He Did The Crime, But She’s Doing Time

Sometimes staying in an abusive relationship means enduring more than beatings. Alex Campbell reports on the horrifying case of Arlena Lindley, a domestic violence victim who was sentenced to 45 years in prison after her child, Titches, was killed by her abusive boyfriend, Alonzo Turner, for failing to prevent the child’s death:

Lindley’s case exposes what many battered women’s advocates say is a grotesque injustice. As is common in families terrorized by a violent man, there were two victims in the Lindley-Turner home: mother and child. Both Lindley and Titches had suffered beatings for months. But in all but a handful of states, laws allow for one of the victims — the battered mother — to be treated as a perpetrator, guilty not of committing abuse herself but of failing to protect her children from her violent partner. Said Stephanie Avalon, resource specialist for the federally funded Battered Women’s Justice Project, “It’s the ultimate blaming of the victim.”

Lindley’s not the only woman to suffer this injustice, either:

No one knows how many women have suffered a fate like Lindley’s, but looking back over the past decade, BuzzFeed News identified 28 mothers in 11 states sentenced to at least 10 years in prison for failing to prevent their partners from harming their children. In every one of these cases, there was evidence the mother herself had been battered by the man.

Almost half, 13 mothers, were given 20 years or more. In one case, the mother was given a life sentence for failing to protect her son, just like the man who murdered the infant boy. In another, the sentences were effectively the same: The killer got life, and the mother got 75 years, of which she must serve at least 63 years and nine months. In yet another, the mother got a longer sentence than the man who raped her son. In one more, a father fractured an infant girl’s toe, femur, and seven ribs and was sentenced to two years; for failing to intervene, the mother got 30.

Amanda Hess comments:

Campbell’s story demonstrates how the criminal justice system is scapegoating domestic violence victims in order to cover for its failures to properly investigate and prosecute instances of child and intimate partner abuse. Shortly before he began dating Lindley, Turner was charged on two separate occasions, first with burglary and later “unlawful restraint,” after he broke into an ex-girlfriend’s home, pushed her, and stole her belongings, then returned three weeks later, grabbed her by the neck, covered her mouth, and forced her outside. The woman escaped after a neighbor stabbed Turner in the leg; months later, Turner was out on probation from the burglary charge and was still awaiting trial on the restraint charge when he murdered the boy. On the day of Titches’ murder, another neighbor called police after she witnessed Turner kicking Titches on the floor, but when police arrived and couldn’t locate Turner or the toddler, they failed to pursue the report. It is outrageous that the justice system in this case only took a hard line against domestic violence after a child was killed.

When Does Spanking Become Abuse?

Two readers offer a startling contrast to this one’s story of trauma and terror:

I’m not often in agreement with Sean Hannity, but I must agree that Adrian Peterson should not lose his career or go to jail over the abuse of his kid. I don’t see a whole lot of people asking us folks who were actually hit. The courts. The judges. The politicians. The do-gooders, tolerant of everybody except those they deem unworthy of tolerance and understanding. Hardly anyone seems to think that the opinion of the victims should matter the most.

Is it a crime? Should it be a crime? I don’t know where to draw the line, and I’ve been there. At my ripe old-age of 62, I still vividly remember my father hitting my oldest brother – strapped spread eagle to his bed – until his back was covered with deep scarlet welts. I remember my legs shaking so much as it happened that I could hardly stand. I remember my mother smacking me over and over and over again with a fly swatter – her choice of punishment weapon. I remember my father putting a cigarette in my face, threatening to burn me with it.

And never ever ever would I have wanted my father to lose his career or to have to go to jail.

Do the people who propose this actually believe this would have made our life better? It would have done the opposite. Thank goodness that there was no Internet back then, and thank goodness that the media seemed to concentrate on real news and investigative reporting instead of the human interest stories they concentrate on now.

It surprises people that survivors of childhood violence love their parents. Why shouldn’t we? In the same way that I love my country but still feel free to criticize her, and would do anything to protect her, I can criticize my parents (and I freely do), but I fiercely defend their right to have lived their lives the way they saw fit and not to get thrown in jail for it or lose their financial means of support.

