Jordan Riak

(WOMENSENEWS)–A growing body of evidence indicates that perhaps the parent or authority figure who uses the rod, spoils, or at least harms, the child, especially a girl child.

In fact, a growing number of experts believe that children, in general, and girls, in particular, should not be spanked at home or subjected to corporal punishment at school. Experts say such spankings can precondition girls to accept violence and boys to rely on it.

All studies show that boys are spanked significantly more than girls, but there are special concerns with girls who are spanked. Of particular concern is the sexual aspect of spanking girls.

"When a girl is spanked by her father or paddled by a male school teacher, she is being trained to submit," says Jordan Riak, a retired school teacher and the executive director of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education, a California-based nonprofit group dedicated to getting corporal punishment banned in U.S. schools.

"When a school district permits teachers to paddle girls, it is setting those girls up to be victims of future male authority figures, whether it be a boyfriend, husband or employer," Riak claims.

Corporal punishment is legal to varying degrees, for different causes and up to different ages in 23 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

One woman writes of her experience with paddling at a Florida high school in a letter posted on the Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education Web site. She describes how she was made to bend over a male administrator’s desk while wearing a miniskirt and was ordered to spread her legs further apart. While another male administrator watched, the paddler first caressed her buttocks with the paddle, then delivered three stinging whacks.

Spanking Victim Compares Her Punishment to Rape

"I only know that this experience was the closest thing to a rape as I can imagine, and I pray that the time will soon come when no one will have to suffer this form of punishment-masked sadism again," wrote the woman, who requested anonymity. The letter can be read in its entirety on the Web site.

The woman never told anyone of the spanking and its effects on her until she wrote the letter–a reaction common to girls, according to Nadine Block, the founder and executive director of the Center for Effective Discipline.

"Girls are more likely to internalize things," she says. "Boys are more likely to act out."

Riak, from Parents and Teachers Against Violence, added that sexual abusers often inflict pain on their victims in the guise of discipline. Riak says that when teachers or other educational authorities spank students, especially girls, they actually are attempting to gratify their own sexual needs and to disguise their actions as educational or disciplinary.

Irwin Hyman, professor of school psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia and author of several books on the effect of spanking on children echoes Riak’s warnings.

"There are definite sexual implications for a male teacher to paddle a girl," he says. "The nerve endings that go to the genitalia also go to the buttocks."

Hyman says spanking by parents also has negative emotional consequences for girls. "The intention of spanking is to cause pain and the causing of pain to girls and then saying ‘I love you’ is not healthy."

Experts Criticize Recent Report Saying Spanking Is OK

Of the cases he has seen during 40 years in his private practice, Hyman says, "Kids who have been spanked severely react as if they’ve been raped."

He discounts a recently released, and much publicized, study by Diane Baumrind of the University of California that challenged the research indicating spanking had long-term negative effects on children.

Her study argued that the existing anti-spanking research often did not adequately differentiate between spanking by non-abusive parents and severe abuse, and did not take into effect other factors for negative behaviors. Among those factors, she cites that parents are more likely to spank more aggressive children or that some children who are spanked are also emotionally abused.

Baumrind does not advocate spanking, but argued that her own study showed "the occasional swat" does no long-term harm to children.

Hyman strongly disagrees. "There is certainly no reliable research to support paddlings," he said.

Baumrind did not return calls for comment.

Experts: Spanking No More Effective Than Other Discipline

It’s important to acknowledge, say the experts, that spanking is an effective tool for short-term behavior modification.

"But it’s no more effective than many other forms of discipline, such as time-outs, that work just as well in the short run and have no negative long-term effects," says Murray A. Straus, a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire and co-director of that school’s Family Research Laboratory. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including "Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families and Its Effect on Children."

Straus says it is important that parents know two things about corporal punishment: It doesn’t work any better than alternative methods, and it has harmful side effects that can include juvenile delinquency, domestic abuse and even depression.

"When you put those things together, you can see that corporal punishment should be avoided," he says.

Straus cites a study that compared spanking and time-outs as disciplinary tools and indicated that time-outs work just as well for short-term behavior modification as spanking. Another study shows that children who are spanked have more difficulty with interpersonal relationships and are more likely to become hitters than are children who are not spanked.

And that may have long-term employment consequences, Strauss argues.

"We’ve gone from a nation of manual workers to a nation of "head workers, in a sense," he says, noting that most of today’s jobs require good interpersonal skills and the ability to think for oneself, to be successful.

"Spanking teaches neither of those things," he says. "It teaches physical response to problems and immediate obedience."

Research Links Corporal Punishment, Negative Social Consequences

A study by Maryland-based anti-spanking advocate John Benjamin Guthrow shows a correlation between corporal punishment in the schools and a variety of negative social consequences.

Guthrow compared data from state, federal and local government agencies for the top 10 states which, according to the United States Department of Education’s 1994 "Elementary and Secondary School Civil Rights Compliance Report," use corporal punishment most frequently in their public schools. In order of descending frequency, they are Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Missouri.

Among his findings:

  • Murder rates in five of those 10 states were among the top 10 murder rates in the United States, and of the remaining five states the murder rates in four of them were among the top 20 murder rates. None of the 10 states with the lowest murder rates in the nation allowed corporal punishment in the public schools.
  • Incarceration rates in seven of those 10 states were among the top 10 incarceration rates in the country. Of the remaining three states, incarceration rates in two were among the top 20 in the nation. None of the states with the 10 lowest incarceration rates allowed corporal punishment.
  • For the Condition of Children Index, published by the Congressional Quarterly press, which measures the overall well-being of children in terms of factors such as poverty, education and health, six of the 10 states ranked among the 10 worst in the nation. Of the remaining four states, all were among the worst twenty in the nation. Of those states ranked in the top 10 for best condition of children, none allowed corporal punishment.
  • For the percentage of the population over the age of 25 with a high school diploma in 1995, eight of the 10 top spanking states ranked among the lowest 10 states in the nation.

The Cycle of Violence–Loss of Self-Esteem, Accepting Violence

"It’s a killer correlation," says Guthrow, a mechanical engineer from Maryland who has degrees in history and mechanical engineering from Columbia University.

Guthrow’s research enforces an assertion by Block of the Center for Effective Discipline. "It’s all part of a cycle of violence–loss of self esteem, accepting violent behavior," she says. "The more children are spanked, the more likely they are to engage in digressive behaviors."

It is important to note that not all children who are spanked will develop negative social behaviors, just as not all heavy smokers will develop lung cancer, says Straus.

"But the potential risk is certainly increased," he says. "And it isn’t worth the potential for long-term negative effects."

Riak makes an analogy between domestic violence and spanking and this month has written many national women’s rights organizations urging them to take up the issue, but so far has been ignored.

"Just as we as a society no longer condone a man striking his wife," he says. "We as a society should no longer condone the striking of our children, especially our daughters."

Temple University’s Hyman agrees:

"I think women’s organizations need, first of all, to work absolutely to forbid the paddling of teen-age girls," he adds.

Melinda Rice is a Texas-based free-lance journalist.

For more information:

Center for Effective Discipline:

John Benjamin Guthrow’s report:

Diane Baumrind’s report: (PDF format, 89KB)

World Corporal Punishment Research page:

Children in a Changing Society corporal punishment page: