How Badly Are You Allowed To Injure a Woman When You Hit Her?

The question sounds absurd, but apparently some people are prepared to accept the premise and answer it.
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The question sounds absurd, but apparently some people are prepared to accept the premise and answer it.
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The recent uproar sparked by the National Football League's handling of Ray Rice's assault on his then-fiancée and now wife has prompted a national conversation about domestic violence, but one which has left important questions unanswered. For example, how badly should you be allowed to injure a woman when you hit her? I'm not talking about knocking a woman out in an elevator, which we can all agree is excessive, but about reasonable violence against women, the kind you inflict when she deserves it.

I'm also not talking about cultural or societal norms, which can be murky at best. Some people think you shouldn't hit women at all. I'm talking about what the law allows, not in practice (since Rice wasn't actually punished at all for his crime), but to the letter. Like insect parts in peanut butter, should there be a level of violence against women that the law allows? Should there be standards of severity regarding the severity of an injury that you can cause to a woman?

For example, what if the violence didn't result in significant bruising or welts (multiple or very large bruises, bruises with a deep or intense color, bruises lasting a week or more, bruises that are especially painful), or any of the following:

  • Sprains, dislocations, or cartilage damage

  • Bone or skull fractures

  • Brain or spinal cord damage

  • Intracranial hemorrhage or injury to other internal organs

  • Asphyxiation, suffocation, or drowning

  • Injury resulting from the use of a deadly weapon

  • Burns or scalding

  • Cuts, lacerations, punctures, or bites

  • Permanent or temporary disfigurement

  • Permanent or temporary loss or impairment of a body part or function.

That is not to say you can't use a weapon when assaulting a woman, just not a deadly one. Shouldn't some bruising, and the use of some weapons, be permitted? Not just for shits and giggles, but only if she does something to deserve it, and only if your motive is to correct her, not to cause permanent damage. Shouldn't it also matter whether the woman is big enough to take the beating you're giving her? Should the law require you to beat a small woman less forcefully than you beat a larger woman? We're not monsters, are we?

The reason these questions have gone unanswered is that they are obviously absurd. While our legal system is demonstrably insufficient when it comes to actually protecting women from violence, as evidenced by the fact that Ray Rice is not in jail, the law at least says you're not allowed to commit violence against women, and there's no longer even a societal norm that tolerates it.

The reason these questions are important, though, is that they have all been asked and answered by our legal system, and it is, indeed, perfectly legal to commit the acts of violence I've described here against children. The allegations against Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson have broadened the conversation to include violence against children, but that part of the conversation is drastically different from the one about violence against women. While some people are rightly aghast at the injuries shown to have been inflicted on Peterson's son, and rightly disgusted at those who defend his actions, but committing acts of violence against children, and using weapons on them, is still just a judgment call. This is a near-universal attitude that is even shared by those who don't believe in this violence, but accept that it is just that: a matter of belief.

This has led to some absurd, yet completely representative, moments like Chris Matthews explaining how beating a woman child with a belt is one thing, but using a switch, on a four year-old, all over his body, is quite another:

Or this candid first reaction to the beating of Peterson's child from Chris Hayes:

These are not the worst reactions to this, by a long shot. They are, in fact, on the spectrum of the best reactions, and still, even Hayes, a new father and one of the gentlest souls you'll ever meet, someone who is unlikely to ever raise his hand to a child or anyone else, readily accepts the whipping of children as a fact of life. All we can do is recommend against it. Thirty-one countries have banned this kind of violence against children, but in the United States, not a single state has a law against so-called corporal punishment in the home, and 19 states allow it in schools. So far, the National Conversation™ has not included the fact that children, those least able to defend themselves against violence, are the only people whom the law allows you to straight-up assault.

The question I want answered is why?