I survived – scarred, mutilated and torn – from a war waged everyday during my childhood. To take away my father’s livelihood or jail my parents would have been like dropping a nuclear warhead upon us. I doubt that I would have survived the chaos that ensued from that kind of retribution from society. This “Gotcha” mentality that exists today is just another example of destroying the village to save it.

“Scarred, mutilated and torn” is light-years from a swat on the butt. Another reader:

God damn it, Andrew. When I was a kid, my mother hit me. Repeatedly; always. My brother and I knew it was coming. She did it out of anger, and in an attempt to correct our incorrect behavior. Rarely did it achieve the latter goal, but given the nature of our disobedience – which was sometimes flagrant – she was right to be made, and we indeed deserved to be punished.

And as ineffective as the hitting was, want to know what would have been even less effective? The “time-out”; the “Go sit in that chair and think about what you did.” We would have outright laughed at that, my brother and I – punishment that isn’t really punishment. Well, the hitting forced us to actually respect my mother. Getting punishment that wasn’t really punishment would have diminished that respect.

So while I feel for your reader who seems to be describing her own PTSD at having been punishes, and while her punishment far exceeded what I had to endure, must we really go down the forever a victim road here? She writes of how corporal punishment is a way to try and intimidate, dominate, and control – and you know what? That’s true. Particularly disobedient children need to have their spirit broken. They need to understand authority – because if they don’t, they’re sure going to learn all about it later on.

A parent who spanks his or her child WITHIN REASON (and your reader’s case is that her corporal punishment wasn’t within reason – or was it that all corporal punishment is the moral equivalent of what she endured?) … that parent is saying: In life, there are rules, and you must respect them. And if you don’t respect them, there will be consequences – in this house, and out there in the broader society. For based on the nature of your misbehavior, the broader society is unlikely to respond with, “Now you go sit in that chair and think about what you did.”

When we talk about the coddled generation, or “Generation Wuss,” as Bret Easton Ellis calls it, it’s no coincidence that this generation – the fragile flowers, unable to handle real adversity – is the first one to have been raised in an era where corporal punishment, even the mildest forms, was increasingly regarded as barbaric. And I’d ask: is this generation, then, any better off, any better behaved, are they more respectful of authority, are they more disciplined – or is the opposite in fact true?

“Disobedient children need to have their spirit broken”? Jesus. And regarding the reader’s flip comment about society unlikely to punish people by putting them in time out: is society instead supposed to beat them into submission? Hitting people, especially when those people are small and defenseless and dependent on your care, is such a lazy and cruel way to discourage bad behavior.

“Psychological Suspense That No Child Is Equipped To Manage”

A reader shares a harrowing series of stories and insights on corporal punishment, which at times borders on torture:

This email is too long, Andrew. But I don’t know another way to do it. Those last sentences in your post on “The Racial Divide On Spanking Kids” are packed with the stuff I’ve been struggling with all week. I’m sending this because I took so much time to write it. I’ve been close to tears often this week, and I suppose it’s a way of defending that tenderness.

“Discipline”: It was a belt or a switch in my house, except for the handful of times I was slapped. I hail from a poor, white, fundamentalist family in Texas. Sometimes we managed to get a hold of the bottom rung instead – lower-middle class, or is it upper-lower class? – but it wasn’t ever a very firm grip. I think that matters, our economic and social status – how it operated on my parents, their sense of self, their sense of control and agency, their standing, that fuzzy line between “poor” and “trash,” the dependable hierarchy at home of respect and obedience. But I can’t unpack all of that, and I don’t know what it would mean for anyone else if I did.

Whenever I got caught swearing – or if someone told my mother I’d been swearing – I had my mouth washed out with soap. In practice, even this is a stupid and violent thing to do. Really, the logistics of the sink and the soap and the faucet, the mouth and the hands, the gagging and spitting and crying – it’s jammed with aggression. I was six the first time.

Mind you, I never once swore at my parents. Not once. I swore at other kids or my siblings, and as I was the youngest by a decade – this was all mimicry. In truth, I was a freakishly good kid, but only because I wanted, more than anything, to keep out of the way and get through the day unnoticed. As all the evidence shows, this stuff doesn’t work: I’m a committed swearer to this day – but, well, there’s a time and a place. You learn that sort of thing over time, not over a sink.

