MIDWAY PARK, ONSLOW COUNTY - An Onslow County man appeared in court on Tuesday, for allegedly using a belt to hit his 3-year-old son on the face and body.
According to the arrest warrant, 33-year-old Joshua Gary Baker was charged with assault on a child under 12, misdemeanor child abuse, and contributing to the delinquency of a child. The judge continued the case to April 9.
Baker allegedly used a belt to beat his 3-year-old son, Gauge Jackson Baker, on Feb. 1, at their home on Cukela St. in Midway Park. The child was hit on his face and body, the warrant stated, but it was unclear what type of injury the boy suffered.
Heidi Baur, the director of the Onslow County Department of Social Services, explained what a belt can do to a child.
"We see a lot of serious injuries from belts because a belt is this long, and a child is this wide, and the belt just wraps around, so you can get horrible injuries from belts," said Baur. "The problem with using a belt to go along with other issues, is that once I swing a belt, I no longer have control over where it hits. If a child moves or turns, it's going to hit him or her in a different location than where I may have intended it to."
According to Baur, out of the 100 counties in North Carolina, Onslow County has been consistently in the top 10 in terms of child abuse reports.
In Onslow County, there were 3,001 reports of child abuse to the Department of Social Services in 2012, Baur said. Out of those reports, 2,065 met the legal requirements to start investigations. About 1,500 required safety services for the children in some way.
In 2011, the Department of Social Services investigated more 2,122 child abuse reports in Onslow County, and about 1,700 resulted in safety services for the children, Baur said. But 2013 looks to be more promising.
"Our [child abuse] numbers have actually gone down," Baur said. "We have a lot of good things in play right now that are helping us with that. We have a Child Advocacy Center, which any case of child abuse are seen at."
On Tuesday, North Carolina house members voted unanimously in favor of a bill that would increase the punishment for child abusers. Under the legislation, the maximum penalty would increase from 15 years to 33 years in prison. The bill is now heading to the Senate.
In North Carolina, it is legal to use corporal punishment, as long bruises, cuts or marks are not left on the child, Baur said.