corporal punishment

corporal punishment

corporal punishment, physical chastisement of an offender. At one extreme it includes the death penalty (see capital punishment), but the term usually refers to punishments like flogging, caning, mutilation, and branding. Until c.1800, in many parts of the world, most crimes were punished thus, or by such practices as confinement in the pillory or stocks, which combined physical chastisement with the humiliation of an individual possible in a relatively small, cohesive society. Flogging was especially prevalent, being used also to keep order among the institutionalized insane and in schools and the armed forces.

In America, a movement against the use of corporal punishment was led in the late 17th cent. by Quakers who achieved local reforms in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The 18th cent. saw a general reaction against violent punishment, and with the emergence of the modern concept of rehabilitating an offender, confinement has been accompanied more by forms of moral, rather than physical, coercion. Nonetheless, the use of the whipping post survived in the United States into the 20th cent., and was last used in 1952 in Delaware.

The effectiveness of corporal punishment has been questioned by criminologists and educators, but it is still widely used. Flogging, for instance, was not banned in South Africa until 1995, and caning is employed in Singapore and Malaysia. Within British and American prisons flogging and beatings are still used, unofficially, to maintain order. Mutilation, including amputation of fingers and hands, is also used in some countries, especially in those whose legal system is based on Islamic law. Caning and spanking remain common in schools in some areas of the United States and Britain. Movements to restore or encourage corporal punishment of children recur periodically, as in rural and Southern parts of the United States.

Infliction of physical pain upon a person's body as punishment for a crime or infraction. Such penalties include beating, branding, mutilation, blinding, and the use of the stock and pillory. The term also denotes the physical disciplining of children in the schools and at home. From ancient times through the 18th century, corporal punishment was commonly used in instances that did not call for capital punishment, ostracism, or exile. But the growth of humanitarian ideals during the Enlightenment and afterward led to its gradual abandonment, and today it has been almost entirely replaced in the West by imprisonment or other nonviolent penalties. Several international conventions on human rights prohibit it. Beatings and other corporeal punishments continue to be administered in the prison systems of many countries. Whipping and even amputation remain prescribed punishments in some Middle Eastern and Asian societies. Corporal punishment of schoolchildren is still sanctioned in many states.

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Corporal punishment is the deliberate infliction of pain intended to punish a person or change his/her behavior. Historically speaking, most punishment, whether in judicial, domestic, or educational settings, were corporal in basis. A campaign called "Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment Of Children" hopes to achieve full prohibition of all corporal punishment of children worldwide. The UN Study on Violence against Children sets a target date of 2009 for universal prohibition, including in the home. School discipline in the West generally avoids physical correction altogether. The United States, where paddling remains legal in several states, is now the only significant exception to this (Canadian corrective force is widely reported as being of a non-corporal nature). In most European countries it was banned at varying points in the 20th century. On the other hand, school corporal punishment, though probably on the decline overall, is lawful and remains in use in various other parts of the world, and is commonplace in some countries in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, notably in former British territories but also in a few countries that were never under British rule, such as South Korea and (until very recently) Thailand. According to the Global Initiative in 2007, at least 88 countries do not prohibit the use of corporal punishment in schools, and 147 countries do not prohibit it within alternative care settings.

Unofficially, physical punishment in schools also persists in some countries where it is technically illegal, such as in China.

Corporal punishment is still widely used by parents in the home, but as of 2008 it has been legally banned in 24 countries. These bans are mostly of recent date. The exemption of corporal punishment from criminal assault in Canada stipulates that the assailant must be a teacher or parent (or guardian assuming all the obligations of a parent), that the force must be used "by way of correction" (sober, reasoned uses of force that address the actual behaviour of the child and are designed to restrain, control or express some symbolic disapproval of his or her behaviour), the child must be capable of benefiting from the correction (ie: not under the age of 2, etc), the use of force must also be "reasonable under the circumstances" - ie: it results neither in harm nor in the prospect of bodily harm. Corporal punishment which involves slaps or blows to the head is harmful.

