torture;

(C) causes serious emotional harm to the child; or

(D) involves a substantial risk of death to the child.

Serious physical injury includes: ( . . . ) any conduct toward a child that results in severe emotional harm, severe developmental delay or intellectual disability, or severe impairment of the child’s ability to function; ( . . . ) any conduct that results in starvation or failure to thrive or malnutrition that jeopardizes the child’s life.”

Locked away and forgotten

Aggravated Intentional Child Abuse

Photo by: Joel Penner

Investigators are attempting to piece together information surrounding this family and the public is demanding to know why no one had checked on the boy earlier. By the time his father took him to receive medical treatment, the boy weighed 30 pounds and could not stand and support his own weight. The 12 year old boy had been taken out of school over a year prior to the search on the Toquerville Utah home yet neither school officials, neighbors, family, nor friends had apparently inquired of the boy’s whereabouts. One of the siblings admitted to knowing their brother was in the bathroom and had spoken to him through the door, but it had been months since they last spoke. It is not known where the father of the boy was during the boy’s bathroom imprisonment, and whether or not he had any knowledge of the circumstances his son had been living in for an extended period of time.

Mindset of a troubled parent

Photo by: Porsche Brosseau

Photo by: Porsche Brosseau

Police are understandably concerned with the irrational thinking of the mother who claimed the malnourished boy wanted to sleep in the bathroom and that she felt she was keeping him safe in the locked room while she was away from the house. Although the boy was obviously neglected and living in horrible circumstances, the mother was keeping an eye on him. There was Wi-Fi enabled video monitoring that was streaming to the mother’s cell phone, as well as a baby monitor that could transmit messages from the mother to her son. There are residents that live near the home that claim the area has a high volume of drug use, however authorities have not answered this speculation with any information regarding whether or not the mother was using illegal drugs. It has also not been divulged whether or not the 36 year old has a history of mental illness, or whether or not the boy had special needs that the mother was unable to cope with, however a mental illness would help make this story of intentional child abuse easier to swallow than a mother who intentionally neglected her child to near starvation. More information on the case is forthcoming.

Domestic Violence in Utah

Domestic violence is a serious problem worldwide, and Utah is by far no exception.

Wife and her dog

One of the several cases of domestic violence this month in Utah left a woman with facial wounds, a dog in surgery, and a man in jail. Earlier this month, a 40 year old Santaquin Utah man was arrested for multiple charges when he was involved in a fight with a woman at their home. After hitting the woman in the head in front of her children, he then stabbed her service dog- nearly killing it. While it is unknown what sparked the argument that ended with physical aggression, domestic violence rarely needs a rational reason.

Legal definition

Photo by: West Midlands Police

Photo by: West Midlands Police

Utah Code 77-36-1 identifies domestic violence as “any criminal offense involving violence or physical harm or threat of violence or physical harm, or any attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit a criminal offense involving violence or physical harm, when committed by one cohabitant against another.” 77-36-1 also states that it can . . . include “commission or attempt to commit, any of the following offenses by one cohabitant against another:

(a) aggravated assault . . .
(b) assault . . .
(c) criminal homicide . . .
(d) harassment . . .
(e) electronic communication harassment . . .
(f) kidnapping . . .
(g) mayhem . . .
(h) sexual offenses . . .
(i) stalking . . .
(j) unlawful detention . . .
(k) violation of a protective order . . .
(l) [some] offense[s] against property . . .
(m) Possession of a deadly weapon with intent to assault . . .
(n) Discharge of a firearm from a vehicle, near a highway, or in the direction of any person, building, or vehicle . . .
(o) Disorderly conduct . . .
(p) Child abuse . . . “

Penalties  for charges can range from a misdemeanor to a felony depending on the offense in question.

More than assault

Domestic violence is typically seen as a physical assault on a person, usually a spouse. What is unknown to many however is that it can also be delivered as mental and emotional abuse. The Utah Domestic Violence Coalition states: “Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person. This includes any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.”

Not just between couples

Domestic violence takes place frequently between couples but it can also occur with children, elderly family members, and even roommates with no blood relationship. As long as the victim and the assailant are cohabitants, then domestic violence charges can occur from any violent or threatening episode between the two parties.

Domestic violence away from home

Although the most common setting, domestic violence doesn’t always take place at a residential building such as a home or apartment. It can be any harm done to someone by a person they live with, regardless of where they are when the attack takes place. A spouse that starts a fight with their significant other at work, or a parent that slaps their child around in front of the school are both cases in which domestic violence charges could ensue.

Statistics & penalties

Compiling statistics of domestic violence cases in Utah is difficult, as many of them go unreported. The reports that are compiled base their information on injuries and deaths of women at the hands of men. While there are many women who are the victims of domestic violence, it isn’t uncommon to see the man as the one being hurt. These new findings can create a lot of confusion for officer who respond to domestic violence calls. All too often “who is at fault” is not completely clear to police upon arrival. This can lead to false or misguided charges against a person. For anyone facing charges of domestic violence, whether the charges are justified or not, speak with an attorney immediately.