Thursday, April 3, 2008

Six-year-old sexual harasser?

When Randy Castro, from Prince William County, VA, was six when he smacked a female classmate's bottom at recess. When the classmate reported the incident, Randy's teacher took Randy to the principle, and from there, school officials wrote a report, describing the incident as "Sexual Touching Against Student, Offensive." It will remain on his student record permanently. After all that, the school officials called the police.

If this treatment of a six-year-old seems harsh, it may be due to zero-tolerance sexual harassment policies that are in place in schools across the country, which may have caused teachers and school officials to be extra cautious about any incident that could hold the school responsible.

"The Virginia Department of Education reported that 255 elementary students were suspended last year for offensive sexual touching, or 'improper physical contact against a student.' In Maryland, 166 elementary school children were suspended last year for sexual harassment, including three preschoolers, 16 kindergartners and 22 first-graders, according to the State Department of Education.

...Mary Kay Sommers, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, said suspensions and calls to the police in such cases are overkill. The correct response, she said, would be to explore whether the behavior is linked to abuse and to teach students about respecting peers and what constitutes 'good touch' or 'bad touch.'"


The major problem I see here is a basic, but terrible misunderstanding about sexual harassment. Are zero-tolerance policies a good idea? Yes. No person should have to feel uncomfortable when they attend school. But these policies almost make a joke out of sexual harassment if they do not include better ideas about what constitutes harassment.

This boy may have seen inappropriate behavior on t.v. and then acted it out in real life. Children do that a lot, and they do need to be taught what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. But calling the police? Putting this incident on his permanent record? I don't agree with that.

This boy should not be punished because the adults in his school system have some serious misconceptions about sexual harassment, especially if they are just afraid of being punished themselves for doing nothing. There obviously needs to be a much better dialog there about what constitutes sexual harassment. America needs to have a much better dialog about sexual harassment. It will remain a problem until people actually talk about it.

Sexual harassment has to include some sort of intent to cause discomfort and embarrassment or even harm in a manner that the perpetrator knows is sexual. I do not think this is the case for Randy Castro.

Just a note: I am not trying to downplay sexual harassment. It is a major problem that many people face on a day-to-day basis. I just feel that applying adult rules to children offenders is a problem.

13 comments:

Tyler said...

Ok Amelia, I actually agree with you on a couple points...

1.It is ABSURD to accuse a six year old of sexual harassment!Six year olds are physically and mentally incapable of sexual intent!

2. The line of sexual harassment needs to be better established. Flirting, until the offender is explicitly told to stop, should not be considered harassment, and neither should non-sexual touching.

Obviously, I don't think anyone should have to deal with unwelcome touching and flirting, but people in this nation need to be a little less quick to take offense. You cannot make rules against men, for the sake of women. You might like the idea, but the political reality is against it.

Colt said...

Well he isn't going to to it again. So in my very right opinion, it worked.

Jezabel said...

Children that young do not understand sexual harassment... they hardly ever even hear the word "sex" unless it's on tv. Yes, Colt, it's true that the kid learned his lesson, but there are several other ways of teaching a child a lesson without calling the police on them or suspending them. Children that age do things they see, either in real life or on tv, and then learn the true life consequences later.

I agree with Tyler that flirting is not harrassment unless the one doing the flirting has been made aware that the person they are flirting with does not appreciate their flirting. Just like touching someone on the arm when talking to them should not be considered sexual harassment. If someone has not stated that they do not want either of the above to take place, they cannot claim sexual harassment. It's like creating a law for something after a crime has been committed and trying to charge someone with breaking the law even though the offense occurred before the law existed.

Colt said...

Yes the other way is corporal punishment. The only real way to teach a kid anything useful.

OutcrazyOphelia said...

I still remember when I started hearing about no tolerance policies. I think I was nearing the end of elementary school when I heard of a girl who had been suspended for accidentally bringing her mother's lunch to school. The lunch contained a steak knife and the school has a no tolerance weapons policy. Teaching children about harassment and bullying makes sense, but applying these sort of harsh punishments that will follow them through their school career don't. No tolerance policies allow school administrations the luxury of not having to think or consider things on a case by case basis. I've heard of a similar case where a first grader kissed another and got the same sexual harasser stamp.
His actions were deserving of punishment, but let the punishment fit the crime as well as serve the purpose of teaching the kid what he's done wrong and why it's wrong in the first place. I'm not sure he'll learn anything from this.

Tyler said...

OutCrazy....


Do you really think that his actions deserved anything more than a lecture. I almost guarantee any six year old has no idea what sexual harassment means, let alone intends to commit an act. This boy should be sat down, told his actions were unacceptable, warned of severe future consequences, and let go- this time.

Casper W said...

considering it was a first time offense, calling the police was a little bit rediculous.

Martha said...

Tyler, I'm not sure about your example with flirting. There are times when it is obvious a person is being flirted with is extremely uncomfortable, but they do not feel comfortable to explicitly say no. Instances where the flirter is physically much bigger (and perhaps therefore a physical threat) than the flirtee, or the flirter is a superior (boss, upper-classman, etc). If it is unwanted flirting it is sexual harassment. Of course there is not clear line to draw with this standard. Things like this need to be considered on a case by case basis. I guess that's probably why I'm never really a fan of hard core zero tolerance policies.

Anonymous said...

maybe women should be taught to stand up for themselves...

OutcrazyOphelia said...

Tyler,
I mentioned that the actions should be corrected, but that correction should fit the crime. I don't believe his actions warranted a call to the police and permanent smear on his record. I don't think six year olds understand the idea of sexual harassment--so how could they then commit it? I thought by this age they were being taught about their private areas which no one has a right to touch, maybe a refresher about that would have sufficed.

Tyler said...

Well Martha, As a man I admittedly do not pick up the subtle signals I am sent by my girlfriend. Other women do the same thing to men. If you have a big bold line.... like "NO" then it takes any judgement out of it, and misunderstanding. You will never defeat "the patriarchy" by being afraid to tell a man "NO!" The issue with a case-by-case basis is that it leaves the interpretation very open.

all american girl said...

at six years old, randy castro could not have understood that his actions would be deemed as "sexual harassment." he would have no idea that a simple action would be part of a huge societal issue. at six, your biggest concern is getting cooties, you definately are not worrying about sex and harassment.

Colt said...

I think this kid did learn his lesson. When I was about 7 I called 911 repeated times and kept making jokes and hanging up. When the dispatch called back my dad answered. He had them send out a policeman and pretend like he was going to arrest me. I never called 911 again. Harsh, maybe; lessoned learned most defiantly.