Archive for February 3rd, 2012

03
Feb
12

forbidden fruit

My mom used to laugh and wipe the tears from her eyes as she’d tell the story about me when I was a little boy first learning to talk. She said that I loved trucks, but couldn’t quite form the word. “You’d say ‘fruck’ but a lot of people missed hearing the ‘r’,” she said, and then she’d howl again with laughter as she remembered the shocked looks on their faces. The real joke is that those folks heard what they were prepared to hear, not what I was trying to say.

The real joke is that what they thought they heard was all in their heads.

Yesterday morning I followed a couple links that Gloria sent me to stories of how some American children, even toddlers as young as 3 or 5, are being accused of criminal sexual behavior. The same “all-in-your-head dynamic” seems to be at work here, but it’s no joke.

Screwed-up and sexually maladjusted adults are imposing their own tweaked interpretations on the innocent behavior of little children, and creating serious lifelong consequences for the kids and their families. Only in America.

I touched on this in “Idiots or Miscreants?” (https://wandervogeldiary.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/idiots-or-miscreants/), in which I related three stories about school authorities and a prosecutor who have each taken official actions against very young children (ages 6-9) for supposed sex-related offenses—kids too young to even know what sex is or to form a criminal sexual motive.

As a relatively healthy and well-adjusted adult male, my initial expectation was that these cases were rare instances as freakish and uncommon as a two-headed goat or something else you’d find in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Not so.

My research into the issue suggests we Americans are apparently much more sexually dysfunctional than I’d realized and we seem to be bound and determined to pass on this particular form of retardation to our kids.

During the 2005-06 school year in Maryland alone, 28 kindergartners were suspended for “sex offenses”, including 15 for “sexual harassment”. Were we to extrapolate this experience to the entire US, this would mean that nationally an estimated 1,400 kindergartners were suspended from school for so-called sex offenses in that single year. And that’s just our pre-pre-hormonal toddler set! I’m afraid to guess what the number of suspensions must have been for the whole K-12 range of kids.

This lunacy is happening all over the US and has been going on for years. The incidents in my December 13 piece happened in the 2010-2011 timeframe in Gastonia, NC (a 9-year-old boy), South Boston, MA (a 7-year-old boy), and Grant County, WI, near Dubuque IA (a 6-year-old boy).

In 2011 in Pacific MO, an incident involving 3- and 4-year-old boys at the Meramec Valley Early Childhood Center, a preschool, launched a state investigation by the Children’s Division of Missouri’s Department of Social Services. The school apparently allows children to visit the bathroom in pairs, and while there these two boys apparently touched one another. After one of the boys informed an adult of the incident, it was reported to the state’s Department of Social Services. The pre-school’s director met with parents over the weekend to make them aware of the situation and the pending investigation. But then the situation escalated from a simmer to a hysterical boil when a parent called the state’s child abuse hotline to report she witnessed her child (who was not involved in the bathroom incident) touching himself. Parents wigged out and this perfectly normal and innocent incident made it onto the evening news.

This kind of hysteria says more about the sexual pathology of adults than any supposed nascent sexual deviancy among the kids involved.

In December 2006 a 4-year-old boy in Waco, TX, was punished with an in-school suspension after a female aid accused him of “sexual harassment.” The child had hugged the woman while getting on the bus, and she complained to administrators at La Vega Primary School that the child had put his face into her bosom. This woman apparently has some unresolved issues of her own that raise the question in my mind about her fitness to work with little kids. School officials later agreed to remove sexual references from the boy’s school record but refused to expunge the “inappropriate physical contact” charge.

Also in December 2006, a kindergartner at Lincolnshire Elementary School in Hagerstown MD was accused of “sexual harassment” after he pinched a classmate’s bottom. Oh really! How many times have you seen this same behavior modeled in comedy films of the last seventy years? The kid probably just thought he was being funny.

“It’s important to understand a child may not realize that what he or she is doing may be considered sexual harassment, but if it fits under the definition, then it is, under the state’s guidelines,” the school’s spokeswoman told the local newspaper. “If someone has been told this person does not want this type of touching, it doesn’t matter if it’s at work or at school, that’s sexual harassment.”

“At work or at school?!” This clearly shows the school is holding the child to adult standards of reasoning and behavior. Sounds like teachers’-union-speak, not that of a caring, empathic adult who can put herself in the mind of a child. A kindergartner cannot even conceive he is in a “workplace,” let alone the concepts of “sexual harassment” or “personal boundaries.” It is disturbing that a school can find a child guilty of sexual misconduct even if the child doesn’t understand the implications of his or her actions.

Even more disturbing is this: the charge—and the label of “sex offender”—was to have remained on the boy’s record until he entered middle school. Such labeling establishes among the adults at the school a powerful climate of expectations, both subtle and overt, which may in fact determine the child’s future behavior and set up the conditions for self-fulfilling prophesy. The labeling itself could force the child down a deviant future path. If this boy were to pinch any more bottoms, especially after his hormones began to flow, that label could be perpetuated for the rest of his life with truly disastrous effects.

