Dear Amazon, don’t remove a book on my account.

So today my Twitter timeline was filled with lots of Tweets that said something like

Dear Amazon, stop selling this offensive book that advocates hitting children to ‘train’ them [link] Please RT. 

I didn’t RT.

Not because I think physically punishing children is a good idea. I personally don’t smack my child, never have done.  I love my child more than I could ever express, and the idea of anyone raising a hand to her in violence is fairly horrifying to me.

I don’t want to diminish the harm caused by abuse in its many forms. I fully support the right of any individual to live their life free of the threat of abuse.

It wasn’t because I think American right-wing Christians are mostly decent folk. My personal experience is that they’re often the sort of people I’d class as “terrifying lunatics”.

So why not?

Well, because I try as hard as I possibly can to support the notion of free speech. That’s very easy and simple when I’m reading blog posts by liberal, white, middle-class writers who broadly hold the same political viewpoint as me. It’s still pretty easy when I’m reading The Daily Mail, because after all, who else would give that tool Richard Littlejohn a home?

But when someone excuses rape? Or makes racist remarks? Or advocates violence against a toddler?

Well, then it’s very far from easy.

The thought of someone hitting my daughter or any child sickens me. Of course it does. I’m not going to try and defend the book in question – I find the idea of it (and that’s all I can say, not having read it) abhorrent.

But I still think it’s important not to get caught up in ‘ban the book’ campaigns.

Let’s not forget that in this country there ARE procedures and laws in place to prevent the publication of material that breaks the law – the Obscene Publications Act and the Criminal Justice Act for starters. If you believe a book breaks the law because it is obscene, or it incites hatred and violence, then the right thing to do is to call the police and report a criminal offence. But being wrong, or stupid, or rude, or offensive, or writing about how you happen to be a really, really terrible parent – that’s not against the law. As the CPS website reminds us:

“When deciding whether or not to prosecute such offences, we also have to bear in mind that people have a right to freedom of speech. Free speech includes the right to offend. Indeed the courts have ruled that behaviour that is merely annoying, rude or offensive does not necessarily constitute a criminal offence.” 

And that’s what the Tweets were referring to – this “offensive” book. Well, I hate to break it to you, but there are a whole stack of books on Amazon that I guess most of us would find offensive. Just type ‘white power’ into the search box. Or don’t. No really. Don’t. It’s just upsetting.

Ultimately, though, if you don’t believe a book breaks the law, but it offends and upsets you, well – don’t read it.

Or read it, and then challenge it. Write about why you think the author is wrong. Use free speech as your weapon, don’t make it your victim.


[Picture: Shutterstock



Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. 7th November 2013 / 1:35 pm

    Once again, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I’ve tried to avoid the Twitter outrage for similar reasons. Plus, you know what they say-there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and I do wonder whether leaving such nonsense to rot quietly would be better than drawing attention to it.
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    • Sally
      7th November 2013 / 1:58 pm

      Thanks Julie 🙂

  2. 7th November 2013 / 1:54 pm

    I see where you are coming from and to an extent i agree but this book was truly shocking on another level. To advocate beating a baby to admit to doing so yourself – is that not illegal? It’s not just offensive, it’s child abuse. Child abuse directed towards children so young they are not even able to compute what is happening.
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    • Sally
      7th November 2013 / 2:04 pm

      Thanks for commenting Katie.

      I think the distinction to make here is that an ACTION is illegal. A piece of text is not. I’ve seen the argument that this book is ‘responsible’ for actual (illegal) acts. I’d challenge that. Books don’t beat children. People do.

      My philosophy, which I was taught by my parents is, “You can violently disagree with someone but you should be prepared to fight with everything you have for their right to express that opinion.” And that’s what I try to teach my own daughter. Not everyone agrees, though, and I certainly respect your viewpoint, thanks.

