*This blog is now defunct. I have moved to A Voice for Male Students. See you there! Thanks for your support. - TCM*

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sexual Harassment Hysteria in Lower Education, Part 2

In Part One of Sexual Harassment Hysteria in Lower Education, we covered numerous examples of overreactions to accusations of sexual harassment, and the damage caused to boys in the process. In this post on The War on Male Students, we will cover more cases of boys being subjected to heavy-handed labels and punishments, as well as the roots of the current hysteria.

Now this one isn’t sexual harassment per se, but I do believe it merits attention. It is part of a continuum, you might say, on how our schools treat men and boys accused of sexual misconduct. And that continuum too often ranges from indifference to hostility. Here we have the administrator taking on the role of a corrupt prosecutor, attempting to bargain down the charges so he can snag the boy with whatever he can.

A 2011 online article by Channel 3000, a CBS affiliate, says, in “MADISON, Wis. - A 6-year-old Grant County boy has been accused of first-degree sexual assault after playing "doctor" with two 5-year-old friends. Now, a federal lawsuit has been filed against the prosecutor, who attorneys said is trying to force the boy to admit guilt. “The boy's parents had planned to speak with WISC-TV on Monday to discuss the emotional toll the prosecution has taken on their son. But the prosecutor, Grant County District Attorney Lisa Riniker, on Monday morning asked a judge for a gag order in the case and was granted it. The gag order prohibits the boy's parents from talking about the case. But the attorneys for the parents in the federal suit, which names Riniker as a defendant, can aren't included in the gag order, and they spoke with WISC-TV from Chicago.

“Attorneys for the parents of the 6-year-old, who is being referred to as ‘D,’ said that Riniker has gone too far by bringing a felony sex charge against a first-grader for touching a 5-year-old girl inappropriately while playing doctor last fall. ‘That behavior by a prosecutor is outrageous,’ said Christopher Cooper, an attorney for the boy's parents. Cooper and attorney David Sigale filed the federal suit last week, alleging that Riniker wants D to sign a consent decree admitting some level of guilt.

"’We're certainly hoping to vindicate D in the eyes of the law,’ Sigale said. ‘He says he didn't do it, and the little girl says he didn't do it. The little girl says he touched the back of one of her buttocks,’ Cooper said. The attorneys are also asking for about $12 million in damages from Riniker and two co-defendants. Cooper and Sigale said they are prepared to present evidence that D has been psychologically harmed by the court proceedings and is terrified of going to jail.

"’[District Attorney] Riniker bypassed the parents and sent a 6-year-old boy a summons, on which is a threat that the 6-year-old will go to jail for failure to appear,’ Cooper said. The attorneys said they have sought the opinion of many experts who said that children ‘playing doctor’ is not a sex crime. ‘(The experts say) a 6-year-old child is unable to intellectually and emotionally associate sexual gratification with the act that D has been accused of committing,’ Cooper said. In justification for the charge, Riniker is quoted in the lawsuit saying ‘the Legislature could have put an age restriction in the statute ... the legislature did no such thing.’”

Randy Castro
A 2008 article in the Washington Post titled “For Little Children, Grown-Up Labels as Sexual Harassers,” tells us this story: “In his seven years, Randy Castro has been an aspiring soccer player, an accomplished Lego architect and a Royal Ranger at his Pentecostal church. He also, according to his elementary school record, sexually harassed a first-grade classmate. During recess at his Woodbridge school one day in November, when he was 6, he said, he smacked the classmate's bottom. The girl told the teacher. The teacher took Randy to the principal, who told him such behavior was inappropriate. School officials wrote an incident report calling it 'Sexual Touching Against Student, Offensive,' which will remain on his student record permanently. Then, as Randy sat in the principal's office, they called the police. 'I thought they were going to take me to prison,' Randy said recently. 'I was scared.'"

While we should all support discipline for this kind of behavior in some form, is it really necessary to call the police and potentially lead a 6-year-old boy away in handcuffs for a one-time offense of spanking someone on the rear end?

