A wide majority of Americans support 'a good, hard spanking' as discipline, one study says. But the video of a Texas judge lashing his daughter with a belt is a rare, raw view of what corporal punishment really looks like – and could affect already-changing attitudes.
The YouTube video of powerful belt lashes administered by a Texas judge on his then-16-year-old daughter has given the US a stark, unvarnished view into the widely accepted – but, for many, brutal – parental practice of corporal punishment.
The judge in question, Aransas County Judge William Adams, cancelled hearings on Thursday and was seen packing his truck with belongings and rifles as threats against him mounted. While child-safety advocates have called for Judge Adams removal from the bench and local police say they've opened an investigation, many Americans have come to the defense of the judge, saying it's a parent's responsibility to discipline a child in order to shape character.
Yet the reaction to the brutality of the beating, which the now 23-year-old Hillary Adams posted in an attempt to get her father to seek help, also highlights changing societal mores. Even as state laws allow parents broad latitude in what researchers call "pro-social use of violence," support for "a good, hard spanking" has been declining for decades. From 1986 to 2008, it has declined from 83 percent to 70 percent, according to the General Social Survey conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago.
"I think the really powerful thing about this video is that, for a lot of people, this is child abuse, not corporal punishment, but the reality is that, under the statutory norms that exist in our society, this would not qualify as a crime or child abuse in any state in the country," says David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
The video was filmed covertly by the daughter, Ms. Adams, who claims her father often beat her. The beating occurred in 2004 after Ms. Adams's parents found out she had illegally downloaded music from the Internet.
In the clip, Judge Adams says, "Go get the belt. The big one. I'm going to spank her now." As she wails and begs her father to stop, he lashes her with a belt across the legs. At one point he leaves the darkened room, then returns to resume the lashing.
“In my mind I haven’t done anything wrong other than discipline my child after she was caught stealing, and I did lose my temper but I’ve since apologized. It looks worse than it is,” Judge Adams told NBC's "Today Show."