  3. 7th November 2013 / 2:39 pm

    I respect yours too. But is there not a distinction between saying ‘i think smacking a baby with a stick is ok’ (opinion) and ‘i have smacked my baby with a stick’ (illegal).

    I’m not sure what the laws are here to be honest but i think the difficult thing is that it’s not just a point of view, it’s a manual with quite graphic instructions on how you should beat your children.

    I totally understand where you are coming from though and that there are many other books out there that fall into a similar category – i think it’s just this one is particularly chilling.
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    • Sally
      7th November 2013 / 2:44 pm

      I think the distinction to be made is a little more subtle:

      I think hitting a baby with a stick is okay (opinion – legal)
      I have hit a baby with a stick (statement – legal)
      Hitting a baby with a stick (action – illegal)

      Lots of books, movies, paintings and more depict or describe illegal acts, and there is no law against that. I can write about doing illegal and offensive things all the day long, and I have the right to do that, and offend the whole world in the process. It’s terrible, in one way, but the alternative, where we cannot speak freely within the law, is the worse of two evils, in my opinion.

  4. 7th November 2013 / 3:00 pm

    Ok i see – i wasn’t aware of the distinction that you are allowed to admit to doing something illegal and not get prosecuted for it. It seems insane though that i could write a blog post about abusing my own children and no one be able to do anything about it. Surely i would be investigated by social services or the police?! As i say though i really don’t understand the laws here
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    • Sally
      7th November 2013 / 3:11 pm

      I can only comment generally but my understanding of the law would that if I blogged about murdering the cast of TOWIE (for example) I would only be prosecuted if there was subsequently found to be evidence that they had, in fact, been murdered, and there was evidence to suggest I did it.

      If someone reported my blog post to the police, certainly they would investigate whether a crime had been committed – but if I was subsequently prosecuted it would be for the ACT of murder, not for the act of writing about the act. Although the writing might be admissable in court as evidence that the crime (the ACT) had in fact occurred.

      I hope that makes sense. For the purposes of clarity, NOT planning on murdering anyone.

  5. Purplemum
    7th November 2013 / 6:25 pm

    Gosh, this is a difficult one isn’t it. I generally hide under my twitter duvet when controversial stuff happens, mostly because I have a tendency to stick my foot in my mouth if I try to comment on it. I guess you’re right, we can’t stop people publishing things that we think are offensive simply for that reason. However I also think that advocating hitting babies with sticks is really bad, and protest against such a notion seems right to me. So right to publish, but equally right to answer back.

  6. Mum Of One
    7th November 2013 / 7:35 pm

    I have deliberately steered clear of this debate, until now-clearly, as I think to comment properly I would need to read the book. And I won’t. I think it will make me very upset and very angry. I have thereby chosen to stick my fingers in my ears and ‘tra la la’ my way through it. This may be somewhat pathetic, I often am, but I choose not to read it. Those that choose differently I have no issue with. I would hate to live in a country where the very ability to have that choice is not available. So…I guess in my not terribly coherent way, I agree with you.

    • Sally
      7th November 2013 / 7:49 pm

      I completely understand – it’s a horrible book, truly horrifying and it’s not an easy issue. But as Helen says, I think standing up and speaking out is a better option than banning.

    • Sally
      7th November 2013 / 7:44 pm

      I’m with you on that one. Well, I try, I can’t promise to always be as eloquent as I’d like!

  7. Sally
    7th November 2013 / 7:43 pm

    Yes! Answer back absolutely, ban it? Not for me, no.

  8. Lulastic
    7th November 2013 / 8:08 pm

    Brilliant of you to crack this can of worms open. However, having used the Look Inside option, I would be fairly confident in saying this book “incites violence”

    It is written and marketed as a parenting manual, so when it advocates violence against children, surely that is inciting violence?

    • Sally
      7th November 2013 / 9:06 pm

      Hi, I’m not a lawyer so don’t really feel able to comment, but I suspect not – and if it did, then a call to the police would therefore be far more appropriate than calling for a ban.