History of corporal punishment

While the early history of corporal punishment is unclear, the practice was certainly present in classical civilizations, being used in Greece, Rome, and Egypt for both judicial and educational discipline. Practices varied greatly, though scourging and beating with sticks were common. Some states gained a reputation for using such punishments cruelly; Sparta, in particular, used frequently as part of a disciplinary regime designed to build willpower and physical strength. Although the Spartan example was unusually extreme, corporal punishment was possibly the most frequent type of punishment. The maximum penalty allowed in the Roman Empire was 39 lashes with a whip, applied to the back and shoulders, or "fasces"(similar to more modern birch rod, though consisting of 8-10 lengths of willow rather than birch), applied to the buttocks. Such punishments would commonly draw blood, and were frequently inflicted in public. In the Roman Empire (which covered most of Europe, Germany excepted, at its height) by Law the maximum penalty was 40 "lashes" or "strokes", though it was common practice to administer 39, to ensure the Law was not broken. Amongst those who suffered this punishment the most notable were perhaps the English Queen Boadicea in c. 55BC, and, according to the Bible, Jesus Christ.

In Medieval Europe, corporal punishment was encouraged by the attitudes of the medieval church towards the human body, with flagellation being a common means of self-discipline. In particular, this had a major influence on the use of corporal punishment in schools, as educational establishments were closely attached to the church during this period. Nevertheless, corporal punishment was not used uncritically; as early as the eleventh century Saint Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury was speaking out against what he saw as the cruel treatment of children.

From the sixteenth century onwards, new trends were seen in corporal punishment. Judicial punishments were increasingly made into public spectacles, with the public beatings of criminals intended as a deterrent to other would-be miscreants. Meanwhile, early writers on education, such as Roger Ascham, complained of the arbitrary manner in which children were punished. Probably the most influential writer on the subject was the English philosopher John Locke, whose Some Thoughts Concerning Education explicitly criticized the central role of corporal punishment in education. Locke's work was highly influential, and in part influenced Polish legislators to ban corporal punishment from Poland's schools in 1783.

During the eighteenth century, corporal punishment was heavily used, both by philosophers and legal reformers. Merely inflicting pain on miscreants was seen as inefficient, influencing the subject merely for a short period of time and effecting no permanent change in their behaviour. Some believed that the purpose of punishment should be reformation, not retribution. This is perhaps best expressed in Jeremy Bentham's idea of a panoptic prison, in which prisoners were controlled and surveyed at all times, perceived to be advantageous in that this system reduced the need of measures such as corporal punishment.

Corporal punishment as whipping was especially popular in French Revolution. For example one of leaders of revolution Theroigne de Mericourt went mad, ending her days in an asylum after public whipping. On the 31 May 1793 the Jacobin women seized her, stripped her naked, and flogged on her bare bottom in the public garden of the Tuileries. After humiliation, shameless and bloodthirsty in delirium, she started to live naked - refused to wear any garments, in memory of the outrage she had suffered.

A consequence of this mode of thinking was a diminution of corporal punishment throughout the nineteenth century in Europe and North America. In some countries this was encouraged by scandals involving individuals seriously hurt during acts of corporal punishment. For instance, in Britain, popular opposition to punishment was encouraged by two significant cases, the death of Private Frederick John White, who died after a military flogging in 1846, and the death of Reginald Cancellor, who was killed by his schoolmaster in 1860. Events such as these mobilized public opinion, and in response, many countries introduced thorough regulation of the infliction of corporal punishment in state institutions.

The use of corporal punishment declined through the twentieth century, though the practice has proved most persistent as a punishment for violation of prison rules, as a military field punishment, and in schools.

Administration of punishment

In formal punishment medical supervision is often considered necessary to assess whether the target of punishment is in a fit condition to be beaten and to oversee the punishment to prevent serious injury from occurring. The role of the medical officer was particularly important in the nineteenth century, a time in which severe punishment was common, but growing public criticism of the practice encouraged medical regulation.

