A World Without Limits

It was the kind of encounter with an adolescent that has become all too common. The child, upset about family problems or perhaps just displaying the narcissism typical of so many teenagers was out of control. She began smashing vases, kicking furniture, all the while screaming out her rage. Not satisfied with the destruction, she began assaulting her mother, who, with some difficulty, was able to restrain her daughter.

But her daughter escaped and burst from the house. She ran to the local police station and told them her mother had assaulted her, showing off the small red marks that resulted from her mother’s restraint. In a matter of minutes the police were barging in the door of the house, where the mother remained with her younger child. They told her that she was under arrest for assault and battery. There were no injuries to the child, no history of domestic incidents. They put the mother, a local schoolteacher, in handcuffs, drove her to the police station, and put her in a cell.

The following day at her arraignment the mother was told by the judge that, based on the current charges, she could be fined and sentenced to two and one-half years in jail.

In a separate incident a ten year old child was throwing a tantrum in the back seat of his parents’ car. He was angry at them for not allowing him to do what he wanted to do. After yelling at his parents for a while, he played his trump card. He told them that if they did not relent, he would tell the police that they had abused him.

The parents knew what this meant; probable charges of assault and battery on a child, significant payments to a defense attorney, an invasive investigation by protective services workers, placement of their child in a foster home where, in all probability, he would be exposed to genuinely dangerous children, irrevocable introduction of their names into a criminal justice data register that purported to identify potential predators.

As any local police officer knows, the above scenarios are repeated hundreds of times each year in every community, hundreds of thousands of times across the country. Laws, originally created to address domestic violence against women, now require that an arrest be made in any circumstance in which allegations of assault have been lodged. In the vast majority of circumstances, this means that a man is carted off to jail. But the unintended victims of these laws are those most in need of protection: children.