Child Abuse Laws
Detective Robert R. Surgenor

When I attended the police academy as a rookie police officer, much of the training involved an in-depth study of the criminal laws of Ohio. I sat in class daily, listening intently to the instructor who tried to describe the intricacies of the state statutes. Most of the attention was given to the subjects we were going to encounter most often, like laws of arrest, search and seizure, and domestic violence. Very little attention was given to the child abuse laws. I graduated from the academy and was sent out on the road with a limited knowledge of the rights of parents and what actually constituted child abuse in Ohio.

It became evident that very few other law enforcement and county child abuse investigators knew the law. I once had a county social worker tell me that if a parent used a switch or a belt to spank their child, that was considered child abuse, even if there was no physical harm. That social worker was ignorant of the law. I began researching the child abuse laws, studying the statutes and talking with lawmakers, prosecutors, and judges. By the time I was assigned to our department's juvenile crime unit, I could argue effectively with the best of them that spanking in our state was not only legal, but we have been instructed by law to discipline our children when necessary.

Section 2151.03.1 of the Ohio Revised Code is titled "Abused child defined." Much of this section addresses obvious child abuse, but few realize that this law allows the parent to use spanking as a form of discipline. I call this the "parental authority exemption." Subsection (c) states "a child exhibiting evidence of corporal punishment or other physical disciplinary measure by a parent… is not an abused child under this division if the measure is not prohibited under section 2919.22 of the Revised Code."

"Evidence" is something left behind. "Evidence of corporal punishment or other physical disciplinary measure" could be anything from a red welt to broken bones. Even without knowing the law, we should all realize that breaking our child's bones would be abusive. What is considered going too far? This statute states "if the measure is not prohibited under section 2919.22 of the Revised Code."

Section 2919.22 is the "Endangering children" section, and specifies what is "prohibited." under the law. It states that a parent may not "administer corporal punishment or other physical disciplinary measure, or physically restrain the child in a cruel manner or for a prolonged period, which punishment, discipline, or restraint is excessive under the circumstances and creates a substantial risk of serious physical harm to the child." This section states that the physical punishment must be "excessive" AND "creates a substantial risk" of "serious physical harm" to the child. The word "and" is an inclusive term, and both of these criteria must be met in order for the discipline to be considered abusive. "Substantial risk" is a much more dangerous standard than simple risk.

Section 2901.01 defines "serious physical harm." There are five subsections that describe the criteria needed in order for the harm caused to the child to be considered child abuse. They are "a) Any mental illness or condition of such gravity as would normally require hospitalization or prolonged psychiatric treatment; b) Any physical harm that carries a substantial risk of death; c) Any physical harm that involves some permanent incapacity, whether partial or total, or that involves some temporary, substantial incapacity; d) Any physical harm that involves some permanent disfigurement, or that involves some temporary, serious disfigurement; e) Any physical harm that involves acute pain of such duration as to result in substantial suffering, or that involves any degree of prolonged or intractable pain."

"Serious Physical Harm" is the criteria needed to convict someone of "Felonious Assault." One person slapping another and causing a bruise will never fit the criteria needed to convict that person of a felony. The same standard applies to corporal punishment.

Ohio law is also very specific regarding parental authority and child responsibility. Section 2151.021 states that an "unruly child" is "Any child who does not subject himself or herself to the reasonable control of his or her parents." As far as the state is concerned, your child must obey you, as long as the command is "reasonable." To instruct your child to do the dishes is "reasonable." To demand that they jump off a high level bridge is not.

In fact, the law states that a parent is unfit if they do not subject their child to necessary discipline. You ought to see the child abuse investigator when we read them this statute! Section 2151.05 states "a child… whose parents, stepparents, guardian, or custodian fail to subject such child to necessary discipline is without proper parental care or guardianship."

Parents armed with the law should not be afraid to discipline their children in the manner prescribed by God. I recommend that parents obtain copies of the law and keep them handy. When the police or child abuse investigators show up at the door, the laws should be shown to the party questioning the parent's authority. The government official ignorant of the law might then modify his plan of action that would have been unconstitutional.