One common problem with corporal punishment is the difficulty with which an objective measure of pain can be determined and delivered. In the nineteenth century scientists such as Alexander Bain and Francis Galton suggested scientific solutions to this, such as the use of electricity. These were, however, unpopular and perceived as cruel. The difficulty in inflicting a set measure of pain makes it difficult to distinguish punishment from abuse, and has contributed to calls for the abolition of the practice.

In Italy, one of the first to abolish the use of punishments in education was St. John Bosco (1815-1888), popularly called Don Bosco. He introduced a system where the child was the focus of education, where prevention of punishments was introduced through fraternal accompaniment by the educator, and where expressions of festivity like music, sport, talent-nurturing and picnics were encourage as important means to develop in young people an all-round healthy programme of life.

Modern use

In the modern world, corporal punishment remains a common way of disciplining children; however its use has declined significantly since the 1950s. It has been outlawed in many countries; however, some legal systems permit parents to use mild corporal punishment on their children.

Race and gender have a significant influence on corporal punishment in the western world. Black children and male children are much more likely to be hit at home and school and corporal punishment of boys tends to be more severe, more frequent and more aggressive than corporal punishment administered to girls despite research suggesting that corporal punishment is more counterproductive for boys than girls.

In terms of punishment in educational settings, approaches vary throughout the world. School corporal punishment is banned in most western nations and in industrialized nations outside the west. All of Western Europe, most of Eastern Europe, New Zealand, Japan and South Africa have banned school corporal punishment, as have many other countries. Corporal punishment is legal in Canada and is specifically exempted from prosecution if administered by a parent or teacher; enforcement of standards beyond which corporal punishement become child abuse varies in the country. In Australia, corporal punishment in state schools is banned by law in three States; banned under ministerial guidelines or local educational policy in three others (but remains lawful under the defence of 'reasonable chastisement'); and remains available as a disciplinary option in another two States. It remains legally available to private schools in half of States. In the United States, 23 states allow corporal punishment in schools. There is some disagreement about how much paddling occurs in US schools. Some estimates place the number of paddlings at approximately 350,000 a year, while the National Association of School Psychologists places the number at 1.5 million cases a year. Evidence suggests that in the United States, racial and sexual discrimination play a large role in school corporal punishment, with black pupils being much more likely to be hit than white pupils, and male pupils being much more likely to be hit than female pupils, for the same infractions.

Corporal punishment of male pupils also tends to be more severe and more aggressive. In some places, this sexual discrimination has the force of law. For instance, in Queensland, Australia, school corporal punishment of girls was banned in 1934 but corporal punishment of boys in private schools is still legal in 2007.

When used in the home as a form of domestic punishment for children, smacking (spanking in American English) is the most common form of corporal punishment, although this form of punishment of children is in declining use and/or banned in many countries.

Some societies retain widespread use of judicial corporal punishment, including Malaysia and Singapore. In Singapore, male offenders are typically sentenced to caning in addition to a prison term. The Singaporean practice of caning became much discussed in the U.S. in 1994 when American teenager Michael P. Fay was sentenced to such punishment for an offence of car vandalism.

The legality of punishment

While the domestic corporal punishment of children is still accepted in some countries, it is illegal in a number of countries. The practice has been banned in Austria, Bulgaria, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Latvia, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Ukraine, Uruguay and Venezuela (also by the courts, but not in law yet, within Italy and Nepal). In Canada, corporal punishment is banned in schools and restricted in the home to children between 2 and 12 years of age. In France, it was technically legal to practice corporal punishment in schools, but in 2000 a French court declared corporal punishment is no longer allowed under the laws of "right to correction" in schools, basically abolishing it. These developments are comparatively recent, with Sweden, in 1979, being the first country to forbid corporal punishment by law. In a number of other countries there is active debate about its continued usage. In the United Kingdom its total abolition has been discussed. The Australian state of Tasmania also is continuing to review the state's laws on the matter, and may seek to ban the use of corporal punishment by parents. The matter is also under review in other Australian states.

United Nations human rights standards strongly discourage corporal punishment.

