Minneapolis Vikings' All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson is facing criminal child abuse charges that could lead to two years in prison and possibly the end of his football career after he was arrested for striking his 4-year-old-son with a "switch," or thin tree branch. He has been suspended indefinitely from the NFL while his case plays out in the criminal courts, and though not as widely publicized, there is likely a simultaneous family law case playing out as well, determining to what extent Peterson's custody or visitation schedule should be limited.
Brooklyn ACS appeals attorneys recognize that in all 50 states, including New York and Minnesota, corporal punishment is still technically legal. The problem is there is widespread misunderstanding about the law, and various cultural interpretations about what is socially acceptable when it comes to raising and appropriate disciplining of children.
There are those who will (and have) said Peterson's actions were excessive, the perpetuation of the generational cycle of abuse. But there are those who have just as quickly stated such actions are taken out of love, and necessary to raising a respectful child. It's how they were raised, too.
Statutes vary from state-to-state on the definition of what "abuse" is, but most say that to be considered "discipline," it must be "reasonable" or at least "not excessive." Delaware passed a law in 2012 indicating it may not "cause any pain or injury." Still, most courts have generally upheld parents' right to spank.
In New York just this past summer, the state's highest court determined a father's use of an open hand to discipline an 8-year-old son who used an expletive was "reasonable use of force."
Public opinion is generally overwhelmingly in favor of allowing parents to retain this right - within reason. Last year, a Harris poll indicated more than 80 percent of American parents found spanking children is "sometimes appropriate." Less than 20 percent found it is "never appropriate." While one-third said they had "never" spanked their child, two-thirds said they had done so at least once.
Those who are Southern, African-American and religiously conservative Christians were far more likely to approve of spanking than those in other groups, according to another national General Social Survey.
In the Peterson case, news reports showed photographs of the boy with some half-dozen welts on his legs. Peterson would later say he was trying to discipline, not injure. It was the way he was disciplined as a child, he noted. He would later concede, however, that he "caused an injury that I never intended or thought would would happen."
Under New York law, "children" are defined as being up from birth up to 18 years (or up to 21 if he or she has a handicapping condition). Abuse upon a child is defined as that which is inflicted on this category of individual which causes serious physical injury (such as fractures, burns, head trauma and other internal injuries) creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury or impairment of emotional health other than by accidental means.
However, while corporal punishment is legal in New York, this does not mean the New York Administration of Children's Services Won't get involved in cases of legal discipline. What one family perceives as discipline, another may perceive as abuse, and the government may intervene simply as a preventative measure. But the process can be overwhelming for the family at the center regardless.
We're here to help.
For Brooklyn ACS help, call our offices at (718) 864-2011.
Corporal Punishment: Legal and Common, By Tracy Connor, Sept. 16, 2014, NBC News
More Blog Entries: