Hillary Adams: A Brand Spanking New Poster Child

The national debate on corporal punishment ratchets up after a viral video posts on YouTube.

“I could tell because of the pattern that things were escalating again, so I set up my video camera on my dresser and covered the little red light with a scarf.” And with that one action the previously secret video Hillary Adams uploaded on YouTube has propelled her into the national spotlight as the poster child for both domestic violence and child abuse.

On October 27, 2011, 23-year-old Hillary Adams uploaded a 7 ½ minute video onto YouTube of a brutal beating she endured at the age of 16 in 2004. She has ataxic cerebral palsy and was beaten by her father, Texas Judge William Adams for illegally downloading music and games from the internet. He shuts off the lights to prevent the neighbors from seeing. Her mother can also be seen beating her in this video, but Hillary has since forgiven her mother who has apologized profusely for her role and divorced Judge Adams four years prior. 

The video went viral and over six million people have seen it. Watching this video is very disturbing, and it has been restricted to adults only on YouTube. The title is “Judge William Adams beats daughter for using the internet” and please be warned if you click this link that it is very graphic and hard to watch. 

Hillary and her mother, Hailee, went on Dr. Phil to talk about what happened. Dr. Phil came out strongly saying he believes after 35 years as a mental health professional that spanking children should not be done, particularly because of the potential for it to escalate out of control into the type of violence seen on the video. You can see a video clip of him here sharply questioning Hailee for her role in the abuse. Dr. Phil demands to know why she allowed her husband to strike her child 17 times with a belt all over her body, and then got involved in hitting her, too. When discussing corporal punishment and spanking, Dr. Phil states, “It’s not an efficient way of discipline, it doesn’t teach the child something, but I fear that parents will lose their temper, lose their head, and get out of control.”

On November 9, 2011, the local Rockport newspaper, The Rockport Pilot, announced that due to public outrage over no criminal charges being filed against Judge Adams because of the five year statute of limitations on harm to a child, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct has launched an investigation about his conduct. They also said he has taken a leave of absence from the bench where, ironically, he oversaw juvenile and domestic violence cases.

Domestic violence has a distinct cycle. It was first described by Lenore Walker, Ed.D. in her 1979 book, The Battered Woman. The pattern goes like this. 

  1. A Honeymoon/calm phase leads to a =>
  2. Tension building phase (sometimes known as “walking on eggshells”) which is followed by =>
  3. The Explosion => after which the abuser may feel remorseful and return to the Honeymoon/calm phase.


The cycle can take place over the course of as little as a day, or weeks and months. Eventually the Honeymoon/calm phase gets eliminated from the pattern. 

The Cycle of Violence is perfectly illustrated by this story. Hillary says she knew the pattern of violence was escalating which means she was in the tension building phase. Women often know that an abusive explosion is imminent and sometimes try to diffuse it before the tension gets too high by initiating an abusive episode. They do this because if the tension continues to build, the episode will be more violent or even . Hillary’s mother, Hailee, says she participated to try to de-escalate her husband’s violence, hoping that if she demonstrated Hillary had been punished, that would end it. She also tells Dr. Phil that he had been raging about the incident for the prior three days – another example of tension building. 

Judge Adams was filmed giving a statement in which he says, “I did lose my temper, but I've since apologized” which is an example of the honeymoon/calm phase in which the abuser is remorseful. Sometimes this phase includes lavish gifts. I noticed that eventually he provided his daughter with a Mercedes Benz.

In a meta-analysis of over 80 research projects on corporal punishment by psychologist Elizabeth Gershoff, it was found that spanking did have the outcome of immediate compliance. Another reason parents spank is moral internalization. - kids are sneakier to avoid the spanking and not get caught.

Dr. Gershoff's meta-analysis study found:

  • “There is little research evidence that physical punishment improves children’s behavior in the long term.
  • There is substantial research evidence that physical punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future.
  • There is clear research evidence that physical punishment puts children at risk for negative outcomes, including increased antisocial behavior and mental health problems.
  • There is consistent evidence that children who are physically punished are at greater risk of serious injury and physical abuse.” – Project No Spank


There are hundreds of research articles showing spanking is detrimental, and only a small handful of pro-spanking researchers (which were also included in Dr. Gershoff’s analyses). Even those researchers have made the point that spanking should be a last resort in a variety of punishment methods including reasoning, removing privileges and time-out. No research supports the use of corporal punishment in older children (8 and up) or teens. If you aren’t yet convinced, here’s an excellent article by well known pediatrician, Dr. William Sears, MD entitled, “10 Reasons Not to Hit Your Child.

If Hillary had been an adult, the law would be clear. Her father would be guilty of assault, and would serve time in jail for the nightmare that we see on that film. 

“It is paradoxical and an affront to humanity that the smallest and most vulnerable of people should have less protection from assault than adults,” states The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. The website also says that this is a fundamental human rights issue with regard to a child’s right to “human dignity and physical integrity.” Corporal punishment bans have been adopted by over 30 countries, but not the US. Part of Hillary’s reason for going public was to protect her ten year old sister. 

If you suspect child abuse – you can make an anonymous report to your local child welfare agency or Children’s Protective Services (CPS). They are also excellent at consulting if you are not sure. Contrary to popular belief, these social workers do not rip kids out of their homes and place them in foster care immediately. They try to work with the family to stabilize the situation, help the parent secure helpful resources such as food stamps or general assistance, teach better parenting skills, etc. 

You can always call the National Child Abuse Reporting Hotline to ask questions or file a report. The number is 1-800-4-A-CHILD or 1-800-422-4453. 

In San Mateo County CPS’ 24 hour phone number is 650-595-7922 or 1-800-632-4615. Our  shelter/resource is CORA and their 24 hour hotline number is 650-312-8518 or 1-800-300-1080. 

Garrison Keillor said, “Nothing you do for children is ever wasted.” I am pretty sure he was referring to the positive actions we take on their behalf. But in this case, the horror Judge Adams inflicted has not been wasted. Thanks to his daughter, Hillary, the national debate about children’s rights has just gotten an eloquently spoken, brand spanking new poster child.

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Laura C. Strom November 20, 2011 at 04:24 PM
I believe child abuse in all its forms is at the root of all problems in our society. This includes neglect and poverty. Children grow up to repeat what they have been taught generally. Child abuse can lead to substance abuse to escape the pain in some, perpetrating abuse in others, and a host of other problems such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders to name but a few. When we fail to act from a place of love, integrity and respect for all life, there are always consequences. This was an example of parenting at its worst. More than that it was disregard for the life and integrity of another defenseless human being - in other words, a horrific crime. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Patrice.
Marilyn November 25, 2011 at 09:34 PM
Thank you for writing this article. I've read tons of comments about this incident and one can tell that about 1/3 of the commenters have no clue as to the dynamics of domestic abuse. The most striking examples are those who want to know why Hillary waited 7 years to release the video and noted that the mother also participated. I know the answer to that; hope more of the public becomes aware as a result of this nasty, but necessarily important issue to bring out and to educate.
Laura C. Strom November 26, 2011 at 03:02 PM
Waiting seven years to release the video until Hillary was no longer dependent upon her father makes perfect sense. She needed to be safe and able to care for herself. I agree, Marilyn, that many of the general public comments have shown a lack of knowledge about the cycle of domestic violence. A number actually approve of this kind of interpersonal violence between parents and children. If this had been a video of three adults, two would have been arrested. The fact that one is a child means it's okay? I disagree completely. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Marilyn!
sandy November 28, 2011 at 10:37 PM
I just received this message. It is from an recent exboyfriend of Hallies. Now tell us who is really cruel here? Here it is: John Barrera Hillary, I hope that you know that your mother (Hallie) continues to cruelly punish Allison with what my boys and I called "Hallie Spankings". When Allison is perceived to be disobedient, Hallie reaches high up under her arm into her armpit and wrenches the fire out of her. This area is highly invested with blood vessels, lymphatic structures , adipose tissue and many nerves. As you well know, you...r mom is a pianist and has very strong hands and sharp fingers. Allison is terrified when Hallie tells her that she is going to spank her. Many have asked my why I did not report her immediately when I discovered what it was that she was doing. Actually, I did not know because Hallie would do this cruel technique secretly...I would only witness the after effect....the little girl crying out in anguish. One day Hallie demonstrated the technique on me and I thought that my eyeballs were going to pop out of my head...the pain was unbelievably profound. I advised her immediately that she was not to do this on my boys. Hallie is quite proud of her method and would boast that she could inflict this anywhere...public and private..and that even if the little girl bruised, no one would see it.
Laura C. Strom November 29, 2011 at 06:13 PM
Suspected child abuse should ALWAYS be reported. You can report to your local Children's Protective Services or call the National Child Abuse Reporting Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD or 1-800-422-4453. Sandy, please have the parties mentioned follow up with their local CPS. ...


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