Is Adrian Peterson a child abuser? He says he’s not.
I am not a perfect son. I am not a perfect husband. I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser. I am someone that disciplined his child and did not intend to cause him any injury. No one can understand the hurt that I feel for my son and for the harm I caused him. My goal is always to teach my son right from wrong and that’s what I tried to do that day.
What did Peterson do? He told his four year old to “pick me a switch” and proceeded to give him a whippin’ with it on the legs. The whippin’ left marks. A big, strong NFL player can hit very hard, much harder than someone like me, or probably you.
Peterson’s been suspended from the Vikings, placed on the “Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission list”—whatever that is. It means he can’t participate in team activities, but he’s still getting paid, pending the outcome of his case. He’ll likely be indicted for child abuse and face a trial. A felony trial. This excerpt by a Texas lawyer of an answer to someone inquiring about child abuse charges is quite long but worth including here in full so we may understand what Peterson is up against.
Injury to a Child is governed by the Texas Penal Code section 22.04. The punishment range on this type of crime varies based upon the actual charging instrument. If they allege that you caused serious bodily injury to the child then it is considered a a first degree felony. However, if the mens rea (mental state) is reckless, then it is a second degree felony. I will explain mens rea in a moment. Now, if they charge you with just causing bodily injury, then it would be a third degree felony. However, if you are found to have been reckless in causing the bodily injury or the bodily injury occurred due to criminal negligence, then it is a state jail felony.
Let me explain the punishment ranges first and then the mens rea. A first degree felony is punishable from 5 years in prison to 99 years or life in prison. A second degree felony is punishable from 2 years to 20 years in prison. A third degree felony ranges from 2 years to 20 years in prison. Finally, a state jail felony has a punishment range of 180 days to 2 years in the state jail. Each of these punishment ranges can also come with a fine of up to $10,000.
Now, this particular crime accepts all four (4) types of mens rea (mental state). The four types of mental states are 1) intentionally, 2) knowingly, 3) recklessly, or 4) with criminal negligence. If a jury finds that the injury was committed intentionally, knowingly, or with criminal negligence, then there is one type of punishment. If the crime was committed recklessly, then the punishment reduces. Here is the best way to explain those four types of mental states. Intentionally means that there is an explicit and conscious desire to commit a dangerous or illegal act. Knowingly means that you knew your actions could produce certain results but ignored that fact and proceeded with your action. Criminal negligence means failing to meet a reasonable standard of behavior for the circumstances. For example, if a child is injured because his or her caretaker failed to perform her duties, she may be guilty of criminal negligence. Finally, reckless means making a decision to commit a certain action despite knowing about the associated risks. For example, if a person causes injury while driving drunk, he can be found guilty of recklessly causing harm. He did not intend to hurt anyone, and did not expect it to happen, but he knew he was taking the risk of hurting someone by driving while inebriated.
Is leaving marks on a four year old’s thighs considered “serious bodily harm”? If it is, and the whippin’ was intentional (given as punishment, that makes sense), and the use of a switch is known to leave marks, the prosecutor may well ask for a first degree felony, since the injury was intentional. This comes with a 5 to 99 year sentence if convicted.
There’s a whole range of opinion flying around about whether Peterson is a child abuser. As always, the whole country becomes the jury and tries the case before it ever hits a courtroom. The discussion usually dances around the main issue: what discipline and punishment is considered “wrong” and what is the “right” way? I don’t expect to arrive at an answer here, and I don’t expect to change your mind if you don’t agree.
I believe in “spare the rod, spoil the child.” I believe in spanking. I am not opposed to using a paddle or belt to enhance the punishment. I am not in favor of leaving scars, marks, or wounds. There. Call me a monster, or call child protective services on me. The only differences between me and Adrian Peterson is that he’s a lot stronger than me, and he’s an NFL player, and I’m not.
If disciplining with a belt is a felony, then my dad is a serial felon. He should be locked up for a thousand consecutive 99 year sentences, and would readily plead guilty to the charge of using a belt. I know plenty of other people who also get out the belt to deliver a whippin’ to their kids. Why would they do this? It works. You can’t rationalize with a four year old or a five year old when they are misbehaving. I’ve seen parents try. The kid’s not listening. Believe me, they don’t hear you at all when you say “please stop throwing that tantrum, we don’t scream our heads off.” They do hear you when you say “if you don’t stop, you’re going to get a whippin’.” Children at that age are very aware of punishment, and are keen to avoid it.
Not all kids react the same to spanking. The really stubborn ones will grit their teeth and bear it. There are other punishments that might work: going to their room alone, bed without dinner, taking away toys, these can all be effective. Some kids could spend all day alone and that’s not a punishment to them. Some could care less if they miss dinner. Some would willingly hand you their toys and say “take’em” in exchange for being a back-talking brat. Not every kid is the same, and not every punishment should be the same.