Increasingly, laws put on the books to protect children from sexual predators are turning our children into sexual offenders themselves. One third of all so-called “sex offenses” are committed by juveniles. The picture becomes even more alarming when adolescents are involved.

News reports say that in February 2006 two 13-year-old schoolboys in McMinnville OR were arrested and put into juvenile detention for five days for allegedly slapping several girls’ behinds. The boys were charged with several counts of felony sexual abuse and faced up to 10 years in prison and the prospect of having to register as sex offenders upon release. The boys said the butt-slapping was inspired by the movie Jackass. Like so many adolescent activities, this fanny-slapping was idiotic but not criminal. Six months later, several of the girls who initially filed the complaint asked a judge to dismiss the charges, which he did—thankfully.

In January 2010 a 13-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy in Valparaiso, IN were charged with possession of child pornography and child endangerment because it was discovered they were using their cell phones to send one another nude pictures of themselves. The photos were discovered when the girl’s cell phone sounded while the girl was in class, and a teacher confiscated it. A Pew study found that 30% of 17-year-olds have received sexually explicit images which could violate child pornography laws. Unlike many similar instances, this particular “sexting” case was handled in juvenile court; yet had it been referred to adult court, these kids would have faced potential prison sentences of 11 years and been required to register as sex offenders and be stigmatized for life.

The “Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act” (2006), which established a national sex offender registry for persons convicted of “serious sex crimes,” does not draw distinctions between juveniles who may have been prosecuted for sexting on their cell phones and adults who have been convicted of rape or pedophilia. The definition of a “serious” sex crime varies from state to state, and the sex registry requirement often punishes children and teenagers for normal sexual behavior. As long as an individual is on this registry, he or she can expect to be denied education, employment, housing, etc., and to be subjected to social harassment.

We need to get a grip on ourselves as a culture and restore some sanity to the way we deal with the sexuality of young people. But the trends seem to be working against common sense. As with so many things in American culture, money is clouding our thinking and pushing the momentum in the wrong direction.

For example, a vast cottage industry has grown up for the treatment and warehousing of so-called “juvenile sex offenders.” Whereas there were only 20 treatment programs for juvenile sex offenders 30 years ago, today there are over 1,300, most of them private, for-profit residential programs. A wider range of normal behavior will continue to be criminalized just to keep feeding these hungry businesses.

As a culture we must establish a common-sense, developmentally-appropriate, and moral “bright line” between normal sexuality and deviant (and criminal) sexual behavior.

For me, one event in my own early life brings all these issues into focus. When I was 6 or 7, my mother forbade me to visit the woods near our home. There were two reasons. First (and most understandable to me at the time), a busy street needed to be crossed to get to the woods. And second (and less understandable to me), she vaguely said that there might be some “bad men” there. But being a typical kid, I was drawn to the beauty and adventure of those woods and one day disobeyed her.

I looked both ways very carefully—twice—before safely crossing the street and began exploring the woods. I had done this numerous times before, and nothing about this visit was any different from the others except that this time I was approached by a “nice man”—the only one I had ever met there (and probably not a man at all, but a teenager)—who asked me if I could help him. I have always been an agreeable and trusting person and probably said yes. He said that he had been unable to “go to the bathroom” and asked me to assist him. Well, you get the idea.

To this day I can clearly remember my thoughts on that day. I can clearly put myself back into the mind of the 6-year-old that I was. And here is the curious thing. An adult coming onto that scene would perceive that an instance of child sexual abuse was taking place, but I never have seen it that way. The man never touched me—I touched him. I never felt violated, and in fact didn’t understood what had happened there until many years later. Then as now, my greatest source of shame is that I had disobeyed my mother and crossed the street to visit the woods.

There will be those who will say that I was robbed of my innocence that day, but I don’t see it that way. This happened in a time context when my playmates and I were “playing doctor” and otherwise engaging in normal exploratory sexual activity. I have always seen myself as a sexual being and a work in process. I do not view this encounter in the woods as having been damaging; more significant to me were later lessons I learned in my high school, college, and later years about issues like “boundaries,”  “respect,” and the allure of “forbidden fruit.”

In setting my own moral “bright line,” I have always erred on the side of knowledge over ignorance, risk over safety, freedom over conformity. The hardest lessons have always had to do with subduing my own selfishness and placing a higher value on respect for the needs and desires of others. That has come with age and maturity.

With people of all ages, one of the greatest acts of respect we can make is to recognize that everyone is growing and developing at their own pace and that we must resist the temptation to judge others by our own standards. It is unfair to judge the normal sexual experimentation of very young children by adult standards of morality and propriety. It is insane to ascribe to children’s innocent actions impure intentions that can only originate in the mind of an adult. It is criminal to punish children for transgressions that exist in our adult minds alone.

۞

Groove of the Day 

Listen to The Band performing “Forbidden Fruit”