by Susan Thomas
I voted for our government and supported without reservation all the changes they wanted to bring in: lightening the rules about spanking at home; partial restoration of corporal punishment in schools; return of corporal punishment for certain offences within the criminal law. Well, like many others, I was worried about the deteriorating behaviour of young people; not all obviously, but I felt that some authority had to be returned to the world of adults. But that was for other people's children of course! I never dreamt my own daughter might get caught up in it all, yet here I was pulling up at the Ministry of Justice's coyly named 'Therapy Centre'; my daughter, my lovely eighteen year old daughter, next to me.
We walked past a large sign which read, "Protecting the public, stopping re-offending" and up to reception. Amy handed over the pink form and the bored receptionist checked her details.
"You are Amy Rivington, date of birth 17th August 2007?"
"So you were eighteen last month?"
"And this is the correct address?"
"Do you have your doctor's certificate to say you are fit for therapy?"
Amy handed it over.
"Now you have chosen to receive this therapy rather than one of the other sentences open to the magistrates, is that correct?"
"Sign here and put this security badge on; take a seat over there."
I too was checked in as Amy's father and chosen escort, given a badge and we both sat down, but I appeared the more nervous and wondered how much justice there was in this. Amy hadn't really done anything wrong. She had simply been present when a group of youngsters at the sixth form college got stopped by a random police patrol. Two of the lads had fairly large quantities of what I call 'pot' in their pockets, so under the Collective Responsibility Act of 2024 all the others were found guilty of "inappropriate association".
The magistrates were brisk. "Miss Rivington, you are hereby fined the sum of £60 and to undertake 50 hours of community service. The Clerk will inform you about alternative options."
The alternatives were a good idea I thought. A youngster found guilty of even a minor offence had a criminal record, but for certain offences there was an alternative "therapy" (read corporal punishment). If the therapy was taken and there was no re-offending within a certain time frame, then all record of the offence was expunged. It was an option increasingly taken by youngsters, more of whom were being caught up in the relentless crack down on behaviour. Amy had chosen the therapy option and here we were.
A girl of about sixteen, maybe younger, came out with a woman obviously her mother. The girl was crying and holding her bottom but her mother was unsympathetic. "Well I warned you again and again. I hope you've got the message this time..."
Amy and I looked at each other and Amy pulled a face but still looked calm and in control. I was the jittery one, starting at every movement and jumping each time a door opened. Amy's mother used to say, "Honestly, calm down, you are enough to drive me to drink sometimes."
Finally, a tall official looking man called out, "Amy Rivington" and when she raised her hand he beckoned us to follow him. We went into a small outer office with the title 'Room 1' on the door.
"Now then, may I call you Amy?"
"Now Amy, this is your last opportunity to decline therapy, if you say so now you may return to court to arrange for the original sentence to be reinstated."
"No, I want to go ahead."
"Fine, well now we will go through to the therapy room where I will proceed to administer it. It won't take long and then a quick signature and you are free to go. You will be given an information pack to read about what happens if you do not re-offend in the next year."
"But," I interrupted, "I thought a female officer would administer the therapy."
His look was of mild irritation. "I assure you, I am fully qualified in all forms of physical therapy and there is a female therapy witness inside whose job is to ensure the procedures are correctly carried out."
Amy looked irritated too. "Dad, I'll be fine," she said and then she softened it by putting a finger on my cheek and saying, "Honestly, don't worry."
He could see there was no further argument and said, "Right, Amy, let's go in."
"May I come too?"
"Only if Miss Rivington agrees... well Amy?"
Amy had been matter of fact about everything so far, very much the young adult: confident; in command of herself; and philosophical at what had happened. I had insisted on driving her here, but she had agreed very much in the manner of someone placating the elderly. Now for the first time I saw a crack - a crack in her veneer. Amy was nervous, and nervous Amy wanted her dad to be in there, but didn't want to say so.
"Well, if you like," she said, but her eyes said, "Please daddy, don't go."
So we all went in together. It was an extremely stark room: a small table with a laptop and a few papers; a coat rack on the wall; grey painted walls; one of those continuous vinyl floors in a non-slip material; no windows; strip lighting; one spare chair; a formally dressed woman with an identity badge and clip board; and in the centre, the bench.
