Red States Whip Ass

A recent case that involved an infant stuck to a wall with super-glue and another dropped into a pot of scalding water set my parental fluids to a boil. Almost every evening there is another case of horrific child abuse or kidnapping and neglect. Living in the “Bible Belt” introduced me to this particular form of discipline with results I think were less than satisfactory.

Beatings were common in my neighborhood and all manner of devices were employed to administer authority and control including belts, razor straps and extension cords. Whether it did any good is open to question, but for me it helped make me defiant and manipulative as I learned the words adults respected and used them to my advantage. I survived the rod but many do not.

Child Abuse Epidemic

More than 1,700 children died of abuse or neglect in 2007, a rate of 2.35 children per 100,000.[1] Information collected by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, show that child protective service agencies received almost 5.8 million reports of possible abuse.[2] Each year, more than 2 million children are beaten by a family member.[3] A 2007 economic impact study estimates the yearly cost associated with abused and neglected children to be nearly $104 billion.[4]

Physical punishment of children has been glorified for years in some areas especially the South. Yet corporal punishment in that area has done nothing to lower crime rates, or other pathologies. “Beating it into them,” often causes a lot more problems than it solves. According to psychologists Ronald Slaby and Wendy Roedell, “One of the most reliable predictors of children’s level of aggression is the heavy use by parents of harsh, punitive discipline and physical punishment . . . Parental punitiveness has been found to be positively correlated with children’s aggression in over 25 studies . . . Parental punishment is one important aspect of a general pattern of intercorrelated parental behaviors that influence the child’s aggression.”[5]

Enter the Bible

The connection between religion and child abuse frequently stems from a literal and fundamental approach to ancient Scriptures.[6] Too often Biblical literalist reject advice from secular parenting books because the Bible has the correct advice on all matters leading to religion playing a significant role in cases of child abuse as literal beliefs foster, encourage and even justify child abuse.[7] The Bible contains many verses that, if taken literally, support severe physical punishment of children, such as:

Proverbs 23:13-14: “Withhold no correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.”

Proverbs 20:30: “The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.” Moreover, Proverbs 13:24 seems to advise a quick resort to such punishments: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.”[8]

Many fundamentalists advocating corporal punishment read Proverbs as a literal injunction to hit children with implements. These verses often lead to excessive use of force resulting in severe injuries and even death for children on the receiving end of such punishment. The Bible even promotes the stoning death of disobedient children in Deuteronomy 21.

What Research Says

An article in the American Sociological Review said, “A Baptist membership is a strong predictor of the use of corporal punishment, better than age, race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, or any other sociological factor.”[9] Researchers at Texas Tech University said, “We propose that authoritarian and patriarchal norms emerging from a fundamentalist faith ultimately makes violence more likely.”[10] A 2008 paper published in the Southern Medical Journal concludes that conservative Protestants, particularly those who believe in biblical literalism or inerrancy, spank and/or physically abuse their children more than other Christian denominations.[11]

Corporal Punishment & I.Q.

 Unfortunately, only now are researchers uncovering the damage done by such treatment with a major concern being the affect it has on a child’s intelligence. A recent study involving hundreds of U.S. children, showed the more spanking a child received, the lower his or her IQ compared with others.[12] Researchers tested the kids' IQs initially and then four years later. Both groups of kids got smarter after four years, but spanked 2 to 4-year-olds scored 5 points lower on the IQ test than those not spanked.[13] If nothing else, the new study suggests that corporal punishment may have a lasting effect that is not beneficial to children.

The survey studied more than 30 countries comparing sites where corporal punishment was rare to those where it was an accepted way of life and researchers found the same results in IQ difference. The study also found that corporal punishment in the United States is most common among African-American families, Southern families, parents spanked as children themselves and those who identify themselves as conservative Christians.[14] Most of the approximately twenty states that have laws permitting corporal punishment in schools are in the southern United States, an area commonly called the Bible Belt.[15]

Overly aggressive children may have its roots in spankings, according to a study led by Tulane University’s Catherine Taylor. Among the mothers studied, nearly half (45.6%) reported no spanking in the previous month, 27.9 percent reported spanking once or twice and 26.5 percent reported spanking more than twice. Compared with unspanked children, those who spanked were more likely to be defiant, demand immediate satisfaction of their wants and needs, frustrated easily, have temper tantrums, and lash out physically against others.[16]

Researchers said the reason for such behavior might be that spanking instills fear rather than understanding. Even if a child were to stop his screaming tantrum when spanked, that does not mean he understands why he should not act up in the first place. In addition, spanking models aggressive behavior as a solution to problems.[17]

Religious overtones add an additional layer of complexity and harm to child abuse experiences. Victims of religion-related abuse must not only deal with the trauma associated with parental betrayal, but also, perhaps, the additional despair related to perceived betrayal by God. [18]


[1] Child Maltreatment 2007: Summary of Key Findings, How many children died from abuse or neglect April, 2009,

[2] HHS Releases 2002 National Statistics on Child Abuse and Neglect, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services,, April 1, 2004,

