Foot whipping

Bastinado demonstration using a cane

Foot whipping or bastinado is a method of corporal punishment which consists in hitting the bare soles of a person's feet.

The receiving person is required to be barefoot. The uncovered soles of the feet need to be placed in an exposed position. The beating is typically performed with an object in the type of a cane or switch. The strokes are usually aimed at the arches of the feet and repeated a certain number of times.

Bastinado is also referred to as foot (bottom) caning or sole caning, depending on the instrument in use. The particular Middle East method is called falaka or falanga,[1] derived from the Greek term phalanx. The German term is Bastonade, deriving from the Italian noun bastonata (stroke with the use of a stick). In former times it was also referred to as Sohlenstreich (corr. striking the soles). The Chinese term is jiao xing.

The first scripted documentation of bastinado in Europe dates back to the year 1537, in China to 960.[2] References to bastinado are found in the Bible (Prov. 22:15; Lev. 19:20; Deut. 22:18), suggesting the practice since antiquity.[3]

This subform of flagellation differentiates from most other forms by limiting the strokes to a very narrow section of the body. The beatings typically aim at the vaults of the feet where the soles are particularly pain sensitive, at this usually avoiding hitting the balls and heels directly but concentrating on the small area in between.

As the skin texture under the soles or the feet can naturally endure high levels of strain, injuries demanding medical attention, such as lacerations or bruises, are rarely inflicted if certain precautions are observed by the executant. The undersides of the feet have therefore become a common target for corporal punishment in many cultures while basically different methods exist.

Foot whipping is typically carried out within prisons and structurally similar institutions. Besides inflicting intense physical suffering it trades on the significance of bare feet as a dishonouring socio-cultural attribute. Therefore it is regarded to be a particularly humiliating as well as degrading form of punishment.
As wearing shoes is an integral element of societal appearance since antiquity, the visual exposure of bare feet is a traditional and sometimes even ritualistic practice to display the subjection or submission of a person under a manifestation of superior power. At this was often used as a visual indicator of a subservient standing within a social structure and to display the imbalance in power. It was therefore routinely imposed as a visual identifier and obstacle on slaves and prisoners, often divested of rights and liberties in a similar manner. Exploiting its socio-cultural significance, people have been forced to go barefoot as a formal shame sanction and for public humiliation as well.
Foot whipping hereby comprises a drastic aggravation of forcing a person to expose his or her bare feet as part of a punishment and the underlying significance thereof. By making the highly pain susceptible soles of a barefooted person the target for inflicting physical punishment, a usually private section of the body is forcefully accessed. As the person is of course unable to evade the beatings, a critical sphere of his or her privacy is repeatedly invaded, which underlines an especially disproportionate imbalance in power. As a result, a by nature entirely defenseless prison inmate often feels particularly intimidated and victimized by this specific form punishment.
Keeping prisoners barefoot is common practice in several countries of today. The prisoners are hereby excluded from the protective benefits of standard clothing items with their uncovered feet exposed to the obstacles of the surrounding area. A lack of protection can alone have a victimizing effect and make the person feel vulnerable. The reluctant exposure can aggravate the perception of being powerless or helpless usually experienced in situations of incarceration or captivity. Beating a prisoner's bare feet can hereby drastically escalate his or her emotional distress and mental suffering.
Foot whipping therefore poses a distinct threat and is often particularly dreaded by potential victims (usually prisoners). Exploiting the effects this penalty is typically used to maintain discipline and compliance in prisons.[4]

Bastinado is commonly associated with Middle and Far Eastern nations, where it is occasionally executed in public, therefore covered by occasional reports and photographs. However it has been frequently practised within in the Western World as well, particularly in prisons, reformatories, boarding schools and similar institutions.

In Europe bastinado was a frequently encountered form of corporal punishment particularly in German areas, where it was mainly carried out to enforce discipline within penal and reformatory institutions, culminating during the Third Reich era. In several German and Austrian institutions it was still practised during the 1950s.[5][6][7][8] Although bastinado has been practiced in penal institutions of the Western World until the late 20th century, it was barely noticed as there is no reference to ever being adjudged on a high level. Instead it was carried out on a rather low level within the confines of the institutions, typically to punish inmates during incarceration. If not specifically authorized the practice was usually condoned, while happening unbeknown to the public. Also foot whipping hardly attracts public interest in general as it appears unspectacular and relatively inoffensive compared to other punishment methods. As it was not executed publicly in the western world, it came to be witnessed only by the individuals directly involved. At this former prisoners rarely communicate incidents as bastinado is widely perceived as a degrading punishment (see public humiliation), while former executants are usually obliged to confidentiality.

Bastinado is still used as prison punishment in several countries (see below). As it causes a high level of suffering for the victim and physical evidence remains largely undetectable after some time, it is frequently used for interrogation and torture.


