"At this time in the United States, the only people who can smack someone on their buttocks as part of their paid professional duties are school teachers, prostitutes and performers in the pornography filming industry."
--Project Nospank Flyer.
"What are they trying to teach me?"
-- seventeen year old Texas cheerleader, paddled for smoking on school property in 1999.1
(Note: a 2003 google search of the relevant names found articles about this incident reprinted at porn sites).
Where spanking, the traditional form of discipline reserved for children, and spanking, the most common form of BDSM intersect, we have a sickening situation where dysfunctional adults sexually abuse children and teens under the guise of correction, and often under the protection of the law.
Many American states permit spanking in schools, even high schools. While most secondary schools eschew the practice, many, specifically in the southern U.S. continue to paddle teens. Any attempt to overturn laws which permit such behaviour meets with organized resistance from the Religious Right. Many of these people do not seem to grasp who and what they are defending.
In the past, paddling of teenagers was generally reserved for male students (I am not saying this is acceptable, but it has an impact on the debate). While Great Britain and other western nations abandoned corporal punishment, 1980s America saw a rather warped interpretation of feminism extend this privilege to teenage girls, so that, in some American schools, adult males are paddling near-adult women and men, frequently for offenses as minor as smoking on school property, lateness, and dress code violations. Curiously, while some schools permit students to be paddled only by an administrator of their own race, many of these schools do not extend a similar choice along the lines of gender2. Often, coercion is involved; many students report that they were offered the option of an alternate penalty, which would have gone on their record or otherwise interfered with their education-- or the paddle. Students are required to assume a sexually receptive position (also the position of submission among primates), spread their legs (a curious requirement in many schools), and be beaten. While the offensiveness of this practice is dwarfed by those committed in some schools in the past3 their effects still can be devastating. One 17-year old North Carolina Honors Student, paddled by Dunn High School assistant principal Glenn Varney, in 1981 for truancy, required medical treatment for physical injury and psychological treatment for symptoms compared to those experienced by the survivors of rape. An inquiry-- which would not hear medical evidence-- exonerated the administrator. Curiously, while it was practice to offer male students alternatives, such as yard work, Varney did not offer any of the three female students paddled on this occasion the alternative-- because, he claimed, yard work was not "ladylike."
The Varney case had consequences that caused doctors treating two of the girls to report the incident to the authorities.4 More commonly, recipients walk away with the feeling of violation. One also needs to ponder how being ordered to bend over and spread one's legs might be perceived by a survivor of more conventional sexual abuse. A society which does not see the perverse sexual connotations of these acts is suffering from a willful blindness so extreme it deserves to give its name to a syndrome.
Other incidents have made the news.
In 2003, an Illinois man was charged after he regularly videotaped himself beating his nude teenage stepdaughter. He kept the video with his porn collection and referred to the girl as "Future Slave." He claimed that he was merely disciplining her in a traditional fashion. The charges, which included aggravated assault and several related to child pornography, netted him 13 years in prison. In some states, his actions may have been perfectly legal.
The possible sexual implications of spanking a post-pubescent teen seem obvious. Even if we give the paddlers the benefit of the doubt, the sexually-mature recipients could hardly miss the connotation. Could this also be the case with younger children?
In 2000, David Wadsworth, a principal of Greendale Elementary School in Pierrefonds, Quebec was convicted after years of quietly offering little girls the option of a bare bottom spanking in place of conventional punishment, with the promise he would not inform their parents of whatever transgression they had committed. A 7-year-old finally turned him in. In addition to the assault charges, he was also convicted for possession of child pornography.
In 1996, a British headmaster received 18 months in prison for the paddling of students. He admitted the act gave him "cozy kind of feelings" (Stokes).
In 2002, a number of police agencies broke an international child porn ring which used the Internet to distribute video material. While the existence of this ring and the harsh sentences earned by its perpetrators made international news, few sources in the media mentioned that this was specifically a ring of people whose abuse involved severe spanking and torture of children, often their own. One wonders why the BDSM element went so often unreported; perhaps America is unwilling to cast the country's old-time punishment in quite so harsh a light.
I am not here commenting on consensual BDSM. Having a non-vanilla sexual proclivity no more inclines one to abuse children than enjoying sexual intercourse inclines one to rape children. Nor am I saying that every adult who supports corporal punishment secretly sexualizes the act. Unfortunately, some twisted adults do misuse children. They should not be provided with a socially-sanctioned forum for doing so.
1. South Grand Prairie High School in Fort Worth, Texas. The student was offered an alternate punishment in this case. Both Assistant Principals Mike Cook and Benny Reed were present, one as paddler and one as an official "witness."
2. Race, however, plays its usual role in this society. A 2008 study by a human rights group found that African-American and Native students of both sexes were paddled more frequently than their Caucasian counterparts. ("Study: Minorities More Likely to be paddled")
3.At one evangelical Christan school which was ultimately raided and closed in the 1980s, some female students had permanent scars from beatings, and experienced the psychologically-induced cessation of menstruation.
4. Apart from bruising, the force of the blows caused uterine contractions which led, in two of the girls, to unnatural and prolonged menstrual hemorrhaging. In one case, the doctor initially expressed concern that her internal organs had been damaged. The school's response? They enacted a policy that the paddling of a female student will be deferred if she says she is menstruating. This is (a) irrelevant, since one of the girls so affected hadn't been, (b) invasive of personal privacy and (c) unfairly discriminatory, since it means the penalty will be hanging over her head, in a way that never applies to boys.
Naftali Bendavid. Chicago Tribune, Washington Bureau, March 13, 2002.
Porn fighters break ring of kid-spanking fetishists
Jeffrey L. Charles. "Sin, Sex, and Spanking School-age Children."
Pamela Colloff. "Remember the Christian Alamo."
Texas Monthly December 2001.
Jonathan J. Donahue. "Spanking as sexualized abuse."
Counseling Today, May 2001
Giovanna Drpic. "Corporal Punishment Flyer Upsets Some Folks. News Channel 3 October 18 2003. Memphis. http://www.nospank.net/n-j59.htm
Ian Gibson. The English Vice: Beating, Sex and Shame in Victorian England and After. London: Duckworth, 1978.
Tom Johnson. "The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children."
Susan Leonard. "Girl, mother talk about paddling ordeal." The Arizona Republic , March 26, 1995
"Look out, bad girls! Licks legal." The Oklahoman September 13 1982.
Jessie Milligan. "A Blow to the Spirit." Fort Worth Star-Telegram, August 7 1999.
"Paddled Student's Tale of Pain." San Francisco Chronicle October 17, 1984.
Lori Price and Nancy Callaway. "Penalty for Smoking Unclear Girls Supporters Say." Arlington Morning News (Texas) May 29 1999.
Karen Seidman. "Principal fooled everyone-- How Wadsworth hid his pedophilia" The Montreal Gazette, October 31, 2000.
Stacy St. Clair. "Lombard man gets 13 years for beating teen"
North County Times March 27, 2003
Paul Stokes. "School Head gets 18 months for spanking girl pupils." The Daily Telegraph October 1, 1996.
"Study: Minorities More Likely to be paddled"" Associated Press. August 20, 2008. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26297991/
Kathryn Walson. "Paddling Prohibited -- McAllen schools officially outlaw penalty." The Monitor August 11, 2004