Such debates, however, do not always lead to the banning of domestic corporal punishment and The Supreme Court of Canada recently reaffirmed in Foundation v. Canada the right of a parent or guardian to use limited corporal punishment on children between the ages of two and twelve; this decision was contentious, being based upon s.43 of the Criminal Code of Canada, a provision enacted in 1892. Bill S-209, that has been passed by the Senate and sent to the House of Commons, is set to change that section of the Code. Similarly, despite some opposition to corporal punishment in the U.S., spanking children is legal, with 49 states -every state except Minnesota - explicitly allowing it in their law - and 23 US states allowing its use in public schools.. A ban has been proposed in Massachusetts and California, on all corporal punishment of children, including by parents, and a series of laws in Minnesota severely restrict the use of corporal punishment of children.

In most parts of Eastern Asia (including China, Taiwan, Japan, Philippines, and Korea) it is legal to punish one's own child using physical means. In Singapore and Hong Kong, punishing one's own child with corporal punishment is either legal but discouraged, or illegal but without active enforcement of the relevant laws. Culturally, people in the region generally believe a minimal amount of corporal punishment for their own children is appropriate and necessary, and thus such practice is tolerated by the society as a whole.

In the Philippines, corporal punishment is used on children at the home, but prohibited at school. The parents use belts, their hands, and caning to discipline their children.

The People's Republic of China and Taiwan have made corporal punishment against children illegal in the school system, but it is still known to be practiced in some form in many areas (see Corporal punishment in Taiwan). The most common forms of punishment are mild chastisements, such as shaking by the arm or shoulder, or slapping the back of the head or ear; more serious punishments, such as striking with the cane, are less common. Such incidents are increasingly leading to public outcry, and in recent years have led to the dismissal of teaching staff. Similarly, in South Korea, corporal punishments occur for pupils if they forget their homework, violate school rules, or are tardy to school.

There is resistance, particularly from conservatives, against making the corporal punishment of children by their parents or guardians illegal. In 2004, the United States declined to become a signatory of the United Nations's "Rights of the Child" because of its sanctions on parental discipline, citing the tradition of parental authority in that country and of privacy in family decision-making. However, it should be noted that the Convention does not actually mention corporal punishment.

Many countries have banned the use of corporal punishment in schools, beginning with Poland in 1783. The practice is still used in schools in some parts of the United States (approximately 1/2 the states but varying by school districts within them), though it is banned in others. Many schools, even within the 23 states, require written parent approval before any physical force is used upon a child.

The Supreme Court of India banned corporal punishment in schools in 2000 and by law, it is banned in the states of Delhi, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Tamil Nadu. However, in spite of being illegal, several incidents of corporal punishment take place and most go unreported. Significantly, in one of its judgments, the Delhi High Court held that children should be allowed to acquire education with dignity and in an atmosphere free from fear of punishment, physical or otherwise. They should not be slapped or caned by teachers in schools and corporal punishment is violative of the children's fundamental rights to equality before law and the life and personal liberty. The new guidelines issued by National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, which have not entered into law as on September 11, 2007 make it a crime to scold pupils or call them "stupid" or "mindless" in class.

Criticism of corporal punishment

Academic studies have established that under some circumstances, corporal punishment of children can increase short-term compliance with parental commands, although comparisons in the same studies with alternative punishments such as one-minute time-outs did not establish that corporal punishment was more effective.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), however, in an official policy statement (reaffirmed in 2004) states that "Corporal punishment is of limited effectiveness and has potentially deleterious side effects. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents be encouraged and assisted in the development of methods other than spanking for managing undesired behavior." In particular, the AAP believes that any corporal punishment methods other than open-hand spanking on the buttocks or extremities "are unacceptable" and "should never be used". The policy statement points out, summarizing several studies, that "The more children are spanked, the more anger they report as adults, the more likely they are to spank their own children, the more likely they are to approve of hitting a spouse, and the more marital conflict they experience as adults. Spanking has been associated with higher rates of physical aggression, more substance abuse, and increased risk of crime and violence when used with older children and adolescents."

The American Psychological Association opposes the use of corporal punishment in schools, juvenile facilities, child care nurseries, and all other institutions, public or private, where children are cared for or educated (Conger, 1975). They state that corporal punishment is violent, unnecessary, may lower self-esteem, is likely to train children to use physical violence, and is liable to instill hostility and rage without reducing the undesired behavior.

