Judge Beats His Daughter ... Abuse Or Discipline?

Texas family law judge William Adams was recently caught on video beating his then 16-year-old daughter. Some applaud Adams while others are horrified. Host Michel Martin hears from regular parenting contributors Leslie Morgan Steiner, Dani Tucker and Jolene Ivey, as well as SpareTheKids.com creator Stacey Patton. (Advisory: This segment contains language that may not be suitable for all audiences.)

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. Every week, we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy parenting advice.

Today, we feel we have to talk about that video of a father who happens to be a Texas family law judge beating his then 16-year-old daughter with a belt. The girl, Hillary Adams, is now 23. She recently posted the video online where it has now been viewed millions of times. She says she posted the video because she wants him to get help.

I need to play a short clip from the video so you'll know what we're talking about, but please be advised, this clip and our conversation may be very difficult for some people to hear. So here it is:

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

WILLIAM ADAMS: Bend over the bed.

Bend over the bed or I'll keep beating you on your legs.

MARTIN: And in the video, you can see the father continue to beat her for a full minute and a half. He then leaves the room. He returns to scream at her, including obscenities, and hit her for nearly four more minutes.

Many people have been shocked and disgusted by the video and some have called for charges to be filed. Local officials say the statute of limitations has expired, but others are criticizing the critics, saying the father has both the right and the responsibility to discipline his child. He says his daughter was downloading games onto her computer.

We have talked about whether this kind or any kind of physical punishment is ever OK in schools, but we wanted our moms to weigh in on the use of corporal punishment in the home, as well as this specific case.

We're joined now by three of our regular moms, Leslie Morgan Steiner, Jolene Ivey and Dani Tucker. Also with us is Stacey Patton. She's the author of the book, "That Mean Old Yesterday." She's an anti-spanking activist and she's creator of the anti-spanking website, SpareTheKids.

Welcome, everyone. Thank you for speaking with us.

JOLENE IVEY: Hey, Michel.

STACEY PATTON: Hello.

DANI TUCKER: Thank you.

MARTIN: I do have to say this is obviously a very emotional conversation because already there's a lot of emotion in the room and I just want to acknowledge that. So Jolene, I'm going to start with you. What is your opinion of this?

IVEY: This wasn't discipline. This was abuse. I mean, I am not against a parent disciplining their child. What I am against is abuse and this was an outrageous beating. This girl was 16 years old. She was not in a position where she could not be reasoned with and she just did not deserve to be treated the way she was.

MARTIN: What is it that crossed the line for you?

IVEY: Number one, you don't hit another person who is that old, I mean, at all. I just don't see hitting my child once they get past - I don't know - 7 or 8 years old. It just doesn't seem necessary. And it went on and on. I believe one of the reports I heard said that this child's got cerebral palsy and then the mom, who I believe was also abused, joined in on it, which is not unusual. If someone's been abused, they will also abuse. So I just think it's outrageous.

And on top of that, this man's a judge. We count on judges to have the highest possible standards. You know, judges should be our role models, not athletes, judges. They're the people who have the power to decide over your life, and this guy was a judge who decided family law cases.

MARTIN: Including custody matters.

IVEY: Yeah. This is the guy who makes the decisions for us?

MARTIN: Dani, your thoughts? I understand you have a very different opinion.

TUCKER: Totally different. I'm outraged at the response. Leave that man alone. He disciplined his child. What's really got me upset is everybody keeps talking about what the judge did, but nobody talked about what this child did, and that's what's wrong with these kids today. What did I hear? Barbaric, obsessive, disturbing, very difficult to watch. The child got a spanking. She did a spankable offense and she got her butt whipped.

MARTIN: She was downloading pirated music...

TUCKER: She was illegally downloading.

MARTIN: ...on Napster. Yeah.

TUCKER: OK. Now, illegally downloading. She was illegally downloading. She was told not to do it. Her father's a judge. OK. Could have gotten him fired. Nobody discussed what this child did. Now, the child was not - did not need to go to an ambulance. The child was not laid out bleeding or bloody. She got a spanking. OK? She got a spanking. If she didn't want to get a spanking, she shouldn't have done the crime.