[3] Peace Begins at Home, Battered Women's Shelter, Battered Women's Statistics for the United States,

[4] Ching-Tung Wang and John Holton, “The Total Estimated Cost of Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States,” Prevent Child Abuse America, September 2007,

[5] Roedell and Slaby, “The Development and Regulation of Aggression in Young Children,” Psychological Development in the Elementary Years New York: Academic Press, 1982), Page 98, 106, 107

[6] Fundamentalist Fervor Increases Child Abuse, The Columbus Dispatch,

[7] Bette L. Bottoms, Phillip R. Shaver, Gail S. Goodman, and Jianjian Qin, In the Name of God: A Profile of Religion-Related Child Abuse,

[8] ibid

[9] ibid

[10] Jerome R. Koch and Ignacio Luis Ramirez, Religiosity, Christian Fundamentalism, and Intimate Partner Violence, Pg 3-7

[11] Rebecca Socolar, Elaine Cabinum-Foeller and Sara Sinal, “Is Religiosity Associated with Corporal Punishment or Child Abuse?” Southern Medical Journal 101 Number 7, July 2008, : 707,

[12] Physical Punishment Slows Kids' Intellectual Growth, Researcher Says, MSNBC,, September 25, 2009,

[13] ibid

[14] John Cloud, Why Kids Who Get Spanked Have Lower IQs, Time Magazine, September 26, 2009,

[15] “U.S. : Corporal Punishment and Paddling Statistics by State and Race,” Center for Effective Discipline, Center for Effective Discipline,

[16] Alice Park, Study Shows Strongest Evidence yet that Spanking Kids does more Harm than Good, TIME , April 12, 2010,,8599,1981019,00.html

[17] ibid

[18] Bette L. Bottoms, Michael Nielsen, Rebecca Murray, and Henrietta Filipas, Religion-related Child Physical Abuse: Characteristics and Psychological Outcomes, Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment, and Trauma, June, 2003

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Comment by Rachel Riley on May 19, 2013 at 9:29pm

I have a question.. or possibly a statement. If the child is a toddler, who has been told no but is at the age where they're just figuring out what words associate with what actions, I think a single pop to the diapered butt (not super hard, but to get their attention) is okay, I don't think slinging them over your knee and hitting so hard they can't sit out is okay. Certainly as they get older, when you can do time outs or take away privileges, spanking is not acceptable, and certainly using a spoon/belt/ or anything is abuse, and whenever someone mentions that they do/did it I call them a coward for it.

Comment by Donald R Barbera on March 10, 2013 at 9:38pm
Earl--thanks in the extreme for sharing. Sexual abuse was never part of the old fashioned way that they speak of, but in reality statistics show that in homes where there was spousals abuse there was also significant child abuse both mentally and sexually. The "Ozzie & Harriet" days never were, but it was good swill for the masses too lazy to think for themselves. The children knew! We heard it up and down the block, we just didn't have a name for it.
Comment by Earl H Smith on March 10, 2013 at 10:12am

I'll be honest with you guys...  My "dad" physically, mentally and sexually abused Sis and me.  It was extreme!  I had to have sex with a relative when 8 years old; right after that was when I hit him.  Of course it was also right after he beat mom "again".  I wasn't abused in any church setting, but I detested churches for other reasons.  Sis is still in some denial!!!

Comment by Donald R Barbera on March 9, 2013 at 6:18pm
Sentient--I cut this post so it would not be an overwhelming read. There is more on IQ and corporal punishment and for devotees of the rod the news is not good. New studies show IQ losses of more than 10%. Sadly, it is usually not recoverable.
Comment by Donald R Barbera on March 9, 2013 at 5:48pm
Earl, I don't know if my father was an abuser or a product of an abusive system. I learned from his mother that his father treated him the same. I sent my signals early, but it took a bit to work up my courage. Of course, I went to Catholic school where corporal punishment was also in vogue.
Comment by Earl H Smith on March 9, 2013 at 11:17am

Yes, I hit back when my "dad" was torturing me when I was eight years old.  He acted like a baby because of it!  He was soon back abusing...  It doesn't matter if you were good or bad as a child; an abuser will abuse anyhow. 

Comment by Donald R Barbera on March 8, 2013 at 10:16pm
Earl--At my house it became dangerous. By the time I was nine I would not cry nor would I move. Silently, I challenged my father to do his worst because I had made up my mind that I was unbreakable. It culminated when I was 15-years-old and grabbed his wrist and he couldn't break free. I told him that was the last time and it was. In the South and the African American community corporal punishment is not only in style but glorified.
Comment by Earl H Smith on March 8, 2013 at 4:31pm

I remember Sis and me being knocked under a table "right after" we were dragged to Holy Roller Church!  Can't say which I hated most, daddy-o or religion?  It is STILL pandemic!

Comment by Donald R Barbera on March 8, 2013 at 3:15pm
Loren--yes, those are the same staes. Hyorites all.
Comment by Randall Smith on March 8, 2013 at 7:50am
And remember the "good old days" when teachers and administrators could beat on a kid? WE're still a vestige of savage beasts.



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