I remember growing up watching Jackie Gleason tell Alice he would, “Send her to the Moon”, all while waving a closed fist in her face.  Meanwhile, Desi would occasionally put Lucy over his knee to give her a good spanking, while she cried like an exaggerated grown up baby. We laughed, never realizing the destructive image and message that lay just beneath the comedy. Of course there was the handsome Rock Hudson and beguiling Doris Day in a romantic comedy, Pillow Talk (Which I will admit, I enjoyed watching very much), where Rock’s character is, what today would be known as a “player”, basically assumes a fake personality in order to have a woman fall in love with him, “playfully” kidnaps her and throws her on his bed, and essentially tells her he’s doing her a favor by giving up his playboy ways to marry her.  All this ludic love makes us laugh, is charming and whimsical, all while he is fundamentally committing a kidnapping. There is no shortage of media portrayals of men benevolently disciplining and subordinating women. But there are dangerous implications. 

I was horrified to come across an article recently about a Christian religious sect that believed that wives were to be spanked by their husbands as a form of discipline, in order to save her soul.  It even has a name, Christian Domestic Discipline (CDC). I am a veteran of the field of domestic violence for over 2 decades. I can say that I have just about heard it all, and very little, if anything sends me into nauseous shock like what I experienced while researching this topic. Seriously, you just have to read this to believe it: “When a wife breaks her husband’s rules—rolling her eyes, maybe, or just feeling ‘meh’, as one blogger puts it—that can equal punishments which are often corporal but can also be ‘corner time’; writing lines (“I will not disobey my master” 1,000 times); losing a privilege like internet access; or being ‘humbled’ by some sort of nude humiliation. Some practice ‘maintenance spanking,’ wherein good girls are slapped on a schedule to remind them who’s boss; some don’t. Some couples keep the lifestyle from their children; others, like CDD blogger Stormy, don’t. ‘Not only does he spank me with no questions asked for disrespect or attitude in front of them, but I am also required to make an apology to each of them…’ ”   Seriously? Most children I know today don’t even have to put up with these types of discipline, never mind wives.

Brandy Brodnzy, from the Daily Beast writes that one of the women, who willingly submits and participates in this religion, says, “He enjoys seeing the person he owns become the thing God wants her to be.” Seriously, you just have to read her short article: The Daily Beast : Spanking for Jesus .  Additionally, The Raw Story reports that there are several websites for practitioners of this religion to go to pick up tips and share with each other their discipline stories…you know like whether or not to use a brush or a paddle or just a hand.  Or what kinds of infractions deserve punishments.  Many times children are present and/or aware of what is going on.  The author, Eric W. Dolan, asks, “What happens when you combine Fifty Shades of Grey with fundamentalist Christianity?” He answers, “Spanking for Jesus”.   

I interviewed a local prominent Deputy Chief of Police and asked him if, under NJ domestic violence law, a husband could be arrested for this. He answered, “Absolutely, yes”.  I then asked how that would square with religious freedom. He believed officers should make the arrest and “let the courts figure it out.” I then asked a domestic violence Assistant Prosecutor, who wasn’t sure that it was a prosecutorial offense, since under the law a defendant’s intent comes into play. Also, if it is consensual, what’s the difference between those who do this out of religious beliefs and those who do it out of consensual rough sex? Should either group be prosecuted?  Another interesting question is would it be different if the religious belief is: “Spanking for Allah”? It shouldn’t be, but I suspect it would be, as authorities (DYFS, Courts, Law Enforcement) commonly tell Muslim batterers who claim cultural/religious authority over their wives, that one cannot do that in America, in this culture (the cultural divide is not just about religion). And this is a premise that we applaud, as advocates against violence.  

This is not a “culture clash”; this is domestic violence, without a doubt, just given a different name. Victims are manipulated into believing they deserve the treatment they are receiving. It is a practice that is marked by power and control, the predominant feature in any domestic violence relationship. On the road to healing, a survivor gradually comes to believe that they did nothing to deserve the abuse, and that a peaceful and fulfilling life is a possibility. Domestic violence Advocates can both help facilitate and bear witness to this transformation. Oppression is oppression and abuse is abuse and    “a spade is just a ‘bloody’ shovel” .  And safety trumps religion in this case.

This blog post was created by the Shelter Our Sister Associate Director Lil Corcoran.