MARTIN: We should mention that the father, Judge William Adams, did respond to the video eventually and this is what he had to say. He obviously agrees with Dani, or Dani agrees with him. Here it is:

ADAMS: In my mind, I haven't done anything wrong other than discipline my child after she was caught stealing, and I did lose my temper, but I've since apologized. It looks worse than it is. There is a story. It'll come out in due time. OK?

MARTIN: He was talking to television station KZTV in Corpus Christi, Texas. Leslie, I understand that you are very upset.

LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: Yes. You know, as a victim of physical violence in my first marriage and also as a mother who just cannot bear to see children hurt and betrayed, and especially by their parents, I found this to be excruciating to watch. You know, in the seven-and-a-half-minute beating, he hits her very hard over 20 times with a belt - a belt. He screams obscenities in her face. And I think as terrible as physical violence is, the mental part of this attack, to put yourself in the shoes of a 16-year-old girl; all children love their parents. Her mother was in on this too, she was helpless. And the mental abuse that is going on in this video, just this tiny segment of her life, to me is unbearable.

You know, he says things to her like, do you like it? Are you happy now? I'm going to beat you into submission. You used to be such a nice obedient little girl. You don't deserve to be in this house. It's all your fault. That's the kind of stuff that I think is nearly impossible to overcome psychologically, no matter how long you take to heal. And in my mind this young woman, Hillary Adams, is a hero on behalf of any child or any person who is abused. That she had the strength and the courage to speak out. And I'm sure it's horrible what she went through and it's horrible still what she goes through, but I'm very proud of her and I think she's doing a service to everybody who has ever been a victim of abuse.

MARTIN: Stacey, you know, you wrote a very interesting piece about this on the 21.com site, where you talked about the - you contrasted this case where there's been a lot of condemnation of this judge who's white, and every one involved is white, with the case of in September a 25-year-old African-American young man, Devery Broox, who posted himself a video on worldstarhiphop.com of him whipping a seven-year-old boy that he mentored. And his justification was that the boy's grandmother had called him to punish the boy for acting up at school. And you - he posted the video online with statistics about the number of black men in prison and, you know, saying Interrogation, Removal SWAG, Beat that A, and at the end: Job Well Done.

What's your take on it? And he was locked up for this, I have to say. He was in fact arrested for this. So what's your take on this in comparing these two cases? What do you think this says?

PATTON: Well, I think both are equally disturbing and both are equally hard to watch. I think the responses in the mainstream media are quite interesting. And here you have a white judge who has done this to his disabled 16-year-old daughter and it sparked a national outcry and a much-needed discussion about corporal punishment. On the other hand, Devery Broox was arrested and he's been charged with a felony count of child abuse. And that video, while it didn't make it to the mainstream media - there were no individual segments devoted to the video - it did appear on quite a few blog sites and some hip-hop stations, where many of the callers and commenters(ph) actually celebrated what Broox did, and said this is definitely needed in order to keep children from stepping out of line.

MARTIN: Well, that's clearly Dani's perspective. I mean I take it Dani, from my understanding your attitude here is, I'll beat you so that they don't kill you. Is that it? Or I'll beat you so that, which is, is that right? Is that where you...

TUCKER: Yeah. If you want to say that. My thing is return of Big Mama, that the whole attitude of discipline. There are some offenses that gets your behind whipped. There are some that gets you time out. There are some that gets discussion. Prime example, we are in the store two weeks ago, Little Johnny running through the aisles just having his way. Mommy, don't do that. Look, I'm going to send you to timeout. Look, stop. Pop his behind. Certain things require you to take your hand, get your little belt, pop their behind so they don't do it any more. Why have we made spanking such this ooh, horrid event?

MARTIN: Well, let's Stacey answer that, because you've given a lot of thought to this. What's your attitude - what's your answer to that, Stacey?

