Sexual violence and physical punishment

Physical punishment – and its legality – contributes to children’s vulnerability to sexual violence and to the conditions in which it occurs in many ways. The legality of physical punishment of children reflects and reinforces their low status as less than human, as objects and possessions – the very status that underpins the commodification of children who are sexually exploited.  Physically hurting girls and boys in the name of punishment/discipline violates their physical integrity and human dignity, and makes other physical and sexual invasion “easier” and more likely.


Children often experience both physical punishment and sexual violence/abuse in the family. A home environment where a certain degree or kind of violence against children is condoned is an environment where boundaries are blurred and children are vulnerable. Some physical punishment is sexual (e.g. spanking on bare buttocks), and much child pornography depicts scenes of physical punishment of children.  Physical punishment, and the threat of it, may be used to coerce children into sexual relationships within or outside the family and into other forms of sexual exploitation.


Recent research also shows that the more physical punishment a child experiences, the more likely he or she is to have coercive sex, and to engage in risky sex and masochistic sex when adult.1


1See for example Ian Gibson, 1978, The English Vice: Beating, Sex and Shame in Victorian Britain and After Duckworth.  Murray Straus has also recently produced evidence suggesting that corporal punishment in childhood is closely associated with coercive sex in later life – see

Recent news

Report calls for prohibition in Scotland

Date: December 2015

A systematic review of research literature on physical punishment, jointly commissioned by Barnardo’s Scotland, Children 1st, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and NSPCC Scotland was published in November

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Corporal punishment to be banned in madrassas

Date: December 2015

On November 27 the Government published plans to prohibit corporal punishment in all part-time educational settings, including madrassas (see: consultation). The proposals also aim to prevent children being “radicalised” in madrassas...

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