and abuses of

corporal punishment Parents who strike their children, teachers wielding a stick, prison warders who want to use the birch and thugs beating up informers. They are all after the same thing?not to maim but to discourage 'bad' behaviour. But the relationship between punisher and punished is often more complex than it appears on the surface Miller of the Tavistock Clinic points out in this article.



Dr. Derek

either personally, or as a representative of society, he perceives as provocative, antisocial or disturbing. The intent behind any type of corporal punishment is not normally to maim?if this happens it is accidental. The aim is to cause pain with the belief that this will discourage both the perpetrator of an anti-

Corporal punishment does not include all the aggressive, murderous and sadistic behaviour which man is capable of inflicting upon his fellows. A beating by a headmaster is not the same as a concentration camp atrocity. The former is a ritual act performed by an authority figure in response to an action which,

Naval punishment. The cat-o'-nine-tails provided


powerful corrective


shipboard indiscipline sh'Phr


Mary Evans Picture Library




eC?"o,f "









and possible imitators. Less socially acceptable is the wish for revenge. Thus corporal punishment is not different from other types of punishment, for it involves both the concept of helping a personal reinforcement of behavioural controls and the use of a scapegoat. In Western society, corporal punishment normally involves the use of such 'instruments' as the hand, a stick, a cane or a whip. Outside the family the person punished is often placed in a formalised position so that blows are struck on the back, the buttocks, the backs of the thighs or the hands; other societies have used the soles of the feet. In different subsections of society the technique of beating may vary. Parents commonly use a hand, some school staff use a slipper or a hair brush. Groups of delinquents ?r adult criminals may give their aberrant members a 'kicking'. Prison officers and the staff of mental hospitals, when driven to violence by the frustration ?f their roles, use instruments which will not mark their victims. When groups inflict punishment against the wishes of society and without its knowledge, blows below the belt are common. Facial blows are used so that there is evidence of the beating, to discourage others, but when parents inflict punishment in the heat of anger they too may strike their child-



ren on the head or face.


controlled a society appears to be in its aggression, the more willing it is to use formalised techniques of violence such as corporal punishment. While Britain was a highly controlled society m which physical aggression between its citizens was relatively rare, there was little question of 'abolish|n8 the birch'. The increased rate of violent crime mdicates that British society is now more openly aggressive, the need to have a ritualised outlet for more

Use of

a?gressive fantasies has diminished and the birch is


There are society to





the part of certain sections of and judicial

corporal punishment

Even if these


to restore controls to


accepted they


as a



whole. Evi-

from small groups indicates that once a society that it is relatively easy to behave in a diffusely violent manner, the control of aggressive behaviour is not readily re-gained. Sublimations, ^hich are slowly learned, do not easily reappear, even under threats, once they have been discarded, ht small social organisations such as schools, mental hospitals and penal establishments, the rigid and punit've external control of inmate behaviour leads to the production of an underground way of life; the appears to be true for society as a whole, sub-groups attempt to use extremes of Vlolence to control the behaviour of their members and even then they do not completely succeed. Drug Pushers, for example, live in constant anxiety that subsidiary members of their organisation will doubleCr?ss them by pocketing the proceeds of their sales and they attempt to control this by the use of razor a method which often fails. Among priso-




^me delinquent


and criminal society, 'grassing' is controlled to extent by threats of violence. However the police would catch many fewer criminals if there were no informers. The United States offer some confirmation that there is a relationship between the open use of aggression by many groups of society and the ritual use of violence sanctioned by legally accepted concepts of corporal punishment. Criminal groups in the USA are still more violent than they are over here, but corporal punishment in the educational system, often the last stronghold of the conservatism of society, is an offence in many States of the Union. Further confirmation may be found in some British boarding schools. Those which continue to insist on highly conformist, controlled behaviour among their pupils?for example, rigid stratification into age



groups as examplified by sewing up trousers pockets until a boy is 16?continue to retain a system in which prefects are allowed to beat junior boys. The terrors of school life in the the eighteenth century, portrayed by George Cruikshank