PATTON: Well, I grew up with a Big Mama. I mean she wasn't physically a big mama but she had that attitude that you should whip a child in public spaces, with a belt, with the switch, a hanger. And being the child in that situation, it didn't teach me why I shouldn't do things wrong. What it did was it actually made me fear her. It made me not like her. It caused a great amount of anxiety in me. It left scars and bruises. It wrecked my self-esteem. It didn't teach me the communication and analytical skills that I needed to be able to navigate through the world. I ended up in foster care. And it's that kind of attitude that is breeding a lot of these social logical effects.

For example, the latest child abuse statistics show that the predominant number of children who are in the foster care system because of child abuse are African-American. The biggest perpetrators of child abuse against children are black women age 40 and under. There have been all kind of studies to show the cognitive effects that hitting children has on their development. Certainly, we can connect this to bullying and high incarceration rates. And so this idea that keeps them in line and keeps them from being killed or getting in trouble is just absolutely false.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Needless to say, we're talking about that video of a Texas family law judge who was videotaped beating his daughter with a belt. The incident happened some years ago. The young lady posted the video online. It's now gone viral. It's been viewed just I think millions of times at this point. We're talking with our regular moms, Jolene Ivey, Dani Tucker and Leslie Morgan Steiner. They all have very different views about this. Also with us, Stacey Patton, who is an anti-spanking advocate.

Jolene, you wanted to say something?

IVEY: Yeah. I would say that what Stacey went through was called abuse. It wasn't discipline. Now what Dani describe, if you had just said use your hand instead of use your belt, that's discipline. You get one pop on the butt, yeah, that's discipline. You don't let your kid run wild. But the punishment has to fit the crime and clearly this girl's crime was not...

MARTIN: Downloading on Napster, you think - Dani, what is the line for you? You feel it does fit the crime. You feel the punishment did fit the crime. Tell us why.

TUCKER: I don't know - again, I don't know what her parents had already discussed, I don't know what offense this was, whether this was the first, or second, or third time she did it. What I'm saying is certain offenses require a spanking and certain don't, just like a crime.

MARTIN: And she's an 18-year-old?

TUCKER: I still have an 18-year-old I'll knock upside the head now if I have to, if I have to.

MARTIN: But he can't - but, you know, he can't hit you back, though. This is the part that I'm always troubled by...

TUCKER: No, he cannot hit me back.

MARTIN: Exactly. So how is it not abusive when you're hitting somebody who can't hit you back?

TUCKER: Because this is my child and I'm disciplining and I'm disciplining in him love. For the same stats that Stacey has, I'm going to give you other stats. There are people who are not in jail because they were disciplined right. Then we got kids out here who are left to their own devices who are not being disciplined and are running right doing whatever they want to do. I hear the stats. I hear what you're saying. You don't want to spank your child, don't spank your child. But for those of us who are disciplinarians, who do spank our children for certain offenses - I don't mess with my mother now and I'm 40 years old; she'll say she's going to knock me out.

MARTIN: Well, what's, so what crosses the line with you? What crosses the line with you, what? Is it a physical injury you can see, drawing blood? What? What crosses the line?

TUCKER: There's clear abuse. Now there was...

MARTIN: Tell me, what's clear?

TUCKER: Clear abuse...

MARTIN: Because for a lot of people this is clear and you don't agree.

TUCKER: No, I don't. Abuse to me is when you jump on this child, and you hit this child, and you bruise this child not in a way of love, not in the way of discipline. You can spank with a belt, you can spank with your hand. I still send my child to the tree to get a switch, pick the switch, pick the right one for a certain offense, OK?

MARTIN: OK. All right, Leslie, you wanted to say something.