Bastinado usually requires a certain amount of collaborative effort and an authoritarian presence on the executing party to be enforced. Therefore, it typically appears in settings where corporal punishment is officially approved to be exerted on predefined group of people. This can be situations of imprisonment and incarceration as well as slavery. This moderated subform of flagellation is characteristically prevalent where subjected individuals are forced to remain barefoot.


Foot whipping was common practice as means of disciplinary punishment in different kinds of institutions throughout Central Europe until the 1950s, especially in German territories.[5][6] During the German Third Reich era it was increasingly used in penal institutions and labor camps. It was also inflicted on the population in occupied territories, notably Denmark and Norway.[9]

During the era of slavery in Brazil and the American South it was often used whenever so-called "clean beating" instead of the prevalent more radical forms of flagellation was demanded. This was the case when a loss in market value through visible injuries especially on females was to be avoided. As many so-called "slave-codes" included a barefoot constraint, bastinado required minimal effort to be performed.[10] As it was sufficiently effective but usually left no visible or relevant injuries, bastinado was often used as an alternative for female slaves with higher market value.[11]

Bastinado is still practised in penal institutions of several countries around the world. In a 1967 survey 83% of the inmates in Greek prisons reported about frequent infliction of bastinado. It was also used against rioting students. In Spanish prisons 39% of the inmates reported about this kind of treatment. The French Sûreté reportedly used it to extract confessions. British occupants used it in Palestine, French occupants in Algeria. Within colonial India it was used to punish tax offenders. Within penal institutions in Europe bastinado was reportedly used in Germany, Austria, France, Spain, Greece, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Portugal, Macedonia, Lithuania, Georgia, Ukraine, Cyprus, Slovakia and Croatia. Other nations with documented use of bastinado are Syria, Israel, Turkey, Morocco, Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon, Tunisia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua, Chile, South Africa, Venezuela, Rhodesia, Zimbabwe, Paraguay, Honduras, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Cameroon, Mauritius, Philippines, South Korea, Pakistan and Nepal.[12]

In history

Bastinado using a bamboo in China (published 1843)

Modern era

Foot whipping in a Syrian prison; museum exhibit

In literature


Middle Eastern falaka using a plank; Iran, early 20th century
Depiction of punishment bench as used for bastinado in several German prisons during the Third Reich era

The prisoner is barefooted and restrained in such manner, that the feet cannot be shifted out of position. The intention is to avert serious injuries of the forefoot by stray hitting, especially of the fracturable toes. The energy of the stroke impacts is typically meant to be absorbed by the muscular tissue inside the vaults of the feet.

The Middle Eastern falaka method entails tying up the person's feet into an elevated position while lying on the back, the beating is generally performed with a rigid wooden stick, a club or a truncheon. The term falaka describes the wooden plank used to tie up the ankles, however different items are used for this purpose. The essentially different German method, which was practiced until the end of the Third Reich era, consisted in strapping the barefoot prisoner prone onto a wooden bench or a plank. Hereby the feet were forced into a pointed posture (plantar flexion) with their bare undersides facing upward. For this purpose the upper body and both ankles were strapped onto the bench. The prisoner's hands were tied behind the back, usually using a cord or a leather strap. Hereby the person was rendered largely immobile and was especially not able to move the feet out of their forced position. The typically occurring contortions of the body during the execution were largely halted as well. This way the punishment could be inflicted with a certain degree of accuracy to not cause unwanted lesions or other severe injury. It was typically executed with a slightly flexible beating accessory such as a cane or a switch. More infrequently also short whips or leather straps were used. This form of punishment was mainly employed in women's penal institutions and labor camps where prisoners were often kept barefoot.[8][28]

The middle eastern falaka is more inclined to cause serious injuries such as bone fractures and nerve damage than the German Third Reich method, as the person undergoing falaka can move the body and feet to a certain degree. As a result, the strokes impact more or less randomly and injury-prone areas are frequently affected. As falaka is usually carried out with a rigid and often heavy stick, it accordingly causes blunt trauma leaving the person unable to walk subsequently and often impeded for life. For the Third Reich form the prisoner was principally unable to move and the beatings were performed with lightweight objects that were relatively thin in diameter and usually slightly flexible. The physical aftereffects of the procedure remained mostly superficial and unwanted injuries were relatively rare. Therefore, the person usually remained capable of walking right after the punishment. Still the Third Reich form of bastinado caused severe levels of pain and suffering for the receiving person.


The beatings usually aim at the tender longitudinal arch of the foot avoiding the bone structure of the ball and the heel. The vaults are particularly touch-sensitive and therefore susceptible to pain due to the tight clustering of nerve endings.


Visible welts typically sustained after bastinado

When exerted with a thin and flexible object of lighter weight the corporal effects usually remain temporary. The numerous bones and tendons of the foot are sufficiently protected by muscular tissue so the impact is absorbed by the skin and muscular tissue. The skin under the soles of the human feet is of high elasticity and consistence similar to the palms of the hands.[29] Lesions and hematoma therefore rarely occur while beating marks are mostly superficial. Depending on the characteristics of the beating device in use and the intensity of the beatings the emerging visible aftereffects remain ascertainable over a time frame of a few hours to several days. The receiving person usually remains able to walk without help right after the punishment.

