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The Politicization of SafetyCritical Perspectives on Domestic Violence Responses$
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Jane Stoever

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781479805648

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479805648.001.0001

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Parental Love and Purposeful Violence

Parental Love and Purposeful Violence

(p.119) 5 Parental Love and Purposeful Violence
The Politicization of Safety

Cynthia Godsoe

NYU Press

The parental discipline privilege is a robust exception to the modern rule that punishes all violence, including intrafamilial violence. Every state allows parents to physically punish their children, often going well beyond ‘spanking’ to include hair-pulling, beatings with belts or sticks, even choking. The privilege is the only remaining status exception to criminal assault and battery; other once-permissible violence, such as abuse of wives and apprentices, has long been criminalized. Yet despite its anachronistic nature, parental corporal punishment remains surprisingly understudied. Accordingly, it is an important topic for inclusion in this volume on the Politicization of Safety. Experts unanimously agree that even mild corporal punishment carries significant developmental consequences. It can evolve into serious child abuse, and renders its victims more likely to hit their partners and children as adults, perpetuating the cycle of abuse. Particularly troubling is that corporal punishment plays out in highly gendered, racialized, and heteronormative ways. I argue that the underlying mens rea of the parental discipline privilege exception to assault both perpetuates this violence and warps the criminal law’s standard approach to punishment, which ordinarily matches culpability with control. In contrast, the parental privilege forgives purposeful beatings “intended to benefit a child.” After analyzing the implications of this paradox, this Chapter concludes by advocating the privilege’s abolition.

Keywords:   Abuse and neglect, Corporal punishment, Intrafamilial violence, Cycle of abuse, Mens rea, Parental discipline privilege

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