Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Violence against children might be harmful.

I was reading this article this morning...

CORPORAL punishment used at one of the most notorious industrial schools "did not cause harm to anyone", it is claimed.

The Sisters of Mercy, who ran St Vincent's Industrial School at Goldenbridge, said the punishment was not excessive. The Dublin school has been seen as one of the most notorious industrial institutions, with ex-residents claiming frequent physical abuse.

At the ongoing hearings of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (CICA) yesterday, the Sisters of Mercy also denied corporal punishment used at Our Lady of Succour Industrial School in Newtownforbes, Longford, was excessive.

Yesterday's proceedings were interrupted a number of times by former residents, who questioned claims made by representatives of the religious bodies.

Answering questions on Goldenbridge, Sr Helena O'Donoghue, provincial leader of the south-central province of the Sisters of Mercy, said the Order was well aware of the pain which ex-residents carried.

She said "the reality was a cause of great distress" for the Sisters. The Sisters there during the years the school was run were also deeply distressed, she said.

The Order acknowledged the industrial schools were not the best form of appropriate care, but they "do not accept that they were excessively harsh", she said.

Referring later to corporal punishment, she said it was accepted that it was used but "was not excessive or caused harm to anyone".

Goldenbridge was "unfriendly, to put it at its mildest, to children who were hurt already", Sr O'Donoghue admitted."


"David McGrath SC, for some of the victims, asked whether there was a big clean-up before inspections. Sr Casey said she was not there at the time. She said it was regretted that girls over the age of eight were slapped for bed-wetting."


There was a documentry about this years ago and the case rumbles ever onwards. But it make me laugh when the sister says corporal punishment never harmed anyone.

I grew up in a very small village and attended a very small school where the head master was an out and out bully. I can remember vividly being slapped by him and swung around a room hard enough to leave bruises on my arm, my closest friend remembers being struck by him on the face for some minor infraction. It had to be minor becasue we were four and five when he carried out these little 'harmless' punishments.

Any yet if they were so harmless why do we remember them? Why do we hate him with a passion to this day? And we were lucky, at the end of the day we could return to the loving arms of your families. Imagine living in an institute where there is no love and little affection, where beatings were commonplace and girls over eight were regulalr bed wetters and now, so many years later are still traumatised.

The sisters are playing the 'times were different card'. I accept that they were ill equiped to deal with young children and teenagers, but it does not take a rocket scientist to know that beating a young girl because she had wet her bed, or cannot read or write, or who becomes so nervous when you speak to her that she stammers uncontrollably, is wrong.

I have long thought that beating children was stupid, pointless, cruel and a loss of control on behalf of the adult. You would not beat an adult to reason with them, you would not humilate an adult in public because they don't want to do something. You would not strike an adult for spilling a drink in MacDonalds-something I saw one day and it sickened me. A mother hit her little girl as hard as she could across the back of the head for knocking her drink over.

My mother hit us regularly as kids, and not gentle cuffs either. We did not respect her for it, nor have any of us forgotten it. She has mellowed with age, but still.

Corporal punishment is a 'one size fits all' term that covers the odd clip round the ear to some of the most horrific abuse in Ireland's history. Sr Casey well may trot out the line that the women were not deeply affected by their treatment at the hands of the sisters until she is blue in the face. But she is wrong, and I would imagine deep in her heart -if she has one- she knows it.

15 Comments:

Blogger Twenty Major said...

We used to get pulled out of our seats by our sideburns then battered with a leather strap or a cane.

10:59 a.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

Oh Twinny, that's terrible. Knowing you as the charming, kin, sweet souled individual you are I can't imagine you ever deserved it.

11:08 a.m.  
Blogger Twenty Major said...

I bear the scars to this day, FMC. Mental and physical.

Even now as an old man I have a deep aversion to being battered with a leather strap or a cane.

11:56 a.m.  
Anonymous Muff Diver said...

"A mother hit her little girl as hard as she could across the back of the head...."
In the Canadas this is assault. Charges will be laid and the children 'removed' to state care, where the state sanctioned care givers may or may not beat them as well.
I'm to be back in Niger in two weeks. Nasty place that.
Thanks for the update.

12:50 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

Take care of yourself.

1:36 p.m.  
Anonymous Melinda said...

A couple near-random thoughts:
I still get funny looks when I say to friends I'm not 100% against spanking children--one swift swat on the behind at the frequency of once or twice a year between ages 4 and 10, which I think is the only way it really works. Still being childless, I have yet to see how that will play out, but suffice it to say what used to be quite reserved corporal punishment has been put in the category of parental assault for the most part.
Point two: Spouse is a child and adolescent therapist, so I hear this from time to time, but it's real when it's on TV, right? We saw on 60 minutes the other night a thing about poor kids and their parents in special programs in the Bronx--schools for kids, and schools for parents. One of the things they teach the parents is that there are OTHER ways to discipline kids beyond hitting. THey interviewed a mother who was flabbergasted to consider that there were indeed other ways. God love her, she simply wasn't aware that less physical, but more consistent discipline worked better than beating; and how would she, if that's the way she and everyone else in her neighborhood was raised, and no one ever taught them different?
Of course it involves willful blindness on the abuser's part, but it's awfully easy to be blind to the inappropriateness of beating when it's reinforced by the whole system; hence, the nuns pleading 'different time, different place.' Not that it's excusable, but I think it is explicable.

1:51 p.m.  
Blogger Andraste said...

