(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
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
"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.
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