The day after I sent my last update, a friend wrote:
"I can't not respond to this. I grew up in this. I was this child. Complete with the hitting and the cult-like religious involvement. And yes, it is a cult. Report it. Next time, please report it. It damages. For life.
"Even if they ultimately get off because it's legal, there will be a CPS investigation in their file. Even if that means nothing, you have not stood by. We have to stop standing by.
"Striking out at your child, physically or verbally, because the situation has exceeded your coping mechanisms, and then feeling intense shame; holding your child and telling them you are sorry, you were wrong, no one should ever treat them that way--that is NOT the same as ritualized, repeated abuse and then telling the child, 'You asked for it. You made me do this to you. You deserved it.' And worst, 'God/Jesus said you deserve it.' The two scenarios are nothing alike.
"At the same time, I believe that we have to not lower the bar that says NEVER HIT YOUR CHILD. I have physically acted out against my children on a few occasions. I have never hit them with my hands. I have once kicked Becky [not the child's real name] when she was tantrumming on the floor and I walked past her and she punched me in the leg. My foot shot out and I kicked back. I will never forget how terrible I felt. At one particularly stressful time in our family, when Becky was hitting and throwing stuff at us a lot, I also recall grabbing her arms and moving her in ways I later felt terrible about. I GOT THERAPY. I told other adults what I had done. I got help. Because my goal since Day 1, because of my upbringing, has been to never touch my children's bodies with anything other than respect and gentleness. This *should* be the goal.
When you say, 'Any parent who says they have not hit their child is lying,' you normalize it. You tacitly condone it. We can't. The goal still needs to be zero, and we can get there. I believe many parents, in fact, are there. I don't think they are lying. It's not inevitable...."
After reading my friend's email, I called the NY child abuse hotline and tried to file a report. Long story short: CPS can't do much in the way of investigating without a license number of a car (looking back through photos, Jeff and I could only find one from the abusers' friend's car). Without some other definitive ID, the report is unlikely to go further. I shouldn't have waited so long.