When is spanking considered physical abuse? A Virginia judge has ruled that Felisha Kimble-Tanks, an Annandale dentist, crossed the line when she left bruises on her 6-year-old daughter's thigh after disciplining her with a belt. The mom is now banned from spanking for two years.
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The girl's father, from whom Kimble-Tanks is separated, discovered the bruises in January and filed a complaint with the Stafford County Sheriff's Office. According to the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, he also said that despite the incident, she was a good mother. Defense lawyer Mark Murphy pointed out to Yahoo Shine that the father made no move to get physical custody of the girl even though it would have been within his rights. He also noted that "the department of social services took no steps to remove the girl from her mother's home."
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Prosecutor Tara Mooney initially charged Kimble-Tanks with child cruelty, a felony. On Wednesday, the prosecution reached a deal with Murphy to reduce the charges to a misdemeanor, which will be dropped in two years if she refrains from any type of corporal punishment. Murphy told Shine, "When she was disciplining the child that day, she was categorically not engaging in child abuse ... and had no intention of bruising her."
According to Mooney, Kimble-Tanks "crossed the line." She told the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, "Leaving bruises on a child that young is abuse," not appropriate discipline. Murphy disagreed and said he had been ready to go to trial if the charges hadn't been reduced and eventually dropped. "This is a woman who has never been in trouble before and I'm certain will not be in trouble over the next two years," he told the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. According to the paper, Kimble-Tanks had been punishing her daughter because of misbehavior at school.
Although the statistics are hard to nail down, at least 65% of Americans say they approve of spanking. Some data shows that more than 80% of parents admit to having hit their kid at least once. And the comments on the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, which first reported the story, bear that out: People not only do many people strongly support spanking in general, but also feel that the judge was overstepping his bounds by prohibiting a mother from physically disciplining her child for two years.
A reader called Trixey wrote, "I grew up with discipline — I was spanked with a hand, belt, switch, and fly swatter. I do not consider this child abuse. This is what is wrong with current and future generations now. There is no discipline anymore — it's considered child abuse. These kids fear no one and have no respect for anyone. If I were raising a child today, I would spank it for discipline — counting 1, 2, 3 or putting in time out does not work. If the judge wanted to punish me for disciplining my child, then he can take it and raise it."
Another commenter, who identified herself as Linda, agreed: "What is happening here?? When I was young we got hit with leather belts, switches, wooden spoons, or whatever was in hands reach, and we all turned out fine. This is the problem with kids today, no discipline, because the law won't allow it."
However, many child development experts feel that there is no "line" when it comes to spanking. It simply shouldn't be done at all. "I compare it to drinking alcohol when pregnant," University of Manitoba's Tracie Afifi, PhD, who authored a widely reported 2012 study linking physical punishment to mental illness, told Yahoo Shine. "The recommendation is to not drink at all. Since we don't know where the line is for safe amounts, the policy recommendation is for women not to drink any alcohol."
Afifi pointed out that it would not be ethical to design an experiment using children to find the point at which spanking causes lasting harm. You couldn't spank one child a little bit, and then another a little more, and another even more, and later observe the results. "It's better to err on the side of caution," she said.
Furthermore, Afifi asserted that the preponderance of data over the years has linked spanking to serious issues like increased aggression and mental and physical illness. She also pointed out that there has been no scientific evidence showing there are benefits to physically punishing children.
The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees. Last year, they put out a statement that said, "The use of physical punishment to discipline children has been linked to a range of mental health problems and is strongly opposed by [the Academy]…." In the past, they have argued that spanking can damage children's self esteem and is not an effective form of discipline in the long term.
The issue is not whether Kimble-Tanks can spank her daughter after two years, but whether she should.
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