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In 1979, Sweden became the first country in the world to ban spanking under all circumstances: at home; at school; in penal institutions; everywhere, full stop. Since then, several dozen other countries have enacted similar laws.

I have heard many casual remarks speculating about how these rules are affecting society. Some people speculate that not allowing spanking allows children to grow into undisciplined maniacs and damages the character of society. Some speculate that spanking was always harmful and that society is better off with these bans.

I know that the question has been asked before about what studies say about spanking, and that the answer is that studies say that there are better alternatives to spanking. See: Are there any reputable studies on spanking?

I would like to know if there are any reputable studies that specifically look at how societies that have banned spanking have become different from those that don't. Examples of differences I would be interested in would be differences in crime rates, educational attainment, finance. I would be particularly interested in Sweden considering that Sweden's spanking ban is old enough that children born under that policy are now old enough to be parents themselves.

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There was a study carried out by Professor Joan Durrant, University of Ontario, looking at the Swedish smacking ban called A Generation Without Smacking [PDF], first published in 1999.

The key findings:

  • Decline in public support for corporal punishment
  • Decline in smacking/slapping children as a form of punishment
  • No deaths of children as a result of physical abuse during the 80's and only 4 in the 90's.
  • Reports of assaults against children have increased (that is, people are more willing to report assaults)
  • Proportion of suspects prosecuted who are in their 20's (during the period studied) declined since 1984
  • Majority of reports of assaults are primarily petty or common offences, hence children at risk are being identified before serious injury can occur.
  • Proportion of assaults that are legally pursued without trial has remained steady, while actual prosecutions have steadily declined, so parents have not been drawn into the criminal system for minor assaults.
  • There has been no increase in children being taken from their parents through intervention by social services. In fact, the trend has been the opposite. There has also been a decrease in compulsory measures of social work intervention.
  • Overall rates of youth crime have remained steady.
  • Proportion of individuals convicted for theft has decreased for young offenders.
  • Proportion of suspects in the same age group involved in narcotics crimes has decreased, as has drug and alcohol intake, and suicide rates.
  • Alleged perpetrators of assaults against children aged 15 to 19 show a declining trend.

The study does have its critics, who claim that the ban has had a negative impact on children and society.

For example, "Sweden’s Smacking Ban: More Harm Than Good" by Robert E. Larzelere, Associate Professor of Psychology at University of Nebraska Medical Centre claimed that the sources cited by Durrant came to the opposite conclusions drawn by her.

Some select quotes from the document:

  • "Attitudes and practices about corporal punishment have changed very little since 1979"
  • "The best indicators of physical child abuse showed a 489% increase in physical child abuse cases classified as criminal assaults in Sweden from 1981-1994."
  • "The best evidence suggests that perpetration of criminal assaults against 7-14 year-olds is increasing most rapidly in age groups raised after the law against smacking was passed."
  • "Most of the evidence suggests that the large increase in assaults by minors and in physical child abuse is not entirely explained by changes in reporting mechanisms."

Durrant has responded to these accusations, attempting to refute each claim. See: http://www.childrenareunbeatable.org.uk/the-case-for-reform/experience-of-countries.html

In 2005 Durrant produced a 40-page booklet specifically refuting every one of Larzelere’s claims. She points out that reporting of child abuse rose but not abuse itself, in that there was no increase in reports of aggravated (i.e. more serious) assaults and that a study by the Swedish National Crime Prevention Council concluded the increase seen in reporting did not reflect a true increase in violence against children; that his claim about the numbers of children removed from home is based on a serious misreading of 1982 care figures, which in any event declined by 20% over the next decade and that reports of child on child assaults can be shown to have risen at the point when zero tolerance for school bullying was introduced, rising and falling in correlation with school terms and holidays. She also challenged his objectivity on this issue in general. Larzelere then posted a response to her refutation, but Durrant said she was tired of repeating herself and would not engage with him again.

A PDF of a rebuttal from Durrant (it's unclear if it's the same as the one cited above) is available. To quote from the executive summary:

Larzelere suggests that his analysis of the Swedish situation is objective. However:
  • his position on corporal punishment is influenced by interpretations of Biblical scripture, a position that could compromise his objectivity,
  • his critique reveals a lack of knowledge of Sweden and law reform in that country,
  • his conclusions are based on extremely limited sources of data, misuse of the data he does have, and non-validated assumptions about the Swedish system.

There is also an official Swedish government study looking at the ban called Never Violence: Thirty Years On From Sweden's Abolition of Corporal Punishment [PDF], which has a section entitled "What has been the result?" which covers quite a lot of similar ground as Durrant's work.

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    Was the most important data rebuttal refuted? "The best evidence suggests that perpetration of criminal assaults against 7-14 year-olds is increasing most rapidly in age groups raised after the law against smacking was passed." – user3143 Oct 14 '15 at 14:03
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    From Durrant's rebuttal: "Larzelere erroneously uses police reporting statistics as if they are rates of actual assault. He fails to recognize that reporting rates are highly vulnerable to changes in legal and cultural definitions of violence. As public sensitivity to violence increases, so do reporting rates. The proportion of total assault reports composed of aggravated assault reports has not increased, indicating that assaults are more likely to be reported, but their severity has not increased." – Craig Oct 14 '15 at 14:28
  • In addition: "A study by the National Crime Prevention Council supports the conclusion that the increase seen in reporting does not reflect a true increase in violence against children." – Craig Oct 14 '15 at 14:28
  • (There's a lot more Durrant responds to, I suggest reading the document if you wish to look into it further.) – Craig Oct 14 '15 at 14:29

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