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CHILD ABUSE IN AMERICA: SLAUGHTER OF THE INNOCENTS
This article has been written as a public service
BY JAMES W. PRESCOTT, Ph.D.
From HUSTLER, October 1977
(Original introduction follows.)
Child abuse, including sexual exploitation of children, is a problem reaching epidemic proportions in the U.S. Many sociologists believe that the abused child often goes on to become a violent criminal, alcoholic, welfare case or even another child abuser. One man specifically concerned with the needless brutal injury to and death of children is James W. Prescott, Ph.D. He is a board member of the American Humanist Association, a developmental neuropsychologist with the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, past president of the Maryland Psychological Association and of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex, and is president of the International Society of Humanistic Science. Dr. Prescott has written articles on "Body Pleasure and the Origins of Violence" (in The Futurist) and "Abortion of the Unwanted Child: A Choice for the Humanistic Society" (in The Humanist). His research into the causes and effects of child abuse is an ongoing project. A questionnaire designed by Dr. Prescott follows his article. Your participation will help provide solutions to the problem of child abuse in America.
Moments before press time Dr. Prescott contacted us by telephone to inform us that if we did not print a disclaimer disassociating this article from the organizations with which he is affiliated, he would be fired from his job. If such action takes place, we hope readers will contact their Congressmen to protest this firing.
Larry Flynt has announced that if Dr. Prescott is fired -- despite the people's protests -- he will hire Dr. Prescott at his present salary. But it would be in the best interests of all Americans if Dr. Prescott remained with HEW. We feel that the government needs more individuals like Dr. Prescott, rather than the faceless bureaucrats who refuse to help solve society's problems.
Human sexuality is so powerful that its repression can make us kill the things we love most. It can propel us to uncontrolled violence -- even against babies and children.
An example of violent behavior caused by affectional deprivation: The man living with this child's mother caused severe kidney and intestinal damage when he beat the child with a blunt instrument."A woman who is eight-and-a-half months' pregnant was under arrest on a murder charge at Fordham Hospital today after the death of her battered two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.... The child had multiple lacerations and many scars and bruises." -- New York Post, March 29, 1974.
"A crippled seven-year-old child, whose abuse apparently included having the words 'I cry' burned into his back with a cigarette, was wheeled into a Harris County (Texas) courtroom in a crib today.... The boy, described by one witness as 'bright, but a loner' prior to his injuries, had suffered a ruptured colon from something inserted into his anus, and the ensuing infections resulted in brain damage." -- Washington Post, May 5, 1977.
"Linda Fay Burchfield [has been] charged with imprisoning her daughter Patti in a closet for four years... Last July 5th, police burst into the home and found Patti. She weighed 23 pounds and was less than three feet tall, about half the normal size of a nine-year-old. On the same day, Patti's sister Donna, then 13, was having an abortion.... Mrs. Burchfield's husband has been charged with raping Donna." -- Washington Star, March 17, 1977.
"A young southeast Washington couple were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter yesterday in the death by starvation of their infant son." -- Washington Post, March 17, 1977.
"A Cleveland, Tennessee, couple were indicated yesterday on a first-degree murder charge for the torture death of a four-year-old-girl." -- Washington Star, October 23, 1976.
The extreme of child abuse is murder. In 1975 alone, 166 infants less than a year old were murdered, 327 children between the ages of one and four were murdered, 142 children between the ages of five and nine were murdered, and 205 children between the ages of ten and fourteen were murdered. These numbers, taken from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports for that year, are at best an underestimate of the actual incidence of infant and child murder, since so many deaths reported as accidental may in fact result from intentional injury. Accidental death rates for these same age groups range from 10 to 27 times the murder rates. One can assume that authorities declare a child's death to be murder only under the most extreme and blatant of circumstances.
Statistics alone cannot convey the horror of physical assaults upon children in our society. The Uniform Crime Reports describe the various means by which adults murder their infants and children: shooting, stabbing, bludgeoning, burning, poisoning, strangling, suffocating, and using explosives.
A cigarette lighter in the hands of a man who'd been abused as a child becomes a weapon of torture against his own child. Will these symptoms of lack of physical affection and sexual repression carry over to the next generation? The problem is breaking the cycle of abuse that turns victims into perpetrators.