You might agree with the way I discipline my children, or you may not. You know what? It’s none of your business. It’s none of your nosy, intruding, authority-calling business. If my child is walking down the street and you drive by, not knowing my kid or my from Adam’s housecat, who do you think you are to call 9-1-1 and report it? You think you’re doing society a favor by being the child-rearing police, some anonymous nanny who simply must correct everyone’s wrong parenting style. If that’s you, I can guess that you probably don’t have young children. Either they’ve grown up and you’ve forgotten the challenges of having them, or you just don’t have kids. Either way, you’re engaging in some intellectual, hypothetical, philosophical exercise, while I’m just trying to get my kids in the car to go to the store. Keep your stranger-danger eyes looking down your intruding nose and out of my kids’ lives.
If you’re a teacher or a doctor, and a child comes to you with bruises all over, sure, you should ask what happened. Tony Hawk relates a story in his book Occupation: Skateboarder about how he’d been injured so many times learning new tricks that the doctor took him aside and asked him if he’d been abused. Was Frank Hawk guilty of abusing young Tony by letting him (in fact, encouraging him) skate and learn these dangerous tricks? If you’re a helicopter parent who won’t let your precious slide down the big slide or climb the rock wall because they might fall and get a boo-boo, then you might say Frank is a felon. Tony has his own way of dealing with his kids, and in 2012 found himself on the business end of wagging fingers for it. He duct-taped his son to a wall to stop an argument. Hawk was quite proud of it: “This is what happens when my kids fight over videogames.”
The mealy-mouth disapprovers were not amused. Some others cautioned Hawk that he could end up in jail for his parenting. Because the nannies don’t agree with it.
Indeed, duct tape may not be all fun and games. CNN cites two instances from 2011, in which parents wound up in trouble with the law after taping up their children and posting photos on Facebook.
Granted, those children were two years old and ten months old, not pre-teens or teenagers like Hawk’s children. Was it wrong to do this? Definitely. Did it merit jail time? I don’t think so. But that’s our culture today. If the nana-nana-boo-boo crowd doesn’t agree with your parenting, they don’t dispense advice, they dispense criminal justice. They throw the book at you, because they have no capacity for actually helping people parent, only putting them in jail.
A suburban mom, Patricia-Ann Jackson Denault, near Orlando got a visit from the police after a commissar turned her in after seeing photos posted of Facebook of Denault’s seven year old drinking a shot of Fireball whiskey. Putting pictures of your kids on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter might be funny to you, but there’s a whole cohort of self-proclaimed parent police out there ready to drop a dime on your at the slightest hint of what they consider “bad parenting”. This kind of secret-police mentality (I denounce you! I denounce you! I denounce you!) doesn’t belong in our society.
Don’t hand me that line about “protecting children” either. I am all for protecting children from real monsters. There’s plenty of real monsters around. Those who aim to hurt kids try to hide in plain sight. They become teachers, daycare workers, celebrities, football coaches, priests. That puts them in a position of authority and respect, close to children, where they can groom them and hide their monstrous acts for years. It’s society’s job to drop a dime on these people, to notice odd things or strange occurrences, and report them. It’s the organization’s job not to cover up these cases or relegate them to a locked file cabinet for decades, while the molesters go free after being quietly moved away.
It’s not society’s job to tell actual parents how to raise our kids. There’s no government manual on child rearing (if there is, don’t show it to me). The idea of licensing parents so they can raise children is abhorrent to me, and against nature. Yet there’s a movement, led by liberals and libertarians, who want to do just that. Who would administer the license exam? What laws would govern it? The thought is frightening and stomach-turning at the same time. It’s the kind of society that Aldous Huxley lampooned in his dystopian novel Brave New World back in the 1930’s when eugenics, progressivism, and Fascism were all the rage. If we could just eliminate parents and have society (a.k.a. government) raise all the children, that would solve the problem of bad parenting. No society in history that has attempted it has survived, and I can safely say that attempting it guarantees a culture’s quick demise.
Children are best protected by loving parents. Parents who are not perfect, who make mistakes, who don’t agree with each other, never mind with every other parent on the block, or on Facebook, or in America. Telling me that Adrian Peterson is a child abuser because he gave his boy a whippin’ with a switch is only one step away from saying that I’m a child molester because I spank my child with my hand. If I’m not punching my kid every day for no reason, or simply throwing him around out of my own rage or demons, or neglecting to feed, clothe, or wash him, I’m not a child abuser. Neither is Adrian Peterson. He made a mistake, and repented of it. That’s parenting. It’s not child abuse.
If I want to let my child skateboard, or jet ski, or skydive, or sail around the world, that’s my business, and my kid’s business. I am not required to be a helicopter parent. I am not required to act like Marlin in the movie Finding Nemo and keep my son from anything ever happening to him. Dory said in that movie, “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.” The nana-nana-boo-boo crowd is intent on nothing ever happening to my kid, or yours, because they don’t know how to mind their own business. They want to watch over us like an all-knowing oracle and play God. They want to legislate, pontificate, and enforce their own version of parenting “for the sake of the children.”
To those vicarious helicopter parents looking over my shoulder: you better get off me, or I might have to pick out a switch—for you. Same goes for Adrian Peterson. I believe him when he says he is not a child abuser. I think he’s just a dad.