  9. 7th November 2013 / 8:18 pm

    A very thought-provoking post. This is obviously an extreme example, but there are so many books out there which advocate child-rearing techniques some might consider cruel and even damaging – emotionally, if not physically. But we haven’t banned them.
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    • Sally
      7th November 2013 / 9:07 pm

      Yes, quite.

  10. 7th November 2013 / 9:45 pm

    I have just read a few of the excerpts quoted by the original person calling for the ban and whilst the thought of someone advocating such dreadful acts of abuse is absolutely sickening, it does occur that any right-minded person reading such stuff would have the exact same reaction as the rest of us. I don’t think anyone who really is naive enough not to know the difference between right and wrong would read such a book as a manual – in fact one can only assume that anyone who would take this as such (or who would write such stuff in the first place) is actually not right in the head and probably the kind of person who would do these kinds of violent and illegal acts without the need for incitement…
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    • Sally
      8th November 2013 / 12:16 am

      Totally agree.

  11. 7th November 2013 / 10:03 pm

    Dear Sally (and Flea!)

    I’ve followed your blog for some time now, and enjoyed it immensely, so thank you for making me consistently smile!
    Whilst I can appreciate your perspective regarding freedom of speech, and entitlement to opinion, I wanted to raise the possibility of a very large grey area between what is illegal (inciting violence) and what is offensive (rude and annoying).
    I think we, as a country, are now coming to a point where we cannot just say anything to anybody, and hide behind freedom of speech, without us having to take responsibility for the effects of our actions on another person. It is no longer acceptable to say that it is down to the other person how it is heard and acted upon. We are human, we exist and are influenced by the relationships and culture around us.

    With this in mind, i wanted to raise the issue that this same principle could be applied to the book in question. There have been three cases reported where children have lost their lives because of child abuse at the hands of their parents – all of whom reported to have been following the teachings of the Pearls and this book. Whilst i acknowledge that this book cannot be held accountable for those deaths, it does rather question the idea that the ability to incite violence is perhaps subjective.

    We have to question the market of parents who would be interested in reading and following the principles in this book, and whilst the Pearls suggest that no parent should “switch” (spank/beat) in anger, i would argue that parents who believe in the practices of corporal punishment, are likely also parents who lack empathy for their child’s experiences and feelings. This could be the very subset of parents who are most vulnerable to taking these kind of practices to extremes when they are frustrated that their child is not obedient / quiet / passive enough.

    We surely need to consider the impact of culture and influence in the risk of harm. This book has sold over 670,000 copies since its release, and – if my speculation is true – potentially to parents who are vulnerable to using these methods to an extreme. The fact that it references higher religious callings throughout, only serves to strengthen its influence and risk of harm.

    I am glad that we have worked hard to reject racial and religious hatred (i admit that we still have some way to go) and that we raise and educate our children about diversity in different ways than our parents did. So, yes education plays a huge part. We did this by changing our culture. By recognising that our beliefs were wrong and hurtful and, yes, even abusive. We are better educated, but we have also established firm boundaries and laws about what is no longer acceptable. We had to, in order to get rid of the behaviours of the few who couldn’t see the value of education. For the world that my children live in, i am glad that we have the power to do this.

    What I want for my our children, our children’s children, and beyond, is that we are also able to educate and alter the culture of how we view and recognise the needs and rights of children. I want our culture to understand that smacking a child in any way leaves them with the same feelings of shame, betrayal and bewilderment – at how someone they love could hurt them – that an adult would in the same situation. I want us to recognise that children have exactly the same rights to protection and nurturance as we seek for ourselves, and that we as a society have the weighty responsibility and influence to recognise that how we raise our children has profound and wide reaching effects for their ongoing health and happiness and integration.

    So, if that means calling for removal of a book that advocates hitting babies; a book that has already influenced the parenting of 670,000 people; a book that has influenced the parenting of parents who have eventually killed their own children, then yes. I want it gone. Because as much as we can educate, and i can make impassioned posts such as this one, we also need to have firm boundaries about what is simply not acceptable to endorse.