STEINER: I think that, you know, that I'm very much in agreement with a lot of what Dani and Jolene are saying, that the issue here is what's the difference between discipline and assault, and in my mind it's really clear that this is abuse. And I'll tell you a couple of things that makes this clearly abuse to me. The fact that he is beating her with a belt in a way that is, it's just so beyond a spanking. And he tries to call it a spanking. It is not a spanking. It is an attack and she cannot fight back; she's helpless. I also think one of the most chilling things about this video is how very calm he and his wife are. I think, you know, he - abusers are really good at justifying abuse in many, many different ways; by calling it a spanking, by saying she deserved it, by saying there's another side to the story that's going to come out. But he - abuse is about controlling somebody and dominating them, not punishing them and not teaching them something new. And to me it's just so obvious that this is all about a calculated effort to control and shame this girl, and to use her mother to do it too, and to me that's what's really different. I'm not opposed to discipline, but to me - no way. I'm really with the idea that sometimes kids when they're out of control you need, to or some people feel they need to spanked them to get their attention, to communicate with them.

MARTIN: Yeah...

STEINER: But she 16. It's a whole different story here. Would it be OK if a teacher did it, if her boyfriend did it, if, you know, if a stranger hit her? No. It's wrong.

MARTIN: Wait - go ahead, Stacey.

PATTON: OK.

MARTIN: Well, I did want to play a short clip from the young lady herself named Hillary. She was on NBC's "Today Show" recently with her mother talking about the incident and this is what she had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TODAY SHOW")

HILLARY ADAMS: It did happen regularly for a period of time and I could tell because of the pattern that things are escalating again, so I set up my video camera on my dresser and after I set the camera up this happened.

MARTIN: So, you know, I don't know where we can sort of take this. Clearly we're not all going to agree. But I'm going to give your final thought, and Dani, I'm going to give you the last word because you are the minority in this conversation in terms of the point of view. So Stacey, briefly, if you would, is there something you think we should learn from this? I mean I think is interesting...

PATTON: First of all...

MARTIN: ...you surfaced the racial difference here. But what do you think we should learn from this?

PATTON: I think that we need to change our language and our definition of the word discipline. What's one person's discipline is another person's abuse. And this thin line between abuse and discipline that everybody keeps talking about, there really is no line at all, that hitting is a form of violence always. It's an assault, period. I don't care how old a child is. I don't care about their gender, race or whatever. It's a civil rights and a human rights issue that should be universally applied to everyone.

MARTIN: Dani, final thought from you?

TUCKER: My final thought is A, I didn't see the shame because she didn't, he didn't know he was being videotaped, so I mean they were in the privacy of their home. But this is my final thought to the parents and their are a few of them, I'm not alone who, you know, hit me on Facebook, thank you, and said Dani, I'm with you. A child born of my womb, living in my house, will abide by my rules or suffer my consequences, some of which will be getting your behind whipped, with whatever I deem fit necessary to administer mommy justice. If you wish to avoid the mommy justice, don't mess with mom. That's my final thought.

MARTIN: But haven't husbands said this throughout time? Haven't husbands said this to the women, you will obey me or I will hit you? I mean is that...

TUCKER: I'm talking about raising my child. My child.

MARTIN: OK.

TUCKER: My child, is not, am I not in charge of my child?

MARTIN: OK. OK. Well, all right. Jolene, final thought? I guess the final question we have for you, because you're also a state legislator here, is there a further discussion about this, given this man's position as a judge?

IVEY: Absolutely. In Maryland he would be called I believe, before the Judicial Disabilities Commission and it's possible he could lose his job. And to me this is what we need to consider. Perhaps in Texas they just let people do whatever you want. But in Maryland we do have a procedure.

MARTIN: Well, we will see. We will see. To be continued. Thank you all so much for a spirited and civil discussion, I appreciate, on a very difficult and emotional topic.

PATTON: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Stacey Patton was with us. She is an anti-spanking advocate. She is author of the book "That Mean Old Yesterday." She was with us from NPR, New York. Here in Washington, D.C., our regular moms, Leslie Morgan Steiner, Dani Tucker and Jolene Ivey. Thank you all so much.

IVEY: Thanks, Michel.

STEINER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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