Randy Castro is seven years old, and is on record at his Woodbridge, Virginia elementary school as being a sexual harasser. According to the Washington Post, last year, when Randy was 6, he smacked a female classmate on the bottom during recess. The girl told the teacher and Randy was sent to the principal. Ted Feinberg, assistant director of the National Association of School Psychologists, says that to label somebody a sexual harasser at 6 "doesn't make sense to me." In March, two Colorado 5-year-olds were "investigated" for sexual harassment because they were caught kissing at school. And the Post reports that last year, the Virginia Department of Education suspended 255 elementary school students for offensive sexual touching. (In Maryland, 166 elementary school children were suspended for sexual harassment — including three preschoolers.) And sometimes the cops are involved.
The laws in Virgina, Maryland and Washington, D.C. consider sexual offenses by schoolchildren to be "improper physical contact against a student that is offensive, undesirable, and/or unwanted as determined by the victim." There's no debate that unwanted touching is an offense. But the schools are enforcing a zero-tolerance policy that involves the authorities: The police were contacted after Randy Castro's playground spank. (Since the episode in November, Randy has been calling himself a "bad boy," his mother says.) The girl's mother, Margarita DeLeon, was also contacted by the school, and says her daughter admitted that she didn't like being hit but quickly forgot about it. "[Randy] didn't mean anything by it. I'm upset with the school," DeLeon says.
It would be easy to blame hip-hop videos, Bratz and reality TV for these kids turning into "sexual harassers." But isn't exploring boundaries and figuring out what's a "no-no" just something kids do? (Whom among us never touched a classmate or played doctor?) Human development is about testing, learning, trying things out. Says psychologist Ted Feinberg: "Kids can be exploratory in behavior, they can mimic what they see on TV." Does that mean that they should have the "sexual harasser" label forever in their school files?