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To Clarify Re. Abuse and Abuse of Abusers
09/25/2002

Right Wing News linked to a seethingly vituperative post by Rachel Lucas wishing for Madelyne Toogood to be beaten or killed. I thought I'd take a moment to specify what worries me about the reaction to this case.

Before I say anything on that count, I want to stress that I believe Mrs. Toogood deserves punishment. However, that punishment ought to be in accordance with the law and not overly influenced by consideration of her itinerant culture, traffic tickets, and possible shoplifting. Obviously, she isn't the best woman to be raising children, but children cannot be wished into new families with no consequences. And even without recourse to religion, it is to set off down a dangerous path to begin regulating who may procreate.

My main concern (because of the strong reaction and the fact that Mrs. Toogood will have her day in court) has been with the reaction. The mania of hatred dictating that Martha Toogood be thrust into the foster care system for one instance of abuse (from which she apparently didn't suffer any major injuries and for which there has been no proof of a precedent) brings to mind two conversations that indicate that the unthinking reaction to child abuse can go dangerously awry.

The first, less directly relevant, point is an argument I had with a liberal talk radio host. She was absolutely convinced that, since parents weren't "doing the job," she (representing the public) had every right to interject her lessons about sexuality. This is, of course, miles away from the Toogoods' situation, but I remember being astonished at how much the right to teach such lessons to other people's children seemed a foregone conclusion, particularly given that she, like Ms. Lucas, has no children of her own.

The second point came in an interview on Greta Van Susteren's "On the Record" tonight (I'll update when/if a transcript is available). Ms. Van Susteren pointed out that the battery charge that Mrs. Toogood faces could concievably cover a spanking (perhaps a single spank?). The prosecutor with whom she was speaking essentially said, "yes, but there's no reason to have that discussion in this case." A social worker whom I saw interviewed when this story first broke seemed reluctant to voice the distinction between this case and spanking, as well.

Now, I'm not an advocate for spanking, but I believe there to be a wide variety of ways in which parents can abuse their children. We just have to be wary of our natural tendency to get carried away, and when we read others' statements on the issue, we should be made alert by an undue emphasis on the culture of the parents.

Posted by Justin Katz @ 12:00 AM EST