The article continues: “Randy is only one of many children to be dealt with harshly as schools across the country grapple with enforcing new zero-tolerance sexual harassment policies and the fear of litigation. 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. Statistics for the District were not available.”

And to make sure we are all seeing the gravity of this, that’s 255 suspensions of elementary students. Not lower education in general. Not middle school. Not high school. Just elementary students, just for one state, and just for one year. Data from the National Center for Education Statistics tells us that boys are twice as likely to be suspended and three times as likely to be expelled as girls. How many of those suspensions and expulsions are due to overreactions that are labeled sexual harassment? And when such heavy-handed punishments are dealt out to boys during those years when their hearts and minds are the most vulnerable and formative, how can we expect them to not be jarred by the experience? A report from The National Education Association tells us that 75% of those with learning disabilities are boys. How many academic problems spring from behavioral and psychological problems that are compounded when we treat boys in such a heavy-handed fashion?

The article continues: “In 2006, a kindergartner in Hagerstown, Md., was accused of sexual harassment after pinching a female classmate's buttocks. A 4-year-old in Texas was given an in-school suspension after a teacher's aide accused him of sexual harassment for pressing his face into her breasts when he hugged her."

And on page two of the article, going back to the story of Randy: “Claudia Castro, a preschool teacher in Alexandria, said she was shocked when officials at Randy's school called to say that he was in trouble and that they were calling the police. She later met with the principal and assistant principal. 'I told them that what he did was not appropriate. And I have talked to him about it. What I don't understand is how you can make a police report on a 6-year-old. But the principal told me that they were making reports to the police every single day.

“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.’ 'There's no way these children understand what's going on. But it's been taken out of our hands. That's the difficult moral dilemma that we face,’ Sommers said. She blamed two Supreme Court decisions from the 1990s that enable suits against school districts for failing to stop sexual harassment as well as zero-tolerance policies aimed at middle and high school students that are applied to students as young as 5.

"Since November, Randy has been calling himself a ‘bad boy,’ his mother said. Castro said school officials rejected her appeal to remove the sexual harassment incident from Randy's permanent file. And now she worries that they have branded him a troublemaker.”

Yes – he is now labeled. And labels, especially those imposed publicly and by authority figures, tend to stick. I hope these cases illustrate not only the fundamental problems with sexual harassment policy, but also the culture that boys are facing in education.

In 2010, a Duke University student named Karen Owens catalogued her sexual encounters with 13 members of Duke's athletic team in the form of a PowerPoint presentation titled "An education beyond the classroom: excelling in the realm of horizontal activities" (article here). She ranked them by numerous criteria, among them "“Size – points were determined based on the length and girth of the Subjects’ hardware.”

If you're a man or woman and want to have sex with a hundred men or a hundred women, that’s none of my business, so long as you’re not spreading any diseases along the way. What I do care about is how society responds differently based on who they are. So what happens when a male student does the same thing as Karen Owens?

A news article in Chicago tells us: On May 10th, 2011: “A male former student police believe was responsible for creating and circulating an offensive list ranking females on their appearance was arrested and is being charged with disorderly conduct, Oak Park police said Tuesday. “The 17-year-old former Oak Park and River Forest High School student, who police and school officials are not identifying because he is a minor, was arrested at his Oak Park home Monday night and was charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The charges were levied with cooperation from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and Oak Park police said there will not be any additional charges. The teen is accused of handing out hard copies of the list Jan. 14 at various lunch periods and posting a copy online, according to police.

“The teenager is believed to be responsible for a list that ranked 50 female students — using racial slurs and ratings of body parts — that circulated around the school and on Facebook, police said. The teen is accused of handing out hard copies of the list Jan. 14 at various lunch periods and posting a copy online, according to police.

“School officials were mum on disciplinary proceedings, but said the student no longer attends OPRF. In response, teachers and students started a campaign against sexism, selling T-shirts that read 'Respect.'”

Now the use of racial slurs is wrong. What I will address is the response by the schools on the issue of gender. So here we go: when a woman publicly ranks men according to the size of their genitals and their performance in bed, the reaction is “you go girl,” and a Feminist regards it as an act of empowerment. But when a man does the same, Feminist teachers organize what they call “a campaign against sexism,” and sell T-Shirts reading “Respect,” which sounds all fine and dandy until you realize that in the social and political context of this day and age, they’re not talking about respecting women; what they’re really talking about respecting is double standards. Luckily, though, some women are able to see through the bs, as you'll see in the video.

When the story of Karen Owens broke, a Duke sociologist professor Philip Morgan commented on the story, saying: "It's a girl basically bragging the way boys bragged when the double standard was in full effect. It's a story about sex, and it's a story about gender." But ranking partners according to the size of their genitals is more than just bragging. If the sexes were reversed, sociologist Philip Morgan, as well as others in the academy, would indeed tell us that it is a story about gender – a story of sexual harassment based on gender. It wouldn't be framed as mere “immodesty,” but as sexually predatory behavior.

by Daphne Patai
But how exactly is a male student supposed to know what is objectionable when the definitions are so vague? A dissenting Feminist professor named Daphne Patai wrote a book called Heterophobia, which speaks at length on sexual harassment in education. In this book she cites the litmus test that is cited by administrators in schools across the West: “Because such behavior is likely to be high risk, if you have to ask [whether it is offensive], it is probably better not to do it” (21). What is so often lost in the definition of sexual harassment is that there is a difference between behavior that is immodest and behavior that is predatory. Or as Daphne Patai says in her book, “there is a long distance between objecting to the intolerable and demanding the comfortable” (28).

And when we observe the enforcement of sexual harassment policy for what it is – with its extremely broad and vague definitions, and with its “better safe than sorry” approach to behavior most people consider trivial and nonthreatening - it becomes clear that sexual harassment is not really about “harassment” per se (which often involves things like intimidation and coercion), but rather is really about making women as comfortable - which in some cases is to say as pampered - as possible.

The ideology behind sexual harassment comes, of course, from Feminism. The 1998 “Issues Report” by the National Organization for Women, the biggest Feminist lobbying organization in the US, states: “Sexual harassment is a form of violence against women, used to keep women ‘in their place.’” Here we encounter the standard Feminist hysteria where words in and of themselves are equated with physical brutality.

Dissenting Feminist Dr. Christina Hoff-Sommers says on page 53 of the War on Boys, “Groups such as the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the Ms. Foundation for Women, and the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund have been successfully lobbying the federal government to impose strict harassment codes on the schools. In August 1996, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued a 26-page guideline on the subject of ‘peer harassment.’ No age limits were specified. Rooting out schoolyard harassers is now a prime objective of the Department of Education.”

The War Against Boys,
by Dr. Christina Hoff-Sommers
She goes on to say on page 53, “A similar curriculum guide, Girls and Boys Getting Along: Teaching Sexual Harassment Prevention in the Elementary Classroom, was also funded by the Department of Education. This 144-page curriculum includes a special anti-harassment/self-esteem-building pledge for second- and third-graders." She gives us an example:

“I pledge to do my best to stop sexual harassment,
I will show RESPECT, by caring for myself and others;
I have dignity and will give it to others;
I am special, you are special, and we are all equal.”

But do second graders who are made to recite these pledges really know what they are talking about when they talk about sexual behavior? If the lines between offensive and inoffensive are so often indecipherable for an adult, how can we expect boys as young as age 6 to do an equal or better job? On page 47 of The War on Boys, dissenting Feminist and professor Christina Hoff-Sommers tells us, “Leaders in the equity movement [that is to say, the Feminist movement] take a very dim view of errant boys, speaking with straight faces about schoolyard harassers as tomorrow’s batterers, rapists, and murderers.” Among others, she quotes Sue Sattel, a self-described “equity specialist” with the Minnesota Department of Education, who says “Serial killers say they started harassing at age 10…they got away with it and went from there.”

Hoff-Sommers goes on to say, “Nan Stein, a director at the Wellesley College Center for research on Women and a major figure in the movement to get anti-harassment programs into the nation’s elementary schools, has referred to little boys who chase girls in the playground and flip their skirts as ‘perpetrators’ committing acts of ‘gendered terrorism.’” Do we seriously believe that the act of a 9 year-old boy calling his teacher “cute” is a gateway to him becoming a serial killer? If a boy “gets away with” hugging his teacher out of gratitude for breaking up a fight, is he much more likely to commit domestic violence? What about a 6-year-old boy who sings “I’m sexy and I know it?” Is that a good indicator for his proclivity to rape later in life? Somehow I doubt it.

One of the best ways to raise our consciousness of sexism against men and boys is to simply reverse the sexes and look at how it comes across. It could also be said that women who lie about rape as adults tended to lie about trivial things as girls, when they learned they could get away with it. Should we then treat little girls who lie about small things as future false rape accusers? Is it really justified to look upon even moderately offensive behavior by girls under such a lens? I don’t think so.

Hoff-Sommers says on page 50 of The War on Boys: “None of these things would be of much moment if the zealous women promoting these views were not a major force in American education. Schools have to listen to Hanson, Stein, Sattel, and their colleagues to avoid running afoul of complicated federal laws concerning sex equity.” Whenever parents see 6-year-old boys being punished for sexual harassment, they exclaim, “he’s too young to even know what being sexual is; how can he possibly be guilty of sexual harassment?” They naively think that it is an accident or oversight. But it isn’t. It is the result of a deliberate, concerted, and effort of increasingly radicalized reforms pushed by a few narrow-minded ideologues who have spent so much time cloistered within the ivory tower, and for so long have had no one to challenge their worldview, that they are now disconnected from the real world. It is also a result of the pervasive cowardice of education administrators who are more afraid of political inconvenience than they are driven to doing what is right.

In case you haven’t noticed, I’m going to be a critical of the actions of certain Feminists and Feminist organizations. I will refrain from making many broad generalizations about Feminism, and I will quote the good Feminists who I believe are the exceptions. I’ve already done so here by quoting professors Christina Hoff-Sommers and Daphne Patai. I would like to stress that the problem is not just a few misandric apples in the Feminist bunch who have achieved positions of influence over education. The problem is also the self-serving cowardice and careerism of administrators and faculty who either enforce these extremist policies against the warnings of their own conscience, or who see others doing so and fail to speak out. The fact remains that no matter how draconian sexual misconduct policies become, administrators still have a choice as to whether they will adopt or enforce them. In his “Letters from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “One has a moral responsibility to obey just laws; conversely, one also has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” There are an abundance of people in education who claim – claim – to uphold the ideals of equality and justice. But when it is our sons against whom unjust policies are directed, all of those champions for equality and social justice are often nowhere to be found. And this holds true, regardless as whether it is a civil rights issue like sexual harassment, or whether it is an issue of educational attainment.

In the case of the 6-year-old boy being suspended for singing, The Morning Show spoke of the general culture of education as "too politically correct." But what is political “correctness” exactly? And if how it is employed so often seems to be wrong, why do we call it “correct” in the first place? In page 57 of The War Against Boys, Dr. Hoff-Sommers quotes the words of a high school teacher named Martin Spafford, who says, “Boys feel continually attacked for who they are. We have created a sense in school that masculinity is something bad. Boys feel blamed for history, and a school culture has grown up which is suspicious and frightened of boys.”

In education, we have swung the pendulum from a time when we had no protection, to the point that we are now overprotective. Policy on sexual harassment, just like policy on domestic violence and rape, is premised upon the idea of protecting women and girls from harm by men and boys. But when these policies become radicalized, we might benefit from an alternative perspective. In Vancouver, Canada, there is a poster campaign that I believe captures the essence of this perspective.

The posters read:

“You don’t fear and hate African Americans, do you? No, because you are a decent human being.

You don’t fear and hate Jews, do you? Of course not, because you are a decent human being.

You don’t fear and hate gays and lesbians, do you? Of course not, because you are a decent human being.

You don’t fear and hate women do you? No, because you are a decent human being.