When the beating is executed with heavy sticks like clubs or truncheons according to the falaka method, bone fractures commonly occur as well as nerve damage and severe hematoma. The sustained injuries can take a long time to heal with even lasting or irreversible physical damage to the human musculoskeletal system.

When thin and flexible instruments are used the immediate experience of pain is described as acutely stinging and searing. The instant sensations are disproportionally intense compared to the applied force and reflexively radiate through the body. The subsequent pain sensations of a succession of strokes are often described as throbbing, piercing or burning and gradually ease off within a few hours. A slightly stinging or nagging sensation often remains perceptible for a couple of days, especially while walking.

As the nerve endings under the soles of the feet do not adapt to recurring sensations or impacts, the pain reception does not alleviate through continuous beatings. On the contrary the perception of pain is further intensified over the course of additional impacts through the activation of nociceptors. Over a sequence of impacts applied with nearly constant force the perception of pain is therefore progressively intensifying until a maximum level of activation is reached. For that reason a facile impact can already cause an acute pain sensation after a certain number of preceding strokes.

The subjective experience of corporal suffering can however largely diverge according to a person's individual pain tolerance. The pain reception itself is hereby aggravated through feelings of anxiety and agitation. The subjective pain susceptibility is accordingly higher the more apprehensive the individual feels about it.[30][31] Further the female gender generally experiences physical pain notably more intensive and typically reacts with a higher level of anxiety. At the same time women are distinctly sensitive to pressure pain. According to respective assertions women's subjective suffering under the infliction of foot whipping therefore is significantly more severe. The acute pain sensations can hereby be experienced as largely intolerable.[32]


Seizing and withholding the footwear from a person in a situation of imprisonment, which is commonplace in many countries (Barefoot#Imprisonment and slavery), often has a disconsolating and victimizing effect on the individual. As bare feet are traditionally regarded as a token of subjection and captivity, the unaccustomed and largely reluctant exposure is often perceived as humiliating or oppressive. The increased physical vulnerability by having to remain barefoot often leads to trepidation and the feeling of insecurity. This measure alone can therefore already cause significant distress.[33]

This circumstance is usually aggravated if the bare feet are the target for corporal punishment. The feet are typically hidden away and protected by footwear in most social situations, hereby avoiding unwanted exposure. Therefore, the enforced exposure for the purpose of punishment is mostly perceived as a form of harassment. The obligatory restraints further add to the anxiety and humiliation of the captive.

Any form of methodical corporal punishment typically causes a high level of distress through the inflicted pain and the experience of being defenseless and unable to evade the situation. The mostly occurring loss of composure during the punishment as well as the experience of weakness and vulnerability often permanently damages a person’s self-esteem.

Beating the undersides of a person's feet moreover conveys an especially steep imbalance in power between the executing party (prison staff or similar) towards the receiving individual (typically prison inmate). A rather private area of the body, which traditionally remains covered or not visible in the presence of other people, is forcibly exposed and beaten. This act represents a blunt intrusion into the sphere of personal privacy and an according elimination of personal boundaries. By this means the receiving person experiences his or her individual powerlessness against the executing authority in a particularly manifest way. This experience can also change or deconstruct the individual's self-perception and self-awareness.

As a result, the experience of bastinado leads to drastic physical and mental suffering for the receiving individual and is therefore regarded as a highly effectual method of corporal punishment. Exploiting the effects of bastinado on a person, it is still frequently employed on prisoners in several countries.

See also


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  1. Cfr. Wolfgang Schweickard, Turkisms in Italian, French and German (Ottoman Period, 1300-1900). A historical and etymological dictionary s.v. falaka
  2. Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali. p. 274.
  3. "BASTINADO". Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  4. Arnold, Eysenck, Meili: Lexikon der Psychologie (Encyclopedia of Psychology), Band 3, 1973, S. 476f, ISBN 3-451-16113-3
  5. 1 2 3 "Wimmersdorf: 270 Schläge auf die Fußsohlen" (in German). Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  6. 1 2 "" vom 29. März 2012 Berichte über Folter im Kinderheim auf der Hohen Warte; 3 March 2014
  7. 1 2 Torture and Democracy von Darius Rejali. S. 275.
  8. 1 2 Ruxandra Cesereanu: An Overview of Political Torture in the Twentieth Century. p. 124f.
  9. Torture and Democracy by Darius Rejali. p. 275
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  14. Vgl. Ruxandra Cesereanu: An Overview of Political Torture in the Twentieth Century. S. 124f.
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  21. E/CN.4/1997/7 Fifty-third session, Item 8(a) of the provisional agenda UN Doc., 10 January 1997.
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  28. AI Newsletter 09-1987 Illustrated Reports of Amnesty International 20 January 2012
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