Before I was tall enough to choose my own switch, my mother would get it herself. And the period of time that marked her absence, waiting for her to return with one, was filled with terror. It is a kind of psychological suspense that no child is equipped to manage. I certainly wasn’t. I remember that waiting period much more vividly than I remember the pain of being struck, repeatedly. (Does anyone “spank” a kid once a session? Isn’t it always part of a series?) I can hear myself crying and screaming, I can see myself touching the welts later, the stippled blood, but it has none of the embodied force of that terrible, terrible waiting.

When I was finally made to get my own switch, it was a kind of relief. Maybe because I felt I had some control? Alone and outside, it was nice to get lost in the concentration required to choose the right switch, the one that might hurt the least. (I’m choking up now, typing this. All week it’s been like that, following the national reactions.)

Anybody who thinks that hitting a kid with a switch is remotely related to “spanking” or “swatting” or “discipline” is full of shit. It’s a violent, strange, lacerating affair. Where the length of the switch lands can’t be controlled; anyone who’s used one – or been hit with one – knows this. Adults don’t get to shrug and claim they didn’t mean to lash a child’s scrotum or face or breasts. A child will automatically jerk and twist and try to shield herself when someone is striking her with a switch. (Whipping posts were useful because they prevented this very dance. One could aim better, land the strike with precision. Become a marksman.)

A child is also typically being grabbed and yanked with the parent’s free hand. It’s chaotic. Shit is going to go wrong. You don’t know where the next blow is going to land. That’s what makes it so terrifying for a kid. And a switch is like a whip – it is a whip: each lash has stages; it curls and snakes and bites. The sound of it, both a rip and whistle – awful.

As a kid, I was not only hit with a switch; I was “paddled” with a board (in school), hit with the belt, and slapped. But nothing had the psychological impact of the switch. Every blow was new and surprising and fresh. A switch is unpredictable. That is its nature. That is its power. Any offending adult who claims not to know that is a liar.

My father never hit me. I don’t know why. He beat the shit out of my brother and sisters. My mother didn’t intervene.  And then one day he stopped. Cold turkey. Later, perhaps motivated by guilt (her other children were his stepchildren), my mother would scream at him to punish me, but he wouldn’t. I can still see him shaking as she screamed, pushing the belt into his hands. I don’t know how I knew it – I was too young – but I did know: he was trying to control himself. He was shaking from the effort required to resist. And I remember perfectly those minutes of fear and confusion: Why does he look afraid? Why does she want him to hurt me? Is he going to? Why does she hate me?

Almost ritualistically, it ended with her grabbing the belt, crying and yelling both, and “spanking” me with all she had. My father always, always, left the room. I feel certain they would tell you, or anyone taking a survey, that they spanked us and disciplined us. Yes. That is was their responsibility, and their right.

I graduated high school in Texas in 1986. Students were still “paddled” in the principal’s office then. It was a long board with three holes drilled into it. It had a handle. We would bend over, knees straight, and put both hands on a chair. For the girls, a secretary was called in to observe. I worked half days my senior year and so was ineligible for detention. After three tardy slips and without the option of detention, I was paddled. I can faithfully report that it didn’t help me get to class on time. I was already a tired kid, overwhelmed and depressed, living in a chaotic house. I couldn’t always get it together or keep it together between work and school and home. Corporal punishment didn’t change that.

I will say that the boys in my high school got hit a lot harder. A lot. I remember leaving class with a bathroom pass once and seeing a boy I didn’t like – he frequently taunted me in front of other students about my small breasts – alone in the hallway, returning to class after a “paddling.” His walk was slow and stiff. He was in real and visible pain. He looked humiliated, and like he’d been crying. And I remember feeling confused because I had the urge to comfort him – him of all people.

Mostly I’ve been wrestling a lot with how all these terms have been conflated in the media and between people lately: “spanking” and “discipline” and “punishment” and, let’s be straight about it, flogging. The bravado and the gallows humor: classic (mal)adaptive coping strategies for all manner of survivors and people living or working in violent, fearful, unpredictable environments – soldiers, the hazed, the bullied, the ostracized or marginalized, ER nurses, cops. I sense it sometimes, how tough I can feel – or toughened. I took it. I made it through. Man, can I take things. There’s something haughty in the feeling. Triumphant. A badge-of-honor quality to it. But I know it’s an overcompensation. I know it’s a coded admission of my vulnerability and my anxiety about feeling helpless, of how my early dependence and vulnerability was exploited.

