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Cerabino: Drawing the line in Florida mom’s toilet-bowl punishment

The most famous Florida woman this week is the mom who held her 3-year-old boy upside down and dunked his head in a toilet bowl.

The viral video of Kaitlyn Wolf lowering her crying son into the flushing toilet while engaging the boy’s 10-year-old brother to record it is, even by Florida standards, breathtaking.

Wolf sent the video to her babysitter, who sent it to somebody else, and before long it was posted on Facebook, where it quickly gained a horrified national audience. Some people went as far as contacting the police in Leesburg, where the family lives, and asking for officers to get involved.

Wolf also called the police, seeking protection for herself, while explaining it was just a big joke after the boy said a naughty word.

“I was going to put soap in his mouth, but then he chased me around the house for 10 minutes,” the Leesburg mother told a local TV station. “By the time I caught him, I was like, ‘Oh we’re just going to stick his head in the toilet,’ like as a joke.”

Wolf said her young son enjoyed the dunking, which didn’t get below his hairline. And that if her older son had shot more video, the recording would have revealed that her young son wasn’t traumatized at all.

“He was saying ‘Do it again! Do it again!’ He was just asking us to do it again …,” she told the TV news station. “He knows he wasn’t being hurt. We were just playing with him.”

But it’s hard not to watch the video and see the cruelty in the way the mom pinned her helpless young son’s arms behind his back. And it’s hard to interpret the boy’s constant crying and scream of “No!” as a playful bit of fun for all.

And as for her videographer, all we hear of the older boy as he records his younger brother’s punishment is a subdued, mirthless, “God, that’s mean.” There’s no fun in the older boy’s voice, just recognition.

Facebook’s censors also didn’t get the joke.

“This video may show violence against a child or teenager,” a warning screen covering the video reads. “We haven’t removed it from Facebook because it may help rescue the child in question.”

The local authorities plus the state’s Department of Child and Families did investigate the August 30 incident.

DCF concluded that the toilet dunking didn’t meet the standard of child abuse. The Leesburg Police Department investigators were less dismissive. Detectives recommend charging the mother with a crime, but the local state attorney’s office refused to file any charges.

The police department posted a summary of its own efforts and the failure to charge the mom despite its continued recommendations.

“The overall assessment documented by the Forensic Team listed positive finding of threatened harm of mental injury due to bizarre punishment,” the statement read in part. “However, it was indeterminate of physical abuse and indeterminate of neglect due to inadequate supervision.”

Now, imagine that if instead of her own child, Wolf had managed to overpower another adult, and hold his or her head in a toilet bowl while that person screamed “No!” And there was a video to record the sight and sound of that incident.

I’m guessing she’d be charged pretty quickly with assault.

But parents get a lot of leeway when it comes to assaulting their own children. And so a mom can hold her own pre-school-aged son upside down and stick his head in the water of a flushing toilet and that kid doesn’t have the protection just about every other Floridian would have.

That doesn’t seem fair.

I realize that it’s sometimes difficult to know where to draw the line.

But not when that line is the rim of a toilet bowl.

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