You don’t fear and hate men, do you?

Do you?

Whoever controls the language controls the argument. We need a new language and a new word to address this phenomenon. Don’t call it political “correctness.” Call it misandry - sexism against men and boys.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Sexual Harassment Hysteria in Lower Education, Part 1

One of the most alienating messages that schools send to boys is the idea that they are inherently dangerous and predatory. This is especially true in the area of sexual harassment, our next topic in The War on Male Students. After a few decades of one-sided reforms and increasingly punitive reforms to education policy, schools now face fines, investigations, or lawsuits if female students suffer any kind of discomfort which can be defined under the broad umbrella of harassment. Schools are hypervigilant toward any kind of misbehavior on the part of boys, to the extent that boys who exhibit quasi-offensive behavior (or behavior that would be inoffensive or non-threatening to most people) are being labeled as predatory - labels they inevitably internalize – and being punished for it. I'll give numerous examples.

In North Carolina in 2011, a 9 year-old boy suspended for sexual harassment for telling not the teacher, but a fellow student that he thought his teacher was “cute." Article here.

When the world first heard of the concept of sexual harassment, they were sold the idea that sexual harassment was defined by exploitation and an abuse of power by employers or fellow employees. But sexual harassment today is not really about employers who require employees to perform sexual favors before they are promoted. It has been broadened far beyond its original and once widely-supported framework, and has moved into criminalizing many forms of trivial behavior that many consider non-threatening.

In another story out of North Carolina, a 14 year-old Middle School student was suspended for hugging teacher. According to this CBS article: “Ryan Blackmon, an eighth grade student at Bladenboro Middle School, was suspended when he hugged his teacher after she broke up a potential fight between himself and another student.” “I said, ‘Thank you,’ after she got done,” Blackmon told the station.

“I went to hug her, then she just snatched me up by the arm and drug me to the other teacher and said that I needed to be written up, and that something serious had happened.” Blackmon’s parents have filed a police report against the teacher and the school after a mark was left on the boy’s arm from where the teacher grabbed him.

“I don’t understand how she could feel threatened if I was showing my gratitude, but she could have told me politely to tell me to move away,” he told the station.

And in Denver, Colorado, a 6 year-old boy was suspended for singing “I’m sexy and I know it.” Article here.

Are these boys who are subjected to such heavy-handed treatment more likely or less likely to develop into socially well-adjusted young men? Are they going to be able to carry on their studies in an environment where they are now labeled as predatory? It isn’t just the parents of these suspended kids who should be angry. We should all be angry at how the school system treats our kids. Because if they think it’s ok to treat other kids this way, they’ll think it’s ok to treat our kids this way. And until a group of concerned citizens rises up and campaigns for positive structural change in our school systems, they are going to keep doing it.

Another 6 year-old boy suspended for sexual harassment. Article here. According to USA today, “In BROCKTON, Mass. (AP) — A 6-year-old boy is getting a lesson on the meaning of sexual harassment long before he'll be able to spell it. The first-grader was suspended for three days for sexual harassment after he put two fingers inside a classmate's waistband, school officials told his mother, Berthena Dorinvil. The boy told her he only touched the girl's shirt after the girl touched him.”

"The connotation is you're getting some kind of sexual gratification, or wanting sexual gratification, or are putting pressure on for some kind of sexual gratification, when a 6-year-old doesn't have that capacity," said E. Christopher Murray, a civil rights attorney who has handled school discipline cases.

“The boy's mother called the Jan. 30 suspension from Downey Elementary School outrageous. She said she can't even explain to her son what he did wrong because he's too young to understand. ‘He doesn't know those things,’ she told The Enterprise of Brockton. ‘He's only 6 years old.’”

And what of the accusation that the girl first touched him? If schools are so committed to investigating and rooting out sexual harassment, why do we not hear the results of this part of the “investigation? Of course, I use the word “investigation” loosely, assuming schools are actually objectively searching for facts, rather than going with whatever stories are the most expedient.

