Sa’afia looked at me. “Yes, of course. When I was a girl.”
“So who used it? Your mom? Your dad?” I was on dangerous ground. I wasn’t asking out of erotic curiosity. I didn’t want Sa’afia to tell me a story about childhood discipline, or to think I was asking for one. There’s no such thing as a sexy story about Sa’afia being punished when she was little. There’s nothing sexy about a little girl, or anyone, getting hurt against their will. It’s just so.
“My pa. He’d take me to my room, and he’d whip me cross my bum. Backs of my legs. God, if I talked back I’d have bruises for weeks.”
I hate, vehemently hate, adults hitting children, but my own feelings aren’t necessarily any guide to how other people feel about their childhoods. I’d once told a parolee that his parents’ punishments had been borderline abusive. It had been a stupid thing to say, since there was nothing I could do to change the past and he wasn’t going to get any help from the State if he needed counselling. Unless it was from me. So I’d pretty much destroyed my rapport with that client, for nothing.
These days I shut up and was less judgemental. I also knew that Samoan families traditionally used levels of physical punishment that people from a lot of other cultures – mine, for example – would find unreasonably violent, if they knew about it. I still hated the idea of adults hitting children, but it was up to Sa’afia what she felt about her own life.
I said, “Okay.” Then I pulled my embarrassed face. “So if there’s anything I should not do when I use this stick, because it could remind you of something, with bad associations … Then this would be a good time to mention it.”
Sa’afia looked at me, not pleased. “I have nothing to report, Mr Probation Officer, sir.” She was a little angry.
“Then I bet you were an absolute brat, and deserved everything you got.”