BEHS Discussion on Domestic Abuse

According to Gelles (1997), spanking is the most common form of family violence in the U.S. today. There are even some states which list “corporal punishment” as an exemption in their child abuse statues. The APA Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family reports that “Even parents who do not believe in physical punishment sometimes hit their children, yet research suggests that parents who believe in physical punishment hit their children more often and go beyond ordinary spankings more often than do parents who say they do not approve of physical punishment.” (1996, p. 80)  According to the Task Force, children who receive harsh, repeated physical punishment from their parents are more likely to show aggressive behavior. In addition, as these children mature, “they are more likely to use similar physical punishment to control their own children.” (1996, p. 80)



The acceptance of spanking as a means of child punishment creates problems for most domestic violence shelters. As hitting, for any reason, is not allowed in shelters, survivors who use this form of punishment are often at a loss at what to do to instead.



I thought it might be helpful for the class to get a little more information about why spanking usually isn’t allowed in dv shelters. Shelter workers usually have varying personal beliefs about spanking (just like all of you). Some see spanking as abusive while others do not and use it with their own children. Now that’s in their personal lives. When we start talking about shelter policies that’s a whole different story. Anti-spanking policies aren’t necessarily in place because workers think that the survivors are being “abusive” to their children.


Keep in mind that we’re talking about a domestic violence shelter. The adults and children who are living in this shelter are there because they’ve been abused. To varying degrees, these individuals are dealing with the trauma of the abuse (and this includes the children). Survivors and their children get “triggered” by all sorts of things. And for some, seeing other people get hit (or spanked if you will) can trigger them. When people get triggered all sorts of behaviors can happen. They can disassociate, become hysterical or uncommunicative, become disoriented and on and on. Shelter workers have enough to handle without trying to deal with individuals (and/or children) who get triggered by someone who spanks their child.


So, one reason anti-spanking policies are in place is to try to minimize this from potentially happening. A second reason speaks to a philosophical rationale maintained by the shelter (not the individual workers). Some shelters propose that spanking contributes to the development of problematic conflict resolution skills in some people.  Dv shelters have the opportunity to help educate survivors about a number of age-appropriate disciplinary techniques that survivors may not be familiar with.



For the purposes of this discussion, please complete the following:


1. In 2007 a California lawmaker introduced a bill that would have criminalized spanking children under 4 years of age (Note: this bill did not pass). Click on this link to listen to a NPR report on the issue:



2. Locate a state of your choice and identify whether this state has exemptions related to “corporal punishment.”  Follow this link to see state child abuse statutes from Child Welfare Information Gateway:


  • From the menu, choose “State Statues.” Once you are at the site choose your state, click on “Definitions of Child Abuse and Neglect” and then hit “Go.”
  • To keep from being repetitious, please post a state only once. If someone has already posted your state, please choose another.


3. Respond to the following questions:


  • What state did you research?
  • Does your state of choice have exemptions related to corporal punishment?
  • Why do you think the “anti-spanking” bill was so controversial?
  • How do you think shelter workers could help survivors deal with their frustrations over not being able to spank their children while in shelter?


4.  Use in-text citations and references to support your comments.




American Presidential Task Force on Violence and the Family. (1996). Violence and the family. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.


Gelles, R. J. (1997). Intimate violence in families. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications.

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