as as

Library Mary Evans Picture Picture Library

Teenage tensions There

many psychological differences between the position of a parent who hits his child in the heat of anger and the individual who inflicts corporal punishment in cold blood as a routine response to provocation. In the former situation the significance of the action will depend, to some extent, on the cultural pattern of the family. Travel on British railways during the holiday season, shows how usual, and relatively meaningless?at any rate on the surface? is a blow from some parents. It often represents a wish to control children combined with an expression of frustration. Perhaps more significant is the fact that such parents do not convey to their children a concept of the dignity of the human body. It is from such family groups that the violent members of society are more likely to be drawn. Angry blows by parents who do not normally behave in this way, often carry much more significance to their children. Such actions may convey that it is possible to lose control in a controlled way, a lesson which it is as important for human beings to learn with aggressive as with sexual feelings. Parents who never respond with physical aggression to their offsprings' provocations are likely to convey the idea that all physical violence is necessarily dangerous. Their children may also feel unloved as they may perceive their parents as being uninvolved with them. Those people in authority positions who are called upon to inflict corporal punishment as a routine response, are in a difficult emotional situation. 'This hurts me more than it hurts you', may have real meaning for such individuals. An otherwise mature person, called upon to beat a child or adolescent, may have partially to dissociate himself from the implication of the action if it is not to become intolerable. The weals and bruising inflicted on boys by otherwise decent people indicates that during the beating feelings, conscience and actions have become separated from each other. There is some evidence that people whose position necessitates their inflictare

ing corporal punishment may become psychologically damaged by the repetition of such acts. They may selectively withdraw themselves from their charges and see malefactors as wholly bad and therefore to be treated with little humanity. They project their own internal feelings of badness on to the wrongdoer, and, when punishing him, are really punishing a part of their own nature which has been put outside themselves. A




is the control of antisocial be-

haviour without brutalising those whose task it is


controls. The dilemma is demonstrated by the case of the ex-Borstal boy. Roger Keith Maxwell, reported to have been a leader of recent riots in Maidstone goal. The evidence that he was largely responsible for the riots is unknown as he was not tried in open court. Many studies show that the leadof institutional disturbances occupy this role ers because they fill the psychological needs of the protagonists?no one man can make a riot. In addition all such episodes require scapegoats, both for staff



and inmates. Institutional disturbances are the result of defects in the social system in which they occur and they always require unconscious staff collusion and provocation. The wish to have Maxwell birched, expressed by some members of the Prison Officers' Association, was understandable and the time taken by the Home Secretary to announce a decision could only enhance their anxiety?a highly competent psychiatric report can be produced in one or two

days. The decision not to birch Maxwell?combined with the abolition of the death penalty?is likely to lead many prison officers to feel most vulnerable to the attacks of violent prisoners in their charge. It is possible that they will either take the law into their own hands and run a system of 'unofficial' corporal punishment, or that they will opt out of any emotional involvement with their job. Although the 'protection' of legalised violence is more apparent than real, staff who feel anxiety because social change has been inflicted on them without social expertise project this anxiety on to the dangers of violence being done to them. A psychological attack by 'superiors' is dealt with by the fantasy of physical attack by their institutional 'inferiors'. It is not unreasonable to suppose that Maxwell became the scapegoat for widespread staff anxiety. The solution, as described in the House of Commons, lay in a psychiatric recommendation? this 18-year-old boy was to be kept in isolation for 22 hours a day. The reports of this treatment technique will be of great interest. The argument for the retention of corporal punishment has a certain appeal. In any small societytherapeutic, educational or penal?there has to be some way of controlling those members who break its codes. There are institutional and individual reasons for this. The maintenance of social codes depends on the members of the social system in which they apply perceiving the system as valuable. If an institution allows itself to be 'attacked' by one of its members, it is then devalued in the eyes of many. This invites a spread of behaviour which the institution sees as antisocial. If society is no longer on the side of the angels, the person with conflicts that are partially resolved by antisocial behaviour has no motivation to conform. However well run an institution, there will be some people who cannot respond to the normal socialsystem pressure to conform. In good psychiatric hospitals they may be isolated for a short time from other patients, never from staff. Less happily, unless they are psychotic, they may be put in a chemical straitjacket or sedated with electroshock treatments. Schools which do not use corporal punishment have to suspend or expel non-responsive pupil5 and open penal establishments send them to closed settings. There they may be given primitive dietary punishments or isolated for varying periods of time as