Philip J. Resnick states in his article "Child Murder by Parents: A Psychiatric Review of Filicide" (American Journal of Psychiatry, 1969): "Head trauma, strangulation and drowning were the most frequent methods of filicide (the killing of a person's own child). Fathers tended to use more active methods, such as striking, squeezing or stabbing; mothers more often drowned, suffocated or gassed their victims. Unusual methods included putting sulfuric acid in a nursing bottle, and biting a child to death. One father put his son on a drill press and drilled a hole through the hart."
Perhaps the less fortunate children are those who do not die as a result of abuse -- those who must live in pain and fear throughout childhood. According to the most recent national survey on child abuse, conducted in 1975 by Dr. Richard Gelles, Dr. Murray Straus and Dr. Suzanne Steinmetz, more than 3 million children in 1975 had been kicked, hit or punched at some time in their short lives by their parents. In the year of the study, 460,000 to 750,000 children were beaten to the point of injury by their parents. More dramatically, 46,000 were threatened or injured by their parents with a gun or knife.
The number of children abused in the United States is increasing every year. Dr. Trude Lash and Dr. Heidi Sigal found in their study of child abuse in New York City that the incidence of child abuse increased 1026 percent between 1964 and 1974. An unknown portion of this increase can be attributed to a growing willingness to report child abuse. But it is apparent that a substantial amount of this increase must indicate a higher incidence of abuse. The Office of Child Development of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare stated: "An epidemic of child abuse is occurring in this country."
The problem of child abuse is not just a problem of certain adults assaulting certain children, bur rather it is deeply rooted in the fabric of our entire society. Why do husbands beat their wives? Why do so many of us support capital punishment? Why do we find so much entertainment and enjoyment in films and television programs that depict physical violence? The answer is that we are a physically violent society and that child abuse represents merely one aspect of that violence.
Is child abuse a crime? This child's identity is protected because the courts may return the girl to her father, who beat her so severely she suffered brain damage.
The extent to which our society and our judical system accept the right of adults to physically assault children is reflected in a case reported by Athelia Knight in the Washington Post on November 6, 1976. Renee Ann Canfield, the 12-week-old stepdaughter of Elmer Canfield, died in April of 1976 as the result of injuries she suffered when Canfield held her by her ankles and spanked her. The infant's crying had interrupted his favorite television show, Adam-12. At a hearing before Chief Circuit Judge Barnard F. Jennings, Canfield's attorney said that the defendant, a 35-year-old unemployed cook from Fairfax, Virginia, "didn't realize that the baby's head hit the floor" during the spanking and that Canfield regretted the incident.
In testimony, one woman said she had witnessed Canfield spanking the infant almost every day. The attorney noted that his client had no previous criminal record and entered a plea of guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Canfield was sentenced to a five-year prison term, which was suspended, and was placed on three years' probation. Judge Jennings told Canfield, who had remained silent throughout the hearing: "On one hand, the life of an innocent child has been taken. On the other hand, we have you -- a basically good and decent person."
It's beyond all rational explanation how the killing of this infant could be considered to be an accident and that the person who killed this 12-week-old baby could be considered "a basically good and decent person."
But the fact is our society tolerates and supports physical violence against children while punishing the same type of physical violence if an adult is the victim. The idea that beating children is good for them is a long-standing theory not only in our society, but in many others. The attitude that physical pain and punishment are necessary to produce discipline and to build strong moral character dates back to biblical times and finds its religious roots in the Old Testament: "Withhold not correction from a child.... Thou shalt beat him with a rod and deliver his soul from hell" (Proverbs 23:13-14).
In a discussion with me, Alvar Nelson, professor of criminal law at the University of Uppsala (Sweden), pointed out that 100 years ago in Sweden fathers once a week would beat their wives and children with a rod to drive out sin and moral corruption from their bodies. In 1968 the Swedish Parliament unanimously passed a law deeming it a criminal offense for a parent to strike a child. What happened in Swedish culture over the years to make such humane legislation possible? Will America have to wait 100 years for similar legislation?
The insistence of American adults that physical punishment of children is good for them can best be seen in the case of Maryland. When that state's department of education prohibited all forms of physical punishment of children in the school system, 19 of the state's 24 counties passed legislation exempting them from the directive. Now only two states -- Massachusetts and New Jersey -- prohibit the corporal punishment of children in their schools. (New York City schools also ban corporal punishment.) Judging by our school systems, we certainly believe in beating children.