The Canadian Pediatrics Society policy on corporal punishment states "The Psychosocial Paediatrics Committee of the Canadian Paediatric Society has carefully reviewed the available research in the controversial area of disciplinary spanking (7-15)... The research that is available supports the position that spanking and other forms of physical punishment are associated with negative child outcomes. The Canadian Paediatric Society, therefore, recommends that physicians strongly discourage disciplinary spanking and all other forms of physical punishment

England's Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and Royal College of Psychiatrists have called for a complete ban on all corporal punishment, stating "We believe it is both wrong and impracticable to seek to define acceptable forms of corporal punishment of children. Such an exercise is unjust. Hitting children is a lesson in bad behaviour. and that "it is never appropriate to hit or beat children

The Australian Psychological Society holds that physical punishment of children should not be used as it has very limited capacity to deter unwanted behavior, does not teach alternative desirable behavior, often promotes further undesirable behaviors such as defiance and attachment to "delinquent" peer groups, encourages an acceptance of aggression and violence as acceptable responses to conflicts and problems

UNESCO states "During the Commission on Human Rights, UNESCO launched a new report entitled "Eliminating Corporal Punishment - The Way Forward to Constructive Child Discipline". The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has consistently recommended States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to prohibit corporal punishment and other forms of violence against children in institutions, in schools, and in the homes...To discipline or punish through physical harm is clearly a violation of the most basic of human rights. Research on corporal punishment has found it to be counterproductive and relatively ineffective, as well as dangerous and harmful to physical, psychological and social well being. While many States have developed child protection laws and systems violence still continues to be inflicted upon children"

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends that States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to prohibit corporal punishment in institutions, in schools, and in the home.

Many opponents of corporal punishment argue that any form of violence is by definition abusive. Psychological research indicates that corporal punishment causes the deterioration of trust bonds between parents and children. Children subjected to corporal punishment may grow resentful, shy, insecure, or violent. Adults who report having been slapped or spanked by their parents in childhood have been found to experience elevated rates of anxiety disorder, alcohol abuse or dependence and externalizing problems as adults. Some researchers believe that corporal punishment actually works against its objective (normally Obedience (human behavior)), since children will not voluntarily obey an adult they do not trust. A child who is physically punished may have to be punished more often than a child who is not. Researcher Elizabeth Gershoff, Ph. D., in a 2002 meta-analytic study that combined 60 years of research on corporal punishment, found that the only positive outcome of corporal punishment was immediate compliance; however, corporal punishment was associated with less long-term compliance. Corporal punishment was linked with nine other negative outcomes, including increased rates of aggression, delinquency, mental health problems, problems in relationships with their parents, and likelihood of being physically abused.

Opponents claim that much child abuse begins with spanking: a parent accustomed to using corporal punishment may find it all too easy, when frustrated, to step over the line into physical abuse. One study found that 40% of 111 mothers were worried that they could possibly hurt their children. It is argued that frustrated parents turn to spanking when attempting to discipline their child, and then get carried away (given the arguable continuum between spanking and hitting). This "continuum" argument also raises the question of whether a spank can be "too hard" and how (if at all) this can be defined in practical terms. This in turn leads to the question whether parents who spank their children "too hard" are crossing the line and beginning to abuse them.

Before 1997, although there were many studies linking spanking with higher levels of misbehaviour in children, people could argue that it was the misbehaviour that caused the spanking. However, since that time several studies have examined changes in behaviour over time and propose a link between corporal punishment and increasing relative levels of misbehaviour compared to similar children who were not corporally punished. Reasons for corporal punishment possibly causing increased misbehaviour in the long run may include: children imitating the corporally-punishing behaviour of their parents by hitting other people; acting out of resentment stemming from corporal punishment; reduced self-esteem; loss of opportunities to learn peaceful conflict resolution; punishing the parents for the acts of corporal punishment; and assertion of freedom and dignity by refusing to be controlled by corporal punishment.