Maybe it’s transference, but I swear I could see the very same brew on Hannity’s face during this piece. He repeatedly invokes his father and the ways he was punished by his father. He sounds almost like a battered spouse (or, say, an abused child), claiming he deserved what he got, making excuses for his father. There’s even a pleading tone in his voice – do not take away this guy’s career, don’t put him in jail. But who is Hannity really talking about? Who should be spared and protected? Because for almost the entire clip he’s been talking about his father, and himself as his father’s child.

There’s something poignant and terrible about that merry reenactment with his belt. Slapping it against the desk. Even the certified guests seem to be dazed by the simultaneous demonstration and disavowal. But wait, now he’s snapping the belt. And snapping a belt like that at a child is nothing but a calculated form of emotional torture. I remember it well. I remember it physically, everything in my little body starting to rev and jack-knife. Snap. Snap. Snap. It’s nothing to do with discipline; it’s everything to do with domination, control, intimidation. (There’s this, too: Some people just like this shit. Same way some people like making and seeing their dog cower.) Either way, it’s pretty much condoned in our culture.

If you’re the sort of person who needs to idolize your parents your whole adult life; if you can’t navigate the necessary distance from which to admit their inevitable mistakes and weaknesses; if you can’t simultaneously love them and admit your own honest anger or pain, the dark ways you’ve been formed, too; if you need a rationalization for how you also “discipline” your children – well, then, I guess you talk a lot about how fine you are, or how you deserved it, or how harmless and necessary it is and the rights we have to it – all this “spanking” and “discipline” – maybe you brag about it a little, and you take off your belt on live TV and snap it for all the world to see, because, hey, everybody’s all right. The kids are all right. Right?

Abuse In The Public Eye, Ctd

Ta-Nehisi Coates comments on comparisons between two controversial athletes:

Soccer star Hope Solo is alleged to have assaulted her sister and 17-year old nephew in June of this year. Unlike Ray Rice, Solo is still plying her trade as a goalkeeper for the national team. This led several people to claim that Solo is the beneficiary of a double standard. …

In the history of humanity, spouse-beating is a particularly odious tradition—one often employed by men looking to exert power over women. Just as lynching in America is not a phenomenon wholly confined to black people, spouse-beatings are not wholly confined to women. But in our actual history, women have largely been on the receiving end of spouse-beating. We have generally recognized this in our saner moments. There is a reason why we call it the “Violence Against Women Act” and not the “Brawling With Families Act.” That is because we recognize that violence against women is an insidious, and sometimes lethal, tradition that deserves a special place in our customs and laws.

This is the tradition with which Ray Rice will be permanently affiliated. Hope Solo is affiliated with a different tradition—misdemeanor assault. If she is guilty she should be punished.

Amanda Hess explains another “startling false equivalence” between the men’s football and women’s soccer scandals:

Rice was cut from his team and suspended from the NFL in response to overwhelming criticism from fans, domestic violence advocates, and sponsors who were finally fed up with the fact that the NFL has, for decades, taken domestic violence less seriously than it does, for example, drug offenses. Rice’s indefinite ban (which he plans to appeal) is the NFL’s attempt to demonstrate that it takes his crime seriously, sure. But it is also a bid to deflect criticism directed at the Ravens and league officials, who stand accused of purposefully misleading the public about the details of Rice’s crime and their investigation of it. All of the players who have been benched in the past couple of weeks are taking the heat for their league’s long-standing ignorance of domestic violence.

It’s not clear that this approach—which penalizes highly visible players while letting the league off the hook—is ideal. What we do know for certain is that it’s not applicable to U.S. women’s soccer, which has no such systematic, decades-long history of ignoring the fact that certain players abuse their partners.

She also notes an eerie coincidence:

If we’re interested in elevating Solo as the symbolic face of women perpetuating domestic violence, let’s really investigate what exactly she represents. [NYT’s Juliet Macur] oddly omits the fact that former NFL player Jerramy Stevens—who is no longer in the league after amassing a truly impressive list of sexual assault, battery, and DUI accusations—was arrested for attacking Solo the night before their wedding. The case was dropped for lack of evidence, largely stemming from Solo’s nonparticipation. The couple was married shortly thereafter, kinda sorta exactly like what happened with Ray and Janay Rice.

