Michael Farris’s Selective Interest in Protecting Children

Michael Farris’s Selective Interest in Protecting Children January 18, 2015

In the most recent installment of my Anonymous Tip review series, social workers Donna and Rita forcibly strip-searched four-year-old Casey. In the comments, a reader pointed this out:

The strip-search bit sounds (to me, anyway) awfully similar to a spanking. Child is pinned down against her will, clothing is removed against her will, child writhes and screams to no avail… Casey is probably surprised that after this, the social workers just let her go instead of whacking her with a wooden spoon the way her Heroic Christian Mom would.

She’s right. Here’s the book’s description of the strip-search:

Corliss was tired of going slowly. She moved with firm deliberation. She quickly grabbed Casey’s other arm and held her down on the bed. “Rita, quick, take off her shirt and jeans and pull her panties down. Quickly.”

Casey writhed in terror. Her cries turned to screams as the two social workers stripped all her clothes off.

Farris describes the strip-search in a way that is obviously calculated to arouse horror in his readers—and for good reason! What Farris described was horrifying. But what’s interesting is that Farris’s hero, Gwen, spanks Casey with a wooden spoon. Farris never describes a spanking episode in his book, but if he did—and did so honestly—there would be little difference in the accounts.

Farris’s organization, HSLDA, defends parents’ right to strike their children. HSLDA opposes attempts to limit corporal punishment to that which is “reasonable.” HSLDA defends parents’ right to hit their children with objects. In fact, in 2010 HSLDA opposed a Florida bill that would have added “excessive bruises or welts” to the state’s definition of “harm” in its child abuse and neglect code. And given that he had ten children of his own and certainly spanked them, he has to know that a spanking sometimes looks very much like the strip-search he described above.

My parents spanked my siblings and I. It frequently involved a struggling child being held down, and not infrequently involved pulling down a child’s pants and, in some cases, underwear. I have been spanked in ways that fit Farris’s above description of Donna and Rita’s forcible strip-search of Casey. I have watched my siblings spanked in the same way, and—sad to say—I occasionally spanked my younger siblings in ways that fit that description as well. (I have written before about how much I regret that my parents gave me the authority to spank my younger siblings—I was a teenager, I should never have been given that sort of power over my siblings.)

So, all of this said, I’m wondering. Has Farris simply never put these two things—forcible strip-searches and corporal punishment—in the same category? Or does he think there’s a difference because the one is the act of a stranger while the other is the act of a parent? In Farris’s mind, is it okay for a parent to overpower and violate their child but not for a stranger to do the same?

To be perfectly clear, I don’t think either of these situations is okay. I understand that there are times when children must be overpowered and held still against their will—say, shots, or stitches—but I don’t think this should be done unless absolutely necessary, and I would argue that neither corporal punishment or social services strip searches meet that threshold.

You want my conclusion? Farris is horrified by the strip search he describes not because of the harm to Casey, but rather because he sees it as a violation of parental rights—a violation of Gwen’s rights. If Gwen did the exact same thing to Casey—and we know that she does—Farris would be at Gwen’s side defending her up and down. The issue is not whether a child should be allowed to be terrorized. The issue is who should be allowed to terrorize a child.

Although to throw one more wrench in this, HSLDA has advised parents as follows:

Avoid potential situations that could lead to a child welfare investigation. . . . Do not spank someone else’s child unless they are close Christian friends.

It does not say “do not spank someone else’s child unless you have their permission.” No. Its assumption is that if someone else is a close Christian friend, you may spank their children without even asking their permission. Let me clarify further: HSLDA advises its members that they may spank other people’s children without checking with their parents if those parents are close Christian friends. I honestly have no idea how this fits with HSLDA’s emphasis on parental rights.

This is just bizarre.

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