These words should never go together: Lacerations. Genitals. Four-year-old.
But somehow when an NFL star is the one who used his adult brain to make a choice to use his strong, large adult body to “whoop” his preschooler into appalling injuries like these, many become apologists for his conduct. Including the NFL and his team, the Minnesota Vikings, who kept him on until the public uproar shamed them into suspending running back Adrian Peterson while the legal system runs its course.
I certainly hope the legal system doesn’t run its course the way it usually does for violent celebrities, like Ray Rice who got zero jail time for punching his fiancé in the face, knocking her out, or Chris Brown who got only probation after punching Rihanna in the face and choking her to the point of unconsciousness in 2009, or Robert Blake who was merely fined for killing his wife (not guilty in the criminal case, liable in the civil case).
I’m not surprised that Charles Barkley, the Vikings and the NFL issue supportive statements and take Peterson’s side. Powerful people who make a lot of money for a giant organization like the NFL will always be protected over a tiny nobody who doesn’t make money for anyone. I’ve spent decades representing battered and exploited kids (and adults). When I began, I thought everyone was against child abuse. I quickly learned that in every case family members and authorities rush to protect the abuser, especially a wealthy one, using a series of tired justifications to deny reality. That’s exactly what’s happening now in the Peterson case.
Those excuses make me wonder: who are the children here, and where are the grownups?
Excuses are “Get Out of Jail Free” cards that allow Americans kids to get beaten and abused at horrific levels. The US has one of the worst child abuse records among industrialized nations. Excuses mean that we have ridiculous state laws like Texas’ which allows spankings but not striking children beyond what the community considers “reasonable discipline,” whatever that means.
If everyone in town whips their toddlers, do they all get a pass? In what other area of the law would that be the case? If everyone’s a thief, do I have the green light to loot? That rule does seem to apply to the giant banks that ripped us all off and caused the 2008 financial meltdown, with zero criminal charges following. But I digress.
To its credit, Texas has indicted Peterson on a charge of injury to a child, though it took four months for it to do so, notwithstanding these photos:
Of course, I’m not showing the photos of the child’s genitals, but his scrotum are similarly lacerated and bruised from Peterson’s whipping.
The facts alleged, mostly not denied by Peterson, are that he pulled a branch off a tree, sometimes called a “switch,” removed the leaves and repeatedly struck his son with it.
This is not a spanking. This is not a “swat on the butt.” Words matter … Peterson himself said in a text message to the boy’s mother that “I got kinda good wit the tail end of the switch” and that “the switch was wrapping around hitting I (sic) thigh.” That is a whipping or a beating.
Peterson inflicted numerous visible cuts and bruises to the boy’s back, buttocks, ankles, legs and scrotum. Peterson conceded this in a text: “Got him in nuts once I noticed.” The boy also had defensive wounds to his hands.
I repeat, defensive wounds. On a four-year-old.
The child said “Daddy Peterson hit me on my face,” and said he was worried that Peterson would punch him in the face if he reported the whipping. Mr. Peterson, why did your son have to be threatened into keeping it all a secret if you did nothing wrong? The boy said that Peterson had also hit him with a belt and “there are a lot of belts in Daddy’s closet.” Leaves were stuffed in his mouth, the child said, while Peterson whipped him with his pants down.
Peterson admitted to the police that he had repeatedly “whooped” his son.
How can anyone defend this behavior? And yet many do.
Excuses #1 and 2: “My parents did it to me” and “spanking is good for kids”
Peterson claims his parents hit him with belts and switches, and so he does the same to his children. Numerous witnesses have confirmed this. This is the common “I turned out fine” defense.
If you put lacerations on your son’s genitals, Mr. Peterson, you did not turn out fine. You turned into a batterer who made a choice not to stop the cycle of violence. Your own history of abuse explains but does not excuse your behavior.
Legally and morally, this is no defense at all. Our parents did a lot of stupid, even criminal things either because they didn’t know any better or because they were terrible people. A generation ago, adults didn’t make us wear bike helmets. Some parents let you get drunk with them at age 11. Plenty of dads beat their wives. Some parents smoked cigarettes with the car windows up while we bounced around seatbelt-free in the back seat.
Stop it. Once you’re an adult, the law holds you accountable for your own behavior. Parents have a responsibility to keep up. Twenty years of published research establishes that children who are spanked – just spanked, with a bare hand – are significantly more likely to be aggressive, depressed and suffer longterm emotional and even brain injuries. Add a weapon like a switch, threats of violence if the child tells, and striking his genitals and the damage is far more severe.
Excuse #3: “Everybody does it”
Thirty developed countries ban spanking in schools and homes. The U.S. is not one of them. Why not? Because we live in a culture that condones, even glorifies violence that is considered appalling elsewhere. We tolerate gun deaths at twenty times the rate of the rest of the developed world, for example. And we often allow corporal punishment, foolishly, cruelly, at the expense of the health and happiness of small, vulnerable children.
Adrian Peterson talks like an abuser, blaming his four-year-olds – FOUR-YEAR-OLDS – for the beatings he inflicted on them. Because this wasn’t the only incident. Peterson was previously investigated by child protective services when another child of his came home to his mother with a disturbing scar on his head. He was cleared after he claimed the child hit his own head on the car seat while Peterson was hitting him.
If that makes no sense to you, it shouldn’t. It is entirely foreseeable that a terrified toddler in a car seat will struggle while being hit by a large adult, and that any injuries he incurs in that situation should be the fault of the adult. But Peterson got a pass, and probably felt empowered to go on beating his young children.
Disturbingly, Peterson blamed the beaten child for his own injury:
Mother: “What happened to his head?”
Peterson: “Hit his head on the Carseat.”
Mother: “How does that happen, he got a whoopin in the car.”
Peterson: “I felt so bad. But he did it his self.”
No, Mr. Peterson, you did that too him. You, the grownup. You, his father. You, who he wants to please more than anything in the world.
There is no infraction a four-year-old can commit that merits a beating, just as there is nothing a woman can say that justifies her being punched in the face. But what was this poor child’s alleged offense? Cussing to a sibling, according to Peterson. I wonder where he learned that?
Enough excuses. Adrian Peterson should be fully prosecuted for his sickening conduct against his own children. And everyone who makes excuses for him is an accessory to child abuse.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Avvo.