Yet another 6 year-old boy suspended, this time for kissing a girl on the cheek. Article here. According to the Associated Press: “A 6-year-old boy who kissed a girl on the cheek was suspended last week on the grounds of sexual harassment. Jackie Prevette said the school overreacted to an innocent peck on the cheek by banishing her son, Johnathan Prevette, to a room apart from his classmates. Johnathan said that the girl asked him to kiss her and that he was expressing friendship.

Johnathan Prevette
"District spokeswoman Jane Martin said the policy was clear, sayin ‘A 6-year-old kissing another 6-year-old is inappropriate behavior. Unwelcome is unwelcome at any age.” A teacher who saw the incident reported it to the principal, who decided the first-grader should be punished. Johnathan missed out on coloring and playing with friends. He also missed an ice-cream party honoring pupils with good attendance.” His mother said, ‘This makes children wonder, ‘Should I hug somebody? It’s no wonder we have all these people with behavior problems.'”

I agree, with a slight correction: it’s no wonder we have all these boys with behavior problems. I followed up a bit on Johnathan Prevette. When searching for his name under Google images, it turned up a link to his mother Jackie’s Myspace page, which contained a link to Johnathan’s own page. The case happened in 1996. He is now 22 years old, and on MySpace he goes by the name J-Perv. It would appear that he has indeed internalized the label of a sexual predator publicly imposed upon him by the school.

In page 54 of War on Boys, a dissenting Feminist professor named Christina Hoff-Sommers cites two stories where boys are accused of sexual harassment: “A mother in Worcester, Massachusetts, who came to pick up her son was told he had been reprimanded and made to sit in the ‘time out chair’ for having hugged another child. ‘He's a toucher,’ she was told. ‘We are not going to put up with it.’ That little boy was three years old.

And later, “A nine year-old boy already had a reputation as a potential harasser: he had been caught drawing a picture of a naked woman in art class (following a school trip to the National Gallery of Art). When he was accused of deliberately rubbing up against a girl in the cafeteria line, school officials notified the police. The boy was charged with aggravated sexual battery, and was handcuffed and fingerprinted. The family's lawyer, Kenneth Rosenau, said, ‘A 9 year-old bumps into a girl in the lunch line while reaching for an apple and all of a sudden you've got World War III declared against a fourth grader.’”

If anyone is familiar with the National Gallery of Art, they know that visitors will inevitably come across a painting of a nude or semi-nude figure. Consider the Renaissance artist Titian, who is known for his famous painting “Sacred and Profane Love,” which presents us with two women at a well, one dressed in fine clothing, the other mostly naked. The viewer is left to inquire: which one is sacred, and which one profane? Some may be tempted to say that the naked woman is profane; that she is dressed in a provocative and wanton manner, unrefined by the principles of our finer society, as is the well-dressed woman. Others may say that the naked woman is the embodiment of sacred love; for the reason that true beauty is not a form camouflaged by the at best imperfect accoutrements of humankind, but one drawn by the timeless and almighty hand of nature, or of God.

So which is which? Titian does not give us an answer. What he does do, by presenting is with a duality of forms and two unattached labels, is provoke us to reflect upon our fundamental conceptualizations of morality. Like much Renaissance artistry involving nudes, it is far from a pornographic depiction of flesh; the painting of Titian says, “What is beauty and love?” By his nude statuary, Michelangelo compels us to ask, “What is noble?,” and his painting invites us to ask, “what is spiritual?”

If Titian had been a schoolboy today, he would have been told that the underlying moral, philosophical and spiritual themes in his work are irrelevant; that it does not matter how he intended his work, and all that matters is how it is received. And in our school system there exists no shortage of people who choose or are trained to see pathology among men and boys where it does not exist either because it validates their social and political worldview.

Now here’s one where I do believe what the boys did was wrong, and that it deserves punishment. But their receiving punishment in and of itself is not what I will address here. According to Komo news: “MCMINNVILLE, Ore. - Two 13-year-old boys facing sexual harassment charges in a case that has drawn national attention will go to trial, a judge decided on Wednesday. The boys are accused of spanking girls' bottoms and poking at their breasts at Patton Middle School.”