Institutions such


Borstals and approved schools



often have

to attempt rehabilitation with inadequate numbers of trained staff and with a building design which may hinder a rational treatment policy. Because of the sieving process of the child-care and probation services, as well as a society which offers less and less in the way of emotional supports, they tend to collect an increasing number of highly disturbed young people. There is little doubt that 'unofficial' corporal punishment does occur in such settings but there is no evidence that this was less frequent in Borstals when legalised corporal punishment was used, nor is it less common in a semi-open


than in an approved school in which corporal Punishment is still used. The more closed an institution, the less it respects the individuality of its inmates. The more overt its punitive role and the more it is understaffed, the less well trained are the staff for the roles demanded of them and the more likely *s it that violence will occur between staff and inmates. If the stress to which the use of formal corporal Punishment exposes staff is considered, there is little

either ritualised or not, does not appear to be much discussed either in girls' institutions or as between the sexes. Corporal punishment when applied to girls by men is intuitively recognised as sexual. It is probably that this is true between fathers and daughters whenever pain is inflicted. The resilience of the human personality is such that on the rare occasions when this happens in healthy families it is hardly likely to create psychological difficulties for the child. In families where corporal punishment is applied frequently by mothers to their sons this is likely to cause problems. At best, the boy does not see his masculinity as being valued, at worst he will treat women with a mixture of unconscious

Physical violence,

to commend its use. An institution may

unknowingly employ psychologically disturbed staff. The relationship between sexuality and aggression is well known. Apart from aggressively disordered sexual behaviour, normal sexual activity has an acceptable aggressive component. Those people who obtain sexual gratification from inflicting pain on others are as likely to be employed by schools and penal settings as those with homosexual problems. The latter are not allowed to seek open satisfaction from their charges under any circumstances, and the same should apply to the


Those institutions in which late adolescents are allowed to beat their juniors, or even their age mates, have been mentioned. Apart from breeding an antisocial arrogance, boys exposed to this trauma may find that they obtain satisfaction ?ut of inflicting pain on others. problems of the victims of corporal punishment are not more complicated than those of the punishers. mutual relationship between the two, particularly if the victim is psychologically disturbed, is not dissimilar to a sexual relationship. In addition there ls usually no way of telling in advance whether or n?t a boy will feel conscious sexual excitement when "e is beaten. The disturbed boy who is beaten in an aPproved school may develop a passive and dependent relationship with his punisher which is almost orotic in quality and sometimes appears to give satis-

with authority


to both




parties. are a

number of


who appear

inhibited insofar as the outward expression of Agression is concerned, while privately they may be Preoccupied with violent fantasies. If such people are he objects of violence from authority figures, it is as if they take this as permission to behave in a vio?nt way themselves. In the history of too many psydisturbed murderers there are episodes chologically ?f violence, formalised or otherwise, inflicted upon hem in youth by those in authority over them? athers, teachers or the staff of penal institutions.

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public whipping in the London Sessions House Yard, from an illustration in the Malefactors' Register of 1745 A

contempt and fear during his active sexual life. Institutions for girls with an all female staff, parti-

cularly if they are residential, have many pathological features about them, but corporal punishment in a formal sense is not an issue; the inflicting of a beating by a women on a girl is again recognised as pathological. Given the present state of


social system it is

probable that the issue of corporal punishment is not a major one in the rehabilitation of either the penal or

educational systems. If both systems were well run use of corporal punishment would wither away it already has in some institutions. Legislating

the as

out of existence may satisfy the conscience, but it represents neither true penal nor educational reform.

corporal punishment


The Uses and Abuses of Corporal Punishment.

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