A father who gave his 2-year-old son 24 “swats” to the child’s backside using a wooden back-scratcher because the child refused to address the father with a “yes, sir” was found by a North Dakota Supreme Court judge to have committed child abuse under state law.
The father apparently took the boy outside while they were attending religious services and struck the child’s bottom twice. At first, this strategy seemed to work. However, after returning to their home from the service, the boy continued to refuse to address his father with “yes, sir.” This is when the father took him to a bedroom, placed the child on his knee, and smacked his bottom three times. When the boy began crying, the father consoled him and explained the importance of addressing his parents respectfully.
In this case, the father swatted his child 3 times while the child was wearing pants and a diaper. Immediately afterwards, the father consoled and hugged the child while trying to explain the importance of showing respect for his parents. When the child continued to refuse to say “yes, sir” the cycle of swats and consolation was repeated. At the end of the ordeal, the child had received no less than 24 smacks on the bottom.
Two days later, a social service worker found two purple bruises on the child’s bottom.
Under N.D.C.C. Section 12.1-05-05(1), reasonable force can be used to discipline a child as long as that force does “not create a substantial risk of death, serious bodily injury, disfigurement, or gross degradation.” Does smacking a child’s bottom multiple times create a substantial risk of death, serious bodily injury, disfigurement, or gross degradation?
The judge thought so. His reasoned that “if [the father] had struck a stranger 24 times with a wooden back-scratcher, causing bruising and crying, it would be deemed sufficient to find that he had ‘willfully engaged in an activity resulting in physical pain to the victim…The standard is the same here.” But is it logical (and fair) to find a correlation between smacking a disobedient child and smacking an adult stranger?
Fortunately, the judge could came up with a better reason to punish the father: “We do not construe [the statutory language] to be an exclusive list” of the types of force that will be considered unreasonable under the statute.