This has been in my draft folder for a couple months. In light of the recent Lena Dunham kerfuffle, I decided to finish it up and post it. If you don’t know what the Lena Dunham kerfuffle is, keep reading.
One of Life’s cliches is the occasional episode of kids “playing doctor”, which is considered innocent exploration under most circumstances such as when the participants are very young, all approximately the same age, none are coerced, and when there is no overt attempt at sexual stimulation or gratification.
In November of 2011 in Grant County Wisconsin, felony sexual assault charges were brought against a 6 year old boy for an incident of playing doctor. If the details of this story are true then playing doctor appears to be what happened, yet the Grant County District Attorney opted to charge the 6 year old “perpetrator” with first degree felony sexual assault. The kids involved even said they were playing “butt doctor”, and the parents of the “perpetrator” (scare quotes intentional) said their son had recently been to the doctor and had his little bottom examined and had an enema. So it’s not surprising that he might want to reenact the event, this time as the examiner rather that the examinee. The charge of sexual assault was levied because the perpetrator is alleged to have inserted his finger into the victim’s anus, though the victim denies this. According to the article, penetration of any kind is defined by Wisconsin law as “sexual intercourse”, and so the way the prosecutor sees it sexual intercourse occured and a Judge affirmed there was probable cause for the charge to stand.
Since I’m not an attorney, nor am I familiar with Wisconsin law, I have a few questions. What is the rationale behind charging a six year old with such a crime? Doesn’t there have to be some form of intent behind a crime, and can a six year old form that intent? These questions will not be answered because this case was settled by a consent decree and so was never adjudicated.
Which brings us to…Lena Dunham, star of the HBO series Girls, during which Dunham apparently spends a lot of time being randomly naked. Disclaimer: I have never seen, nor will I likely ever see an episode of Girls. Nowadays in current pop culture, persons with…*ahem*…unique personalities are routinely celebrated, and Dunham is no exception – she is the poster child of the “accept me for who I am without judgement”movement and for some reason has become a feminist icon. Anyway, someone convinced her that it would be a good idea for her to write her autobiography. She did so and it was published. Via her own words, we learn that her upbringing was atypical, being the spoiled daughter of rich Manhattanite artist parents: father, Carroll Dunham and mother Laurie Simmons. And we also learn of several instances of Dunham’s…uhh…”exploration” of her little sister’s genitals. Dunham herself described her behavior as that of a “sexual predator” which she now claims was an attempt at humor. For her part, her now grown sister Grace claims no harm done. Controversy arose when certain journalists read her book, and expressed opinions that her exploits with her younger sibling may have amounted to child abuse if not outright sexual assault. Those parties have been characterized in the media as being “on the right” which is code for “religious busybodies who want to get involved in everyone’s business”, but I have seen concern regarding Dunham’s actions come from all sides of the political spectrum. Dunham has now threatened to sue some of the journalists for falsely defaming her, though they claim they were only quoting her work verbatim. So we’ll have the law involved here, too.
I guess it’s time to make my point. While I am always up for some good old pop culture bashing, I’m having a hard time getting on this particular bandwagon. The original notion of this post was that little kids do stuff, usually innocently. They always have and I suspect they always will, and adults didn’t make a huge deal out of it in the past, but seem more eager to make a big deal of it now. Maybe this is happening because of a perceived coarsening of our culture combined with a belief in a need to be more vigilant in protecting the innocent. The point of my “Old and Busted…New Hotness” posts is generally that American society, if not human society as a whole is going straight to hell in a handbasket, so let me be clear that I still think that’s true. But throwing charges of sexual assault around at children isn’t going to slow the descent.
Childhood “exploration” may be common, but it is not universal. People who did experience it seem not to be harmed by it, while people who did not experience it are revolted and disgusted by it. I doubt that anyone thinks it’s a good topic to bring up in a public forum. Unless you like a good kerfuffle.