Sweden : criminal assaults on children rise following ban on smacking

· Robert E. Larzelere, Taren Swindle, Byron R. Johnson,Swedish Trends in Criminal Assaults against Minors since Banning Spanking, 1981-2010’, International Journal of Criminology and Sociology , 2013, 2, pp129-137. http://www.lifescienceglobal.com  

New research has revealed a dramatic rise in cases of criminal assaults on minors in Sweden since smacking was outlawed in 1979. Based on official Swedish figures, the study, published in the peer-reviewed International Journal of Criminology and Sociology, shows that, compared with 1981, criminal statistics in 2010 included:

  • 22 times as many cases of physical child abuse;
  • 24 times as many assaults by minors against minors; and
  • 73 times as many rapes of minors under the age of 15.

Although the researchers from three American universities, recognise that changes in reporting practices may account for the increase to some extent, the magnitude and consistency of the figures suggest that there has been a real increase in criminal assaults on minors in Sweden over the course of the past three decades.

Parental discipline undermined
The study concludes that Sweden’s ban on smacking may have contributed to an increase in criminal assaults rather than achieving its intended outcome of decreasing the incidence of violence. The authors suggest that, despite the best of intentions, the prohibition of all forms of physical correction may inadvertently undermine appropriate parental discipline, with the result that a small, but increasing percentage of boys may grow up with a dangerous combination of disrespect for their mothers and a lack of self-control:

‘Without appropriate parental discipline, such boys learn to get whatever they want when they want it regardless of their mothers’ disapproval… For some boys, this disregard for others’ disapproval may generalise to other females, who are then at risk of becoming their rape victims. We are not claiming that this is the only possible explanation of the increase in rapes of minors, but it is a plausible explanation for part of the increase.’ 

Permissive parenting
The research team, led by Dr Robert Larzelere from Oklahoma State University, comment that the ban on smacking itself could only plausibly influence the increase in criminal assault statistics until the mid-1990s. The continued increase in these assaults since then would have to be explained by more recent changes. They suggest that one possible explanation lies in the growth in support for a form of permissive parenting that not only rejects physical chastisement, but also discourages other sanctions such as grounding and withdrawing pocket money.

The researchers suggest that bans on smacking may undermine appropriate parental discipline if physical chastisement is not replaced with alternative disciplinary tactics that are effective for defiant children as well as easily managed children. Yet, at the same time they note that neither supporters nor critics of anti-smacking laws have been able to identify alternative methods of discipline that are as effective in reducing child behaviour problems.