Previous Dish on male victims and female perpetrators here. The far greater problem of violence against women covered here and here.

The Other NFL Abuse Scandal, Ctd

A reader lends his expertise to the Adrian Peterson case:

I am a psychologist who works primarily with very young children and their families. It is disturbing to me, especially reading the comments sections of sites that are covering this story, to see how few people seem to have gotten the memo about the impact of early violence on the developing brain. While Mr. Peterson’s son was being whipped, and for some long time thereafter, his nervous system was being flooded with stress hormones (cortisol is the primary culprit). Shame, anger, and fear states cause the body to respond this way, as stress hormones can also help mobilize us into fight or flight states when danger is near. The problem is that sustained, repeated exposure to these hormones causes structural changes to the developing brain, including the hippocampus and the amygdala – structures that are responsible for emotion processing and memory.

The result? A nervous system that is “primed” to scan for danger and ready to fight to protect itself rather than one that can safely engage in play, exploration and learning (these brain states are incompatible). Research is very clear that kids who are exposed to this kind of violence (fear states) are much more likely to be violent as they grow up.

So you want to have fewer future Ray Rices clocking their partners? Figure out ways to keep kids like Adrian Peterson’s safe.

Meanwhile, Margaret Hartmann flags yet another story of an NFL player in trouble for domestic violence:

Police tell the Arizona Republic that the incidents [involving Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer] took place over two days in late July but were not reported until September 11. … Dwyer was booked on suspicion of aggravated assault against his wife for fracturing a bone and aggravated assault against his child for throwing the shoe. He could also be charged with preventing a 911 call and damaging property. Dwyer’s wife and child left the state shortly after the incidents. He admitted that they were arguing, but denied that any physical abuse took place.

Doktor Zoom of Wonkette notes:

Dwyer is actually the Cardinals’ second player with a domestic violence charge: Linebacker Daryl Washington pleaded guilty in March to assaulting his girlfriend, but he was already indefinitely suspended from the team for an earlier substance-abuse violation. No NFL discipline for him on the domestic assault charge yet.

Meanwhile, Rich Lowry defends the NFL from all the bad publicity lately:

[T]he media has lost its collective mind. It’s as if the people who controlled CNN’s programming in the aftermath of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 have been put in charge of all press coverage of the NFL, and brought to the task the same sense of proportion, good taste and dignity that characterized the network’s handling of the missing plane. The coverage of the Rice elevator video managed to combine moralistic preening with voyeuristic pandering. Everyone on TV professed to be so outraged by domestic violence that they had to show a clip of a woman getting viciously punched, over and over again (until many of the networks finally recoiled from their own overkill).

Read all of the recent Dish on domestic violence here.

The Racial Divide On Spanking Kids

In the wake of the Adrian Peterson case, various threads are emerging. Josh Voorhees investigates the race angle:

The perception that black parents are more likely to employ corporal punishment than their nonblack counterparts is borne out by academic research. In one study that examined 20,000 kindergartners and their parents, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin found that 89 percent of black parents had spanked their children, compared with 79 percent of white parents, 80 percent of Hispanic parents, and 73 percent of Asian parents. There is no single reason why blacks are more likely to turn to the rod for discipline, but the numbers are correlated with factors that include socio-economic status, religious upbringing, and even the heartbreaking feeling that, as it’s often put, “I’d rather my child get a beating from me than from police.”

Still, it’s important to note that while black parents might be more likely to spank their kids, they’re not alone in raising a hand to administer punishment—the rates for white, Hispanic, and Asian parents in that University of Texas study are all above 70 percent.

Michael Eric Dyson had a deeply moving piece today – on the roots of such violence in the slavery era. I learned a lot. Money quote:

The lash of the plantation overseer fell heavily on children to whip them into fear of white authority. Terror in the field often gave way to parents beating black children in the shack, or at times in the presence of the slave owner in forced cooperation to break a rebellious child’s spirit. Black parents beat their children to keep them from misbehaving in the eyes of whites who had the power to send black youth to their deaths for the slightest offense. Today, many black parents fear that a loose tongue or flash of temper could get their child killed by a trigger-happy cop. They would rather beat their offspring than bury them.