Bench isn't really the right word for it. It was made of some sort of rigid plastic or fibreglass, shaped in one piece and a little like one of those curved slides you see in children's indoor play areas. It rose up from the floor at a slight angle, bent over smoothly but more steeply, ending in a sort of upwards flip; a metal 'A' frame supported the higher end. There were handles on either side of the upwards flip and what looked like seat belt material dangling down in several places. There was a small blue rectangular mat on the floor at the opposite end from the 'A' frame, and it was clear that Amy was to stand on the blue mat facing the bench and then lean over to grip the handles at the top. She would then be bent into an ideal position for her bottom to receive its 'therapy'.
Dangling from a hook on one side was the strap, the instrument used for the lowest level of physical therapy. As an alternative, Amy could have been given either the cane or even the birch (which the two boys apprehended with Amy had been sentenced to) but her offence was relatively minor. We heard later that the two lads had accepted a birching with their record expunged if they did not re-offend within three years.
The strap was a strange grey-pink colour and stamped with the words 'Property of HM Government. Ministry of Justice approved'. It was made of man-made material (to please the animal rights lobby) and recycled/recyclable material (to please the environmental lobby). I had read my information leaflet and knew it had been made to 'impart a severe sting without any serious bruising'.
Amy stood looking at the bench and turning to the 'therapist' said, "What must I do?"
"Will you require the restraints to be used or will you just hold the two handles?"
"I don't want the restraints, thank you."
"That's fine, but I am duty bound to warn you that once therapy has started, a stop for restraints compels me to start over again."
"No restraints, thanks."
"In that case, stand on the blue mat facing the bench." With an apparent show of confidence, Amy walked confidently towards it, but I have watched her in competitions enough to recognise that she was very nervous. She turned to look at him and he continued. "Now Amy, lower your trousers please and any underwear you have."
Her face went pink, but she quickly undid the fastenings on her trousers, wriggled them over her hips and let them fall, then going even pinker about the cheeks, pulled her knickers down. I noticed that for once they were what I would call proper knickers, although pretty, and not some skimpy piece of cloth with a bit of string (no I don't watch her, I do the washing).
The therapist went forward, took the strap from its hook and touched one of the handles on the bench. "Now Amy will you bend forward for me so that your whole body is in contact with the bench and use both your hands to grab hold of these on either side."
I was proud of the very controlled way she did it. Now her bottom was perfectly positioned for what my dad would have called a 'good hiding'. The therapist had a final word. "Amy' I want you to hold that position throughout your therapy. You will receive twelve with the strap."
Amy said nothing and just nodded as she knew that already. He wasted no more time, just stood on a little mark and let go with a powerful blow. It whistled through the air in a venomous way like some gigantic wasp, and splattered across her bottom horribly. I flinched whilst Amy jerked and let out a gasp of surprise and pain. In slow motion I watched her bottom ripple away from the strap, which left a huge red band right across her.
The witness woman called out "one" but two came fast on its heels, and Amy gasped again as that one left another violently red mark on her.
The whistling sound chilled me, but the splat as the strap landed made me flinch every time, and that damned witness woman's neutral voice made me want to strangle her. I mean, how can anyone be so disengaged when a poor girl is getting her bottom walloped? Amy's gasps became ouches and other exclamations of pain and discomfort, and her bottom turned redder and redder as the tally mounted. To her credit, though, she hugged that bench and never moved away from it in any way.
When twelve was reached, he announced officially, "Amy, your therapy is complete, you may let go and stand."
Amy stood with a "Wheeew" but remained still. I knew she was composing herself but he reminded her, "You may get dressed again."
She bent her knees and retrieved her knickers and trousers, pulling them over her bottom very carefully I noticed. When she turned towards me, she appeared composed but I noticed her eyes were very moist and guessed she was holding it in. Then Amy politely thanked him and the witness as if they had done something nice for her. They looked surprised and he told her that she had "handled it well."
When we got into the car park, I tentatively asked if she was OK, and she turned and buried her head against me and held on tightly for a while. I stroked her hair and waited and finally she let go. I could see she had been crying so gave her a clean handkerchief. She got into the car slowly and lowered herself onto the seat carefully and we set off for home.
Amy said nothing and after a while I said, "I wonder if I did the right thing voting for all this."
She squirmed a little in her seat and said, "It really burns, I just can't get comfy. Boy that strap packs a sting. Yes, Dad, you did the right thing. I went around with some idiots and I have had my strapping, that's better than having a record and there won't be any more, I have learnt my lesson."
I smiled. Kids have said that very same thing through the ages, but if that lesson wasn't quite learnt there was always the cane next.
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