mutilation

Mutilation or maiming is an act or physical injury that degrades the appearance or function of the (human) body, usually without causing death.

Usage of term

The term is usually used to describe the victims of accidents, torture, physical assault, or certain premodern forms of punishment.

Acts of mutilation

Acts of mutilation may include amputation, burning, flagellation or wheeling. In some cases, the term may apply to treatment of dead bodies, such as soldiers mutilated after they have been killed by an enemy.

The traditional Chinese practices of língchí and foot binding are forms of mutilation that have captured the imagination of Westerners, as well as the now tourist centered "long-neck" people, a sub-group of the Karen known as the Padaung where women wear brass rings around their neck. The act of tattooing is also considered a form of self-mutilation according to some cultural traditions, such as within the Muslim religion. Some tribes practice some ritual mutilation, e.g. scarification, as part of a rite of passage (e.g. initiation ritual).

Use as punishment

Maiming, or mutilation which involves the loss of, or incapacity to use, a bodily member, is and has been practised by many races with various ethnical and religious significances, and was a customary form of physical punishment, especially applied on the principle of an eye for an eye.

Laws on maiming

In law, maiming is a criminal offence; the old law term for a special case of maiming of persons was mayhem, an Anglo-French variant form of the word.

Maiming of animals by others than their owners is a particular form of the offence generally grouped as malicious damage. For the purpose of the law as to this offence animals are divided into cattle, which includes horses, pigs and asses, and other animals which are either subjects of larceny at common law or are usually kept in confinement or for domestic purposes.

In Britain under the Malicious Damage Act 1861 the punishment for maiming of cattle was three to fourteen years penal servitude; malicious injury to other animals is a misdemeanour punishable on summary conviction. For a second offence the penalty is imprisonment with hard labor for over twelve months. Maiming of animals by their owner falls under the Cruelty to Animals Acts.

Docking as human punishment

In times when even judicial physical punishment was still commonly allowed to cause not only intense pain and public humiliation during the administration but also to inflict permanent physical damage, or even deliberately intended to mark the criminal for life by docking or branding, one of the common anatomical target areas not normally under permanent cover of clothing (so particularly merciless in the long term) were the ears.

In England, for example, various pamphleteers attacking the religious views of the Anglican episcopacy under William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury, had their ears cut off for those writings: in 1630 Dr. Alexander Leighton and in 1637 still other Puritans, John Bastwick, Henry Burton and William Prynne.

In Scotland one of the Covenanters, James Gavin of Douglas, Lanarkshire, had his ears cut off for refusing to renounce his religious faith.

Notably in various jurisdictions of colonial British North America even relatively minor crimes, such as hog stealing, were punishable by having one's ears nailed to the pillory and slit loose, or even completely cropped; a counterfeiter would be branded on top (for that crime, considered lèse majesté, the older mirror punishment was boiling in oil).

Independence did not render American justice any less bloody. For example in the future state of Tennessee, an example of harsh 'frontier law' under the 1780 Cumberland Compact took place in 1793 when Judge John McNairy sentenced Nashville's first horse thief, John McKain, Jr., to be fastened to a wooden stock one hour for 39 lashes, and have his ears cut off and cheeks branded with the letters "H" and "T".

An example from a non-western culture is that of Nebahne Yohannes, an unsuccessful claimant to the Ethiopian imperial throne who had his ears and nose cut off, yet was then freed.

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