"Our Lady of Succour"? Ironic?

It's all very Bronteesque, innit?

MUFF!!! Long time no type! Hope all is well with you.

2:24 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

Melinda, while I agree that the odd slap on the backside probably hasn't harmed a chid ever, the other question you would have to ask is why resort to slapping? Most parents I know who have on occasion slapped their kids, freely admit they did it out of sheer frustration. My sister has slapped my nephew twice this year and on both occasions it was because he was driving her nuts and pushing her to the limit, and she snapped and slapped him. Once on the backside and once on the arm, neither particularly hard. She feels terrible over it, not because of any harm she caused him- she didn't. But becasue she knows she snapped and lashed out. If she was in a furious argument with another person she would not resort to this, so why with a child? (she questioned as she cried with guilt over it)Why is it okay to hit children?
Anyway like I've said before, my father never raised a hand to us, but a look and a word was more than enough to make us toe the line, so how had he this power while my much walloping mother did not? I'm not pretending I know the answer, but it made me stop and think.

2:36 p.m.  
Blogger Boliath said...

I would have agreed with Melinda before I had my own child. He's 18 months old now and just beginning to act out and defy us. I have smacked him a couple of times on the hand, it's pointless, it teaches him to slap to get attention, it also betrays his trust in you, there are other much more effective ways. I recently put him in time-out (or stand and think or the naughty corner, whatever you want to call it) for 2 minutes, it worked like a charm, he actually stayed there, it got him the attention he was looking for and he stopped being a brat and listened to me. The whole discipline game is a difficult one, I thought I had it sussed before I became a parent, I was wrong. Hitting a child hurts them, there's no question about that, when it's your own child or one you are the caregiver for it hurts emotionally as well, it doesn't seem to be the way. But then again I've only been a parent for 18 months so I may change my mind about that when he is a rebellious 3 year old, although I hope not.

6:22 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

My sister does that with her eldest girl and it really works with her-I'm not saying it works with all children, it clearly doesn't work wiht my nephew who couldn't care less. When this little princess throws a strop my sister down tools fixes her with what she hopes is my father's eye and says (very calmly) 'That is enough, I refuse to speak with you if you act this way' and then totally ignores her. At first the little one would scream blue murder, but now she has worked out that it's better and much shorter to apologise and not act out. My sister is very gracious about accepting the apology too. Makes the little girl feel she has done the absolute right thing and they always shake hands. Very formal. See, psychological warefare.
Etheline and I are rather in awe of our eldest sister's patience. Secretly we have admitted our great fear that if it was us we'd be hitting the sauce or be gobbling Xanex or something awful.

6:55 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

And may I just say eeeeeeee, 18 months, how cute he must be.

6:56 p.m.  
Anonymous Melinda said...

I totally agree that parents hit out of frustration, the same way they yell out of frustration. I distinctly remember several occasions where I was completely baffled at why I was being yelled at. And I have no doubt I'll think of these things differently when I have my own kiddos. What interests me (because I'm a HUGE nerd and have no personal interest here) is the placement of the line between discipline and abuse. For the mother I mentioned above, hitting IS discipline, but it's more akin to abuse for those who 'know better' or were raised another way, or whatever. For my dad, "the look" was discipline, and the spank was reserved for particularly egregious acts (I only lied to my dad once growing up, and of course he found out, hence the spanking). For some, that's either approaching the line or even crossing it.
I dunno. It's awful nice to ponder on these things when there's no zygote in sight.

11:16 p.m.  
Blogger fatmammycat said...

I love a woman who can admit to nerdiness, I myself am the biggest ponder...er..er of all times and will spend an age dithering and thinking about everything I write.
You are right of course, Melinda, people who grow up being smacked are more often smackers themselves, but -as in the case of my sister- she knows it is not the best solution and struggles to find alternative punishments. That why she feels so utterly terrible and guilty when she snaps and slaps my nephew. Somehow all us girls swore to ourselves that we wouldn't be like our mother who frankly could have been arrested for some of her outbursts ( she once, in a rage tried to hurl me down the stairs and only for my father coming up I would have most likely fallen, she grabbed Etheline in the kitchen and shook her so hard five of the seven buttons on Etheline's shirt pinged off and shot across the room)
So I suppose we'll have to see, I'm going to make a promise to myself that I will never raise a hand to any child I might have, and if I do ever slap one of them, I also promise to feel guilty, quetion my parenting/sanity and ring my sisters crying over it.

9:51 a.m.  
Blogger Boliath said...

18 months - oh yes he's cute and a good job too, he has inherited his fathers bullheadedness and my imagination, a good recipe for mischief-making. I'll email you a link to his blog -what was that about women nerds?

I hear you on the abuse/discipline line Melinda, what is discipline in one house is abuse in another. What got me about it was the total ineffectiveness, a smack on the hand did nothing, absolutely nothing, the one time I smacked justa bit harder enough to get his attention the look in his eyes floored me, "you hurt me, you, my Mammy, you're not supposed to hurt me, waah" or so I imagined.

Time-out is working for us, I'm working on my stare, haven't got it quite right yet, it makes him laugh, then I laugh and all thoughts of discipline dissolve, told you he was cute!

2:52 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The sisters of Mercy? you mean the sisters of little mercy. I too felt the strap of those nuns as a child and I've never forgotten it. It has left me with a hatred of the church and of religion that will last for the rest of my life.

6:45 p.m.  

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