The problem with the use of corporal punishment is that, if punishments are to maintain their efficacy, the amount of force required may have to be increased over successive punishments. This was observed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which stated that: "The only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse". Additionally, the Academy noted that: "Parents who spank their children are more likely to use other unacceptable forms of corporal punishment.

Another problem with corporal punishment, according to the skeptics, is that it polarizes the parent-child relationship, reducing the amount of spontaneous cooperation on the part of the child. The AAP policy statement says "...reliance on spanking as a discipline approach makes other discipline strategies less effective to use". Thus it has an addiction-like effect: the more one spanks, the more one feels a need to spank, possibly escalating until the situation is out of control.

Corporal punishment, fetishism, and BDSM

Corporal punishment is sometimes fetishized, and is the basis of a number of paraphilias, most notably erotic spanking. This phenomenon was first noted by the German psychologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing, who suggested that sadism and masochism often developed out of the experience of children receiving corporal punishment at school. Whilst this has been a popular interpretation, it was disputed by Sigmund Freud, who suggested that a sexual interest in corporal punishment developed in early childhood and rarely related to actual experiences of punishment.

Anatomical target

A crucial, inevitable choice is which part of the body is to suffer the painful treatment; sometimes a combination of several targets is chosen, so as to maximize the longer-lasting discomfort.

Several considerations can be taken into account, mainly :

  • how painful is it
  • how humiliating (especially if bared)
  • how safe (except for deliberate mutilation -such as amputation and branding- or execution, grave permanent damage must be avoided) if badly hit and, even in more moderate cases, how incapacitating (unless the punishee is already under custodial sentence other than hard labor, physically disabling the victim to work is rather counterproductive instead of coercing better -obedient, productive- conduct).
  • In addition, for instant discipline on the spot the preference tends to go to what can be hit immediately, especially if already bare (possibly so ordered or arranged) or scarcely protected by clothing, so often head and hands, or bare torso; secondly what can be bared with a simple gesture (lifting a dress or pulling down (under)garments, before proceeding with a spanking, paddling, etc.

Different parts of the anatomy represent different considerations for punishment:

  • The buttocks are often targeted for punishment, indeed some languages have a specific word for their chastisement (spanking in English, fessée in French, nalgada in Spanish (both Romanesque words directly derived from the word for buttock)- this is a logical choice for these rather large, fleshy body parts are sensitive without endangering any bodily functions, heal well and relatively fast and have an intimate connotation that implies intense humiliation, often increased as baring them often also exposes the genitals--care must be taken not to hit these accidentally, so protective padding may be used (also for the kidneys) with dangerous implements, even if the spankee is otherwise stark naked
  • although lower parts of the back of the legs, notably thighs and calves, are reportedly about as sensitive and no more incapacitating, making them a logical alternative in cultures where a bare bottom is too indecent, they are rarely targeted
  • the back and the shoulders are the second most common choice; as long as the spine (paralysis possible) and excessive abuse of the kidneys (irreparable) is avoided, great pain is possible with limited incapacitation and humiliation, suitable for an adult 'honor corps' as often in the military
  • the abdomen and the ribs are again rather dangerous for 'accidental' damage, and hence not a common target
  • except for deliberate mutilation, the genitalia are rarely targeted, though very sensitive and the most humiliating, for the damage is to hard to control (except with sophisticated modern methods such as electrodes)
  • joints (such as knees) are an even more illogical, indeed rather rare choice: no humiliation, grave risk of incapacitation and even permanent damage
  • the head is also a dangerous choice, but more popular, especially the cheeks (relatively safe; indeed the same word is used for the bottom: butt-cheeks) and boxing the ears (hearing disability tends to manifest itself years later, so it's often ignored)
  • the hand of primates is perhaps evolution's finest product in terms of multifunctionality and precision (hence the notion 'dexterity'), requiring a sophisticated sense of touch; it is quite sensitive and not humiliating, while great force, especially with a hard implement, could cause excessive damage, so usually only the (most fleshy) palm is hit rather than the knuckles, and even then incapacitation (for manual labor and writing as in class) is generally a drawback
  • the soles of the feet are extremely sensitive, in se not humiliating, but quite incapacitating for a long time, while full recovery is possible even after an excruciating dose- see falaka