Children deprived of physical affection are more vulnerable to pimps and kiddy-porn peddlers. Many runaways go straight to the streets.
Rather than the milk of human kindness, this child received a faceful of scalding milk. His permanent scars are a sign of a society in which sexual pleasure is considered immoral and violence against the body is considered morally necessary for salavtion of the soul. The child needs love and affection -- not abuse.
This attitude was dramatized most recently by the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court on April 19, 1977, in the case of Ingraham v. Wright. The parents of James Ingraham and of Roosevelt Andrews filed suit against Drew Junior High School in Dade County, Florida, for the severe physical punishment that the school's principal inflicted on their sons. James, subjected to more than 20 licks with a paddle while being held over a table, suffered a hematoma (a localized mass of blood resulting from trauma), which kept him out of school for 11 days. Roosevelt was paddled on several occasions for minor misdeeds and once, as a result, lost the use of his arm for a week.
The basis of the parents' appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was the right of their sons to protection from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to due process. The Court, in a 5 to 4 decision, made it clear that the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment was designed to protect those convicted of a crime. Since errant schoolchildren are not criminals, the Court reasoned, they did not have that protection. Further, rejecting the right of children to due process, guaranteed under the 14th Amendment, the Court decided that providing prior procedural safeguards would require a diversion of educational resources and that school authorities would abandon corporal punishment rather than comply with procedural requirements. The majority of the Court ruled that the benefit of invoking the Constitution to impose prior notice and a hearing could not justify the cost.
Justice Lewis Powell, Jr., delivering the majority opinion of the Court, noted that "paddling of recalcitrant children has long been an acceptable method of promoting good behavior and instilling notions and responsibility and decorum into the mischievous heads of children."
The minority opinion, filed by justice Byron White, strongly objected to the conditions and rationale for the majority opinion, and held that protection from cruel and unusual punishment was not confined exclusively to criminals and that children were indeed entitled to due process. The purpose of due process was to avoid unfair and unwarranted punishment, that is, to protect the innocent from being punished. If the highest court sanctions physical assault against children, is it so surprising that child abuse is a growing problem?
Can a child develop healthy attitudes toward others if he is tied to his bed with wire as punishment for bet-wetting? In a sexually repressed society, lack of physical affection is prominent and emotions are often expressed through violence.
Often, one problem begets another. Statistics show that unwanted births can be considered a major factor contributing to the murder of infants and children, and to child abuse in general. In Dr. Resnick's study of 37 infants killed within the first 24 hours after birth, he found that 83 percent of the victims were unwanted by the mother. The incidence of unwanted births in this country is quite high. A fertility study by Dr. Larry Bumpass and Dr. Charles Westoff reported that for the years 1960 to 1965, 22 percent of all births were unwanted by at least one spouse. Among low-income and poorly educated families, the rate of unwanted births was even higher.
We literally provide breeding grounds for crime and social disorder by careless and indifferent breeding. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision against the use of federal Medicaid funds for abortion will result in a loss of federal and state funds for poor women who wish to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. This will insure an increase in unwanted and abandoned newborns, in infant/child mortality, and in the human reservoir of crime, violence, child abuse, and drug and alcohol addiction 15 to 20 years from now. But who will be held responsible for the consequences of the decision made a generation before? The people in the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court will be gone. Tragically, no one will be held responsible except the unwanted and neglected child, tomorrow's social offender.
It is estimated that more than a million of our children run away from home each year because they find their home lives intolerable. Thus, Congress established the Runaway Youth Act to provide halfway houses and other support programs for children, The studies of Dr. Rocco D'Angelo, of Ohio State University's School of Social Work, found that runaway children are physically punished two-and-a-half times more frequently than nonrunaway children. It seems that children who live in happy, affectionate homes will not run away. On the other hand, children who are deprived of physical affection by their parents are more likely to receive a great deal of physical punishment from them. Such children become extremely vulnerable to exploitation, particularly sexual exploitation. Consequently, it would not be surprising to find these runaways involved in child prostitution and pornography.
Will this child have to face further beatings if she lives long enough to attend school? The Supreme Court has declared it is legal for schools to administer corporal punishment.