Now I do believe that these boys should have been disciplined in some form, because I view what they did was wrong. And after reviewing a lot of the coverage and seeing them on video, I think it quite possible that at the time of the offense, they were being little punks. What I and many others do not agree with was the degree of the charges which district attorney Bradley Berry brought before the court. As Susan Goldsmith reports in The Oregonian, “Berry said he was inundated with calls and e-mails from readers who complained that charging the boys with 10 counts of sex abuse and harassment was an overreaction, as their parents maintain. Lawyers for the boys say each count could bring a year in confinement and mandatory registration as sex offenders.” “The boys' families said they were furious…’It makes us angry that they can overcharge and make us think this could happen,’ said Tracie Mashburn, Cory's mother.”

Unfortunately, this is often how the justice system works works. Prosecutors don’t bring charges based on what they think is morally right or wrong; they bring charges based on what they think they can get away with. If there is a lot of public hysteria about a given issue, such as sex abuse, they can often get away with a lot. But this time they didn’t get so lucky. But there’s more to this case than just the overcharging of two 13 year-old boys. Buried at the end of the archived news article by Susan Goldsmith, she, “Confidential court records and police reports obtained by The Oregonian showed that other Patton students - boys and girls - were also slapping bottoms. Two female victims later recanted, saying they were friends of the boys and felt pressured to make false statements against them.” ABC news reports the same here: “But police reports filed with the court said other students, both boys and girls, slapped each other on the bottom. ‘It's like a handshake we do,’ one girl said, according to the police report.”

There are so many questions about this case that no one covering it seems to be asking. If slapping someone on the rear is felony sexual assault, why were the girls not arrested also? Why weren’t they charged with felony offenses, and threatened to be forced to register as sex offenders? If what the boys did was such a serious offense, why did the school not also regard the false accusations of those crimes as serious offenses? Why were the girls who made false accusations of felony offenses not arrested for potentially ruining the lives of the young men? Who pressured the young girls to make false accusations against the boys? Was it a teacher? Was it an administrator? If they are false accusers as the article says, why does the media still refer to them as victims?

In another case, a 14 year-old boy with down syndrome is suspended for sexual harassment for hugging a bus driver. Article here.

You know, I shouldn’t even have to argue whether this is wrong. I hope we all can see that it is wrong without me having to make a case. I truly believe that for me to argue whether this is wrong would be to give the actions by these school administrations more legitimacy than they actually deserve.

But more importantly, why is it wrong, and what should change? It is wrong because it does not take into account the mental state of the person accused. As we all know, when it comes to sexual harassment, it doesn’t matter what your intent of the person accused is; all that matters is what the accuser “feels.” In the vast majority of crimes, prosecutors are required to prove two things: one is mens rea, which is Latin for a “guilty mind,” which refers to a state of mental culpability, and often described as “motive.” The other is an actus reus, which is Latin for a “guilty act.” So for example: let’s say someone forgets their suitcase at the luggage station at an airport, and you, being a good Samaritan, pick it up to deliver it to them. If we did not take into account your mental state at the time you picked up the suitcase, which we could likely verified by your actions before and after you picked it up, you could be guilty of stealing their suitcase – especially if we left it up to someone’s feelings, rather than the weighing the objective facts of the matter.

We need to change our perspective on sexual harassment. We need to understand that while everyone has a responsibility to not act or speak in inappropriate ways that may cause offense, we all also have a responsibility to not place inappropriate constructions upon the words and actions of those others, and to avoid to deliberate choice to read sexual content into the words and actions of others where no such content exists. When we eliminate consideration of the mental state of the person accused, it turns justice on its head and short-circuits the rights of the accused. That is now exactly what is happening in a great many cases of sexual harassment. Sexual harassment, which long ago was narrowly defined, now encompasses a wide variety of behaviors.

This is not just a social or political issue. This is a due process issue, which means that it is a civil rights issue. I’ll be talking about this more in the future. I hope this post was informative.