Last week, NBC aired the premiere of it's mini-series "The Slap." It's based on an Australian miniseries of the same name. According to promotions across the network, especially on the Today show, the incident that gives the show it's title is supposed to 'spark a conversation'. I'm sure it has in some circles, but frankly, it's sparking the wrong conversation.
First, a brief synopsis (spoilers). The Slap revolves around a relatively well to do family in quickly gentrifying Brooklyn. The family has gathered for a 40th birthday party and there are a number of adults and children in attendance. As the day wears along, the children get exceedingly restless.
One of the children is acting out and his parents are seemingly oblivious. An adult cousin with a temper takes exception and when he confronts the child, the child kicks him. He responds almost automatically with a slap to the face.
That's it, the slap to the face of a child is the precipitating event that "tears a family apart" and forces them all "to choose sides". Puh-leese. If you've got so few problems in your family that this is the worst thing that happens? You're doing okay.
As a 21 year veteran investigator of abuse and neglect, let me make it clear, slapping or spanking a child is discouraged in my state and every other, but the reality is, it does happen. In Illinois, for instance we weigh factors such as age of the child, use of an instrument, location on the body, what happened immediately before the incident. There are better punishments than slapping or hitting, but not every hit or slap is child abuse by definition.
I frequently tell the story of one of my earliest cases. The report was a teen aged child slapped by step mother with a mark on the child's face. I was so gung ho before going out. I was sure it was an indicated report. When I got there, I found the teen had called step mom a bitch and then called step grand mom a 'mother fucking cunt'. Step mom slapped the teen out of reaction. Not the best choice, but not child abuse given the factors we use.
What really bothers me about the premise of The Slap is that there is so much physical and sexual abuse that is far worse than a slap. Abuse like breaking a child's arm, sexually abusing them, beating them with switches, or killing them are all things I've investigated. Those are the kinds of child abuse that tear families apart.
In the last statistical year, 2013 there were over three million cases of child abuse reported to hotlines across the nation. That report also shows that there were over three million children identified as alleged victims of which almost seven hundred thousand were identified as indicated or founded victims of abuse or neglect.
Twenty three percent of all victims in 2013 were under 1 year of age. Sixty thousand kids were sexually abused, One hundred twenty two thousand were physically abused. Almost six hundred thousand were neglected. In the latest reporting year on child death, 2012, sixteen hundred children were killed by abuse or neglect. The majority of those were under the age of 4.
I have seen families torn apart by abuse and neglect. The death or sexual assault of a child tear families apart. The unique phenomenon of a mother standing by an alleged perpetrator in the face of overwhelming evidence of abuse, is something I've seen time and again. The extended family's response to the mother's intractability tears the fabric of family.
What 'The Slap' fails to see is that there are also countless families that take a situation like a slap to come together and grow, Children are especially resilient. One little girl I worked with who was sexually assaulted in the early 2000's, has grown up, graduated high school and college, and is on the way to her masters. She's just one example of hundreds I know and hundreds of thousands nation wide.
Child abuse is terrible. It is real and it is epidemic. A national conversation on child abuse is a good thing. The problem is that NBC's The Slap trivializes a serious subject and fails to see that while a slap to the face of a child is a bad thing, the slap to the conscientiousness of America they hoped to deliver, went wide of the mark.