Still other methods are aimed at the interior, such as non-lethal intoxication, forced-feeding; at the muscles (difficult positions, exercices); or at the whole body, as with hunger, thirst, exhaustion. Corporal punishment can be directed at a number of different anatomical targets, the choice depending on a number of factors. The humiliation and pain of a particular punishment have always been primary concerns, but convenience and custom are also factors. There is an additional concern in the modern world about the permanent harm that can result from punishment, though this was rarely a factor before the nineteenth century. The intention of corporal punishment is to discipline an individual with the infliction of a measure of pain, and permanent injury is considered counterproductive.

  • Most commonly, corporal punishment is directed at the buttocks, with some languages having a specific word for their chastisement. For example, the French call this fessée, the Spanish nalgada. The English term spanking refers to punishment on the buttocks, though only with the open hand. This part of the body is often chosen because it is painful, but is arguably unlikely to cause long-term physical harm. In the United Kingdom the term spanking is becoming more associated with sex play and the term smacking is used more often.
  • The back is commonly targeted in military and judicial punishments, particularly popular from the seventeenth through to the beginning of the twentieth centuries. It is still the most common means of physical punishment for males in the Middle East, particularly Iran. However, damage to both spine and kidneys is possible and such punishment is condemned by most Western nations.
  • Although the face and particularly the cheeks may be struck in domestic punishment, formal punishments avoid the head because of the serious injuries that can result. In some countries, domestic and school punishments aimed at the head are considered assault.
  • The hands are a common target in school discipline, though rarely targeted in other forms of corporal punishment. Since serious injury can be caused by striking the hand, the implements used and the numbers of blows must be strictly controlled.
  • In Western Asia corporal punishment was directed against the feet. Although this was mostly used on criminals, a version was in use in schools in the region.
  • Flogging the genitals, particularly the penis and scrotum of the male, has been prescribed as punishment in many countries; however, its use is regarded as cruel, even by the most zealous of pro-physical punishment reform. Often it occurs secondary to the lash being used on the back or buttocks, if the whipping device is allowed to curl all the way around the body. Such strikes tend to be excruciating to the victim, to the point of loss of consciousness. These harsh punishments are delivered to the naked body; if punishment of women is prescribed, the lash is delivered over the clothes whilst the woman is seated. In Iran deaths and severe trauma have occurred from the flogging of males.

Ritual and punishment

Corporal punishment in formal settings, such as schools and prisons, is often highly ritualised, sometimes even staged in a highly theatrical manner. To a great extent the spectacle of punishment is intended to act as a deterrent to others and a theatrical approach is one result of this.

One consequence of the ritualised nature of much punishment has been the development of a wide variety of equipment used. Formal punishment often begins with the victim stripped of some or all of their clothing and secured to a piece of furniture, such as a trestle, frame (X-cross), punishment horse or falaka. A variety of implements are then used to inflict blows on the victim. The terms used to describe these are not fixed, varying by country and by context. There are, however, a number of common types which are frequently encountered when reading about corporal punishment. These are:

In some instances the victim of punishment is required to prepare the implement which will be used upon them. For instance, sailors were employed in preparing the cat o' nine tails which would be used upon their own back, whilst children were sent to cut a switch or rod.

In contrast, informal punishments, particularly in domestic settings, tend to lack this ritual nature and are often administered with whatever object comes to hand. It is common, for instance, for belts, wooden spoons, slippers or hairbrushes to be used in domestic punishment, whilst rulers and other classroom equipment have been used in schools.

In parts of England, boys were formerly beaten under the old tradition of "Beating the Bounds" when a boy was paraded around the boundary of an area of a city or district and would often ask to be beaten on the buttocks. One famous "Beating the Bounds" happened around the boundary of St Giles and the area where Tottenham Court Road now stands in London. The actual stone that separated the boundary is now under the Centerpoint office block. See "London" by Peter Ackroyd for more information on this subject.

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