Just how important is physical affection in the parent/child relationship and in the relationships between youths and adults? In my studies, I have found strong support linking physical violence in a person's adult life to lack of physical affection from his parents when he was a child. In order to test this finding, I utilized Dr. R. B. Textor's book A Cross-Cultural Summary, containing data on the behavior patterns of primitive tribal societies. I examined 49 such societies, comparing their behaviors in three areas: physical affection given to infants, adult physical violence (specifically the extent to which they engage in torturing, mutilating and killing their enemies), and repression of premarital and extramarital sexuality.
I found that those cultures that gave a great deal of infant physical affection --that is, a lot of touching, holding and carrying -- were rated very low in adult physical violence. Conversely, the cultures that were rated low on adult physical affection of children were rated very high on adult physical violence. Thirty-six out of the 49 cultures examined fit this pattern.
With respect to the 13 cultures that did not fit into this pattern, I examined their sexual behaviors to see whether this could account for the discrepancy. Five of the six cultures that had high infant physical affection and high adult physical violence had repressive attitudes toward premarital sex. The interpretation is that the benefits of infant physical affection can be negated during life by lack of physical affection due to repression of premarital sex.
When I examined the other seven cultures that had low infant physical affection and also low adult physical violence, I found that every one of these cultures had permissive attitudes toward premarital sex. The interpretation here is that deprivation of infant physical affection can be compensated for later in life through expressive sexuality.
A variety of evidence strongly supports the view that physical pleasure inhibits physical violence. When we deprive our infants and children of physical affection, and when we are very repressive toward sexual pleasure, then the inevitable outcome is emotional disturbance and physical violence.
Collaborating with Dr. Douglas Wallace (Human Sexuality Program, University of California Medical School, San Francisco), I conducted a survey to determine whether the basic relationships found in cross-cultural studies existed in the United States today. A questionnaire was given to a variety of persons, including college students, housewives and businessmen, as well as to alcoholics and drug addicts. Those questioned were guaranteed anonymity.
Tension must be relieved, whether through the warm intimacy of sexual contact or through brutal acts of senseless violence.
We found support for the basic relationship between approval of violence and rejection of physical pleasure. Individuals who agreed with violent statements also agreed with statements that rejected physical pleasure. For instance, the majority of people who agreed with such statements as: "Physical punishment and pain help build a strong moral character," "Capital punishment should be permitted by society," "Violence is necessary to really solve our problems" and "I can tolerate pain very well," also agreed with such statements as: "Prostitution should be punished by society," Responsible premarital sex is not agreeable to me," "Nudity within the family has a harmful influence upon children" and "Sexual pleasures help build a weak moral character."
After being punched in the mouth like this by his father, this child may never want to use these lips for a tender, affectionate kiss for his own children.
We also found that those who believed in violence preferred alcohol and drugs to the experiences of sexual pleasure. As a part of my theory of deprivation of physical affection and pleasure, I believe that the use of alcohol and drugs is a source of compensation for deprivation of physical affection during infancy and childhood, as well as compensation for repressed sexuality.
The pain and discomfort of bodily tension must be relieved. When the natural methods of Mother Nature (tactile pleasure) are denied, then substitutes must be found -- alcohol, drugs and physical violence. This also helps to explain why not all persons become violent and aggressive while under the influence of alcohol. Those who have a past history of deprivation of physical affection and pleasure are very likely to become violent and aggressive under the influence of alcohol. Conversely, those persons who have a satisfactory sex life and who had received a great deal of physical affection as children do not react that way. Obviously, it is easier to reach out for a bottle or a vial than it is to reach out to another person for physical affection and a warm, meaningful relationship.
When we are deprived of physical affection during infancy and childhood, we develop an aversion to being touched; and therefore it becomes extremely difficult to accept touching as pleasurable. It is very hard to overcome this condition once a person reaches adulthood, and it deprives him of the main restraint against violence. We must distinguish sensual pleasure from sadistic pleasure, since it is only affectional pleasure that inhibits violence.
The violence comes full-circle now and serves to perpetuate child abuse in our nation. In a booklet written for the National Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, Dr. Brandt Steele revealed that child abusers had themselves been abused as children. A pattern of violence was established early in their lives and they passed it along to their offspring.