    Thanks for raising Sally – it’s really made me reflect. As a Clinical Psychologist, my world is often a multitude of shades of grey (sometimes 50 – sorry, bad joke), rather than Black and white.

    Best wishes.
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    • Sally
      8th November 2013 / 12:32 am

      Thanks for commenting. I’ll respectfully disagree, but thanks for taking the time.

  12. 8th November 2013 / 7:45 am

    Hi Sally

    Certainly a thought provoking post. You are, of course, right in that it’s not the book itself that causes harm to a child but the person. I imagine there would be some difficulty in proving that any so-called manual was a contributing factor in an abuse or murder case particularly when the person is otherwise normal thinking . I would argue that this book (and indeed many more) incite violence which is illegal. On the other hand, as Sam pointed out above, it is most likely to be read by those who are already inclined towards physical means of discipline, sorry, training.

    Great post.
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    • Sally
      8th November 2013 / 8:32 am

      Thanks – I think the definition (legally) of what constitutes the offence of inciting violence might be different to what you imagine, though. That’s slightly based on my assumption that given major charities have complained about the book for many years and nothing has been done officially suggests the contents of this publication fall within the bounds of what’s legal in this country. And that’s where my issue lies – if something is legal, then I don’t consider it’s for me to say it shouldn’t exist. It definitely IS a really difficult issue, though, I don’t pretend to have all the answers.

  13. 8th November 2013 / 10:06 am

    Not trying to be disingenuous here (and for transparency’s sake I’ll say my feelings about this lie close to Fin Williams’), but is calling for Amazon – a private company with its own terms and conditions which include refusing to sell things that it finds offensive under its own, mutable, definition of the term – to remove the book the same thing as calling for a ban?

    I’ve only read a little about this, and the campaign I saw was targetted at Amazon, so forgive me if I’m missing something!
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    • Sally
      8th November 2013 / 11:40 am

      From what I can see it’s targeted at multiple retailers and yes, I have seen plenty of Tweets calling for a ban.

      What I’d also say is that exerting pressure on retailers to remove books simply because you find them personally distasteful or offensive (especially when it’s an online retailer, meaning you’re only going to SEE the book if you search it out) is effectively trying to implement a ban without legislative tools.

  14. Charlotte
    8th November 2013 / 3:03 pm

    What a refreshing post to read x

    • Sally
      11th November 2013 / 12:33 pm

      Thanks Charlotte!

    • Sally
      9th November 2013 / 11:53 am

      Zackly! 🙂

  15. 10th November 2013 / 12:38 pm

    I’m still thinking on this one and whilst I still stand by what I said above it strikes me that, reading on through this comment thread, the main question seems to hang over the legality of publishing a book advocating and admitting to violence against children. This is the censorship debate which is a minefield but accepting the current state of the law seems a bit glib and too easy. I’m not advocating censorship in general but is it really swinging into unacceptable Republican territory to argue that, with a strict definition of material specifically advocating harm to children, the law shouldn’t be changed? Because it almost seems to me that this is on a par with making indecent images of children – the maker, and indeed the viewer, of such images may not have had anything to do with the actual physical harm of those children but they are still guilty of illegal acts under the current laws. Just playing devil’s advocate here…
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    • Sally
      11th November 2013 / 12:34 pm

      Hi Sam, it’s an interesting point, thanks for commenting. For me the issue of legality is because the line dividing “I am entitled to expect this not to be for sale” and “I am not entitled” is based on the law. If something breaches the law, then I am entitled to lobby for its removal; if it isn’t, then I don’t consider that I am.

      I think many of the posts I’ve read argue that the book IS legally allowed to be published but shouldn’t be published (or sold by specific retailers) because of moral objections. That’s the issue I fundamentally don’t agree with. Morality and the law are – and should be – different things, in my book.