(reposted with permission from the PAR-L discussion list)


"Putting Profits And Tax Cuts Ahead of Kids"


Michele Landsberg's column for Saturday July 19


The news was so disturbing that it should have stopped us in our tracks.

If we were a sane society, all other public undertakings would have been

suspended temporarily. The legislature would have been called back to work,

party ideologies set aside and dramatic action taken at once to confront

the findings of the major Ontario child abuse study reported last week.


One of every three boys and one of every five girls is being grabbed

and shoved, kicked, bittten, punched, beaten. The violence is rated as

severe (burning, battering) for 11 per cent of boys and 9 per cent of



Spanking and slapping WEREN'T included in the massive study of 10,000

Ontario adults, led by McMaster University associate professor and child

psychiatrist Harriet MacMillan, a member of the Centre for Studies of

Children at Risk.


That one out of every three boys is being assaulted --- natural

fathers are the most frequent assailants --- is a blood-chilling fact.

Think of the consequences: the hurt to a small boy's self-esteem, the rage,

resentment and humiliation he must feel, the destructive lessons he learns

about what it means to be a man.


This level of violence against children goes a long way to explaining

some of our society's open wounds: the frequency of drug abuse, alcoholism,

mental illness, domestic violence. Here could be the answer to some

persistent puzzles: why are so many women conditioned to accept verbal and

physical domestic assault? Why are so many men fixated on power in

relationships? Could the fact that three times as many women as men

suffer depression be directly linked to the fact that three times as many

girls as boys are sexually abused?


The costs of these blows and violations is truly incalculable. We

can't even begin to estimate the chronic emotional and physical ailments,

the hospital bills, the crippling of creativity and joy --- and the

endlessly repeated cycles of hurt and harm. "I was beaten all my life,"

said notorious criminal Mike Tyson. And sure enough, he intends to hit

his own children. "I think kids should learn discipline."


Such sentiments are too familiar to Dr. MacMillan. "People often say

that `I was spanked and it didn't hurt me', which is one reason we

excluded spanking from the survey. Too many people see it as just normal

discipline. But I do say to these people, `If you smoked cigarettes and

didn't get cancer, does that mean you want your children to smoke?' As a

clinician and child psychiatrist, I have very strong beliefs that we

should avoid ANY form of physical discipline," she said in an interview.

"There is a demonstrated relationship between corporal punishment and

detrimental outcomes."


If we had a government committed to the well-being of all, its first

priority would be --- not to detect abuse or punish offenders --- but to

prevent harm by offering the kind of help to parents that would transform

our world.


"Yes, there is one form of prevention that works," said Dr.

MacMillan. "Serious studies in the U.S. shows that intensive home

visiting by public health nurses to disadvantaged families dramatically

reduces the incidence of abuse."


Intensive home visiting means regular weekly visits, building an

"alliance" with the family, until the child is two years old. It's the

public health nurse (how often do we have to say this?) who can offer the

practical, unthreatening kind of help a stressed or inexperienced parent

can accept and use.


We're talking about human health and happiness. I just don't know

why tax cuts or business profits are thought to be more important.


What's more, it seems to me that this information ought to stop some

of the more destructive fads now current, among them the so-called

"father's rights" movement and the increasingly popular insistence that

fathers are essential for a child's well-being.


If so many fathers are kicking and punching their sons, shouldn't we

re-phrase the equation and focus on what children need, not what fathers



Mothers are the second most likely physical abusers. That stands to

reason: ANYONE with total power over another being may abuse that power.


What these figures should tell us is that many parents need help and

support to do their best, and that we all have obligations, not "rights",

to our children. At this moment, we are disastrously failing that duty.

Michele Landsberg



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