It's 'Perfectly Legal' to Beat Your Kids

Mark Joseph Stern on why Adrian Peterson probably won't go to jail
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 15, 2014 1:21 PM CDT
In this Sept. 7, 2014, file photo, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson warms up for an NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams in St. Louis.   (AP Photo/Tom Gannam, File)

(Newser) – Adrian Peterson has been accused of child abuse, then quickly reinstated, and don't expect him to go to prison, writes Mark Joseph Stern on Slate, because "in much of the United States, beating your own children—even to the point of bodily harm—is perfectly legal." Corporal punishment used to be largely accepted, and it wasn't until fairly recently that we started to sometimes view it as child abuse, Stern writes. Child abuse didn't even appear on mainstream America's radar until the 1960s, when an article on it "shocked millions of Americans by implying that their routine disciplinary practices might actually be deeply harming their children."

Even so, only "serious" bodily injury is actually against the law, meaning parents are free to spank, smack, and even beat their kids so long as they don't cross the line into inflicting "long-term physical damage," Stern writes. This despite the fact that recent research has found even spanking, largely accepted and seen as "humane," can have serious developmental consequences for kids. Yet not only does spanking remain legal in all US homes, 19 states still permit it in schools. And when abuse cases come to trial, juries tend to let off parents who slap or whip their children, unless the punishment is inflicted in a particularly shocking way. "It’s surprisingly difficult to tell where legal corporal punishment ends and criminal child abuse begins," Stern writes. "And so long as the former is allowed, the latter seems bound to occur." Click for his full column.

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