In addition, Dr. Steele found in his interviews that these parents obtained very little pleasure in their daily living and in particular received little physical pleasure from their sex lives. Of the mothers who had abused their children, Dr. Steele reported that only a very few ever experienced orgasm. This further supports a relationship between the inability to experience physical pleasure and the expression of physical violence.
Flogging of this sort was outlawed many years ago for common criminals, but it continues for today's child. This three-year-old boy may never know the joys of giving and receiving affection. Many children die from such abuse.
The time has also come to recognize the painful truth that traditional Judeo-Christian moral values of pain and pleasure in human relationships have contributed substantially to child abuse and to the prevalence of physical violence in Western civilization. The religious system upon which our culture is based holds that pain, suffering and deprivation are moral and necessary to save one's soul or to make one a "good person." The crucifixion and scourging of Christ are examples. I mentioned before the biblical proverb that reflects the religious necessity to beat children with the rod to save their souls from hell.
This doctrine was dramatized in Molly Ivin's article "Whippings for God" in the January 25, 1974, issue of New Times. She reported on a home for delinquent girls operated by Lester Roloff, a former Southern Baptist minister from Texas, who was prosecuted for spanking, whipping and beating the girls. He was quoted as saying, "Better a pink bottom than a black soul." State Attorney General John Hill said: "I don't mind pink bottoms. What I do object to is black, blue and bloody."
In addition to this prescription for physical punishment, there is also the prescription for the deprivation of physical pleasure, which is generally considered immoral. We are reminded in the New Testament to "mortify the deeds of the body" (Romans 8:13). The Christian virtues of celibacy and virginity exemplify the extreme repression of physical affection and pleasure espoused by that religious system. Ancient Hebrew custom called for a woman's death by stoning for adultery or for not being a virgin on her wedding night.
In 1976 the Vatican reaffirmed the immorality of premarital intercourse, condemned homosexuality and stated that masturbation is "an intrinsically and seriously disordered act." Denial and repression of sexual pleasure is as prominent in Hebrew tradition as it is in Christian tradition. The code of Jewish Law (Chapter 151:1) states: "Those who practice masturbation and cause the issue of semen in vain, not only do they commit a grave sin, but they are under a ban, concerning whom it is said [Isaiah 1:15]: 'Your hands are full of blood'; and it is equivalent to killing a person."
It is interesting to contrast the above moral values to those found in a comparative study of Green Berets and Vietnam War resisters compiled by David M. Mantell. The Green Berets strongly disapproved of masturbation because they perceived it as a weakness, a blow against their manliness, and an indication of social and sexual failure. They also disapproved of or condemned premarital sexual relations for women, but approved of them for men. Mantell found that the Green Berets generally came from families where parental physical punishment was prominent and hard and that there was very little physical affection within these families.
On the other hand, the war resisters came from homes in which strong sexual taboos were virtually nonexistent and in which sex was practiced regularly and with pleasure. The home lives of the resisters were also described as being essentially free from harsh physical punishment, with a high degree of physical affection.
Murder is the ultimate form of child abuse. Multiple burns and human bites were only part of what killed this ten-month-old infant. His father was convicted of the killing.
The prevention of child abuse in Western civilization will require a moral reformation that rejects traditional moral values of pain and pleasure. We must reject the idea that pain and violence are both necessary and moral and that physical pleasure is immoral. This idea is a basic tenet of our society; and it will be difficult, but not impossible, for us to change. We must recognize the necessity of sexual pleasure in human relationships if we are to be truly moral beings, and to avoid the sexual exploitation and abuse of others.
We must educate Americans to accept physical pleasure and affection. Sexual information must flow freely, although we should refrain from producing films and magazines that promote physical violence, particularly sexual violence and exploitation. We must support birth control -- including abortion -- so that we bring into this world only children who are truly wanted and to whom we can give a warm, affectionate and nurturing relationship.
We must return to the fundamental principles of our Constitution and the basic objectives of the American government: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. How can children enjoy liberty and happiness when adults inflict pain upon them, exploit them and deprive them of physical affection? We are architects of violence against ourselves and our children, and we are the ones who must change the moral architecture of Western civilization.
Content on this page reproduced with kind permission by James W. Prescott, Ph.D. See Project Nospank for further information on spanking.