But the rates are not that much higher than for whites. Maybe it’s another function of the greater levels of and tolerance for physical violence in Jacksonian America. Aaron Blake has some data to back that up:

[A] funny thing happens when you look at race within the South. Then, you find, the gap between black and white is smaller. Here’s the eastern/Atlantic portion of the South:


Clarence Page brings a personal perspective:

Regardless of how much some of us look back with wistful nostalgia on our own spankings — as my Alabama cousins and I jovially recalled at a recent family reunion — corporal punishment poses more hazards than it is worth when compared to many nonviolent alternatives. …

I tried spanking our son in his preschool years, but he’s too much like me. He only grew more angry and defiant. But the kid was terrified of timeouts. The prospect of spending more than 10 seconds in solitary confinement — away from friends, TV, books, computer or video games — brought instant compliance.

I have to say that what surprises me is the joviality about it. Maybe that says something about the lack of permanent psychological scars; or maybe it’s a way of coping with them.

Husband Beaters, Ctd

Another reader shares his story:

I am a large, physically capable male who worked as a bouncer in bars through most of university. My ex-wife was emotionally and physically abusive. She would hit/attack me without warning, sometimes when I was asleep, sometimes during sex (out of the blue), rarely in front of witnesses, even though the kids saw her do it a couple of times.

When my ex-wife would hit me, I would challenge her later (after a cool-down). I would ask her why she did it, and why she felt it was ok to hit me, but not ok for a man to hit a woman. Her response was a few apologies, many deflections and dismissals, and often “My mom did a lot worse to my dad.”

FYI: for very personal reasons, I am a violence-against-women activist and have been since my late teens. I do not strike or abuse women. I am a firm feminist. My ex-wife would use that to her advantage, knowing I wouldn’t respond other than verbally and to try to protect myself without striking back. I didn’t even grab her wrists – except once, when she attacked me while I was sleeping and I was disoriented on awakening.

My ex-wife was abused/beaten by her mother and sexually abused by a family member. I tried very hard to be understanding and accommodating of her life trauma. Some of the writers on this thread, and in articles on other sites, have minimised the kind of injury a woman can effect on a large male. Some writers even call them “little taps” and “harmless taps”.

I still have PTSD flashbacks from my ex-wife hitting me, with her fists or other objects, or a pillow or fists during sex, because she had a sudden flashback to the sexual abuse she suffered as a child and she lost self-control (and chose to lose it).

My two now-adult children are still edgy around the subject. They were witnesses to their mother hitting their father – however “little” the blows were. The blows she landed caused no permanent physical injury, but they were in no way harmless. While I understand the context of my experience and my ex-wife’s issues, the lasting pain of those “little taps” is pretty profound (that and the emotional abuse that accompanied it). I have difficulty getting people to believe the deep emotional injury those “harmless taps” caused, and I have been mocked for my ongoing anguish.

Under male stereotypes, I should be just brushing off the fact that the person I ostensibly loved most (my spouse) perpetrated physical violence against me on a regular basis.

Another sends the above video:

Long-time reader, sometime emailer here (you’ve actually published a couple of my emails a few years back, about Bioshock/Ayn Rand and about loyalty to a sports team). Full disclosure: I’m male, I have never been the victim of domestic abuse, so this is not something I’ve ever experienced (thank goodness). I’ve been following your “Abuse In The Public Eye” thread for some time, and I am not at all surprised that there are stories of women domestically abusing their husbands/boyfriends.  When I was a teen and a college student, I assumed that if there was a case of domestic violence it would be a man striking a woman.  That is, until I saw a stand up routine by Christopher Titus.

This is a man, in his 40s, who’s had a very rough life (psychotic mother who committed suicide, alcoholic father) and the way he deals with it is basically making a comic routine out of all the awful things he’s had to deal with. His awful experiences include an ex-girlfriend who would physically abuse him.  Now, much of the information is from a comedy routine, so it’s played for laughs, but as Titus puts it, his girlfriend would routinely lose her temper (because she was bipolar) and “crack me in the face”.  But he doesn’t leave.  He stayed for months, even moving in with her after she beats him up watching a Christmas special.