An African-American girl has a rope wrapped around her neck – school suggests its just ‘an accident’

The family of a 6th grade* girl living in Texas have filed a $3 million dollar lawsuit against Live Oak Classical School in Waco, an expensive private school that the child attended through scholarships, accusing them of “negligence, gross negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress”.

The lawsuit lists a history of bullying behaviour by other children leading up to the final assault on the child known as KP. The lawsuit alleges that one incident of bullying, in which another boy repeatedly kicked and pushed KP whilst in a play rehearsal, was dismissed by the school’s principal Allison Buras with the following statements:

“It sounds like he may have pushed on the back of her leg to make her leg buckle, which is something the kids sometimes do,” Buras wrote. “Rarely is that done out of meanness but more out of a desire for sport.”**

This minimisation of inappropriate behaviour is, in and of itself, deeply concerning. Suggesting that children deliberately push a child into making their legs buckle, which inevitably results in falling over, as ‘sport’ fails to recognise that this is frequently undertaken by children to humiliate others. It can be used between groups of close friends, particularly boys, playing because we socialise boys to believe that physical actions that can result in harm to other children is ‘normal’; that is part of being a ‘boy’. It is done out of ‘meanness’ because we socialise boys to believe that cruelty to one another is funny.

We need schools to challenge the idea that pushing, shoving and kicking other children is ‘sport’. And, we need schools to step up when children (or their parents) report such behaviour as part of a pattern of bullying.

This is how the Daily Beast has reported the most serious assault:

But the main complaint against the school comes from an April field trip to Germer Ranch in Blanco County, Texas. KP and several other children were said to have come across a swing with long rope was attached so children could pull it, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit states KP was standing to the side of the swing when three white males, including one who allegedly bullied her in the past, pulled the rope back and wrapped it around her neck. The boys then violently jerked KP to the ground, the family claims, leaving abrasions on her neck.

The lawsuit alleges that the school failed to access appropriate healthcare for KP and did not inform the parents, at any point, of the assault and injury. As this happened during a school residential trip, the parents did not find out about the injury until the following day. They immediately took KP to the hospital and it was the hospital who informed the police due to the severity of the injury. The police investigation is ongoing. This a huge failing of child protection.

The school itself claims that the incident was an accident.

Make no mistake, this is an assault. Children of 11-12 years of age know perfectly well the consequences of wrapping any material around the neck of themselves or another child. Their cavalier attitude to the safety of another child does not reflect well on their parents or the school demonstrating a failure of safe-guarding. It also speaks to a culture of bullying being excused by the school.

This is without addressing the issue of racism.

Even without the history of lynching in the US, children who wrap a rope around the neck of another classmate and then pull should be sending huge red flags about their propensity to violence. That the victim was an African-American child attending a prestigious and mostly white private school and the perpetrators white boys only reinforces the schools failure to deal with this incident appropriately and to recognise the role of racism in the assault and in how the school dealt with it.

Whilst the erasure of African-American history in schools is well-documented, these children were sixth graders. They will have seen films, television and video games in which the lynching of African-American people is used as entertainment. Criminalising children is not appropriate as it does address the real issues at play: racism, hyper-masculinity and white, male privilege. But we cannot pretend that these boys did not understand the potential consequences of wrapping a rope around the neck of any child or that they were not aware of the specific history of lynching in the US.

 

What this story demonstrates is the failure of schools to deal appropriately with violence committed by boys and an unwillingness to recognise the role of racism in bullying and in the failure of child protection.

 

*The average age of a sixth grader in the US is 11-12 years old.

** Raw Story claims this comment was made in relation to the assault involving the rope swing, whilst Daily Beast and New York Mag suggests it was made in response to a previous incident. I am assuming that the Daily Beast’s version is correct insofar as I can not believe anyone would suggest that wrapping a rope around the neck of a child could be construed as ‘sport’.

A caesarean performed without consent

Originally published on a previous blog 2.12.13

As with everyone, I am horrified by today’s article by Christopher Booker in the Telegraph about an Italian woman, in the UK on business, who was forcibly given a caesarian section and her child taken into care.

A woman being given surgery without her consent is assault. It is that simple. Women are not incubators and any society which sees women as human would not be forcing surgery on a woman without her consent; never mind a surgery which results in a child being delivered. Taking the child into care, without the woman being able to instruct her own lawyers, is disgraceful and inhumane.

But, and this is a huge but, reading Booker’s article, I have more questions that answers. I understand that Booker is limited in what he can publish due to the fact that family courts are closed for the protection of the children. Taking this into consideration, Booker’s article is still low on details.

Don’t get me wrong, there are serious problems within child protection due to chronic underfunding, massive caseloads and staff not being given appropriate training in dealing with sexual violence, male violence, and victim blaming. This is clear from the Rochdale and Oxford grooming cases for a start – and the sheer number of children who are forced to continue relationships with abusive fathers. Yet, child protection is more than just social workers [who inevitably get a bashing in these cases], there are medical doctors, psychiatrists, police, teachers, community support workers and any number of court officials involved in the decision to remove children from the home. Our culture treats children as possessions and we pay a very high price for the damage we cause them. In this case, it is clear that the police and medical establishment were involved before Essex social services were.

These are the questions that first popped into my mind when I read the article last night:

  1. Why hasn’t the Italian government been fighting this? They are certainly not bound by UK laws on child protection which keep family courts closed. Why hasn’t the Italian government gone to the EU Human Rights court on behalf of their citizen?
  2. I do not understand why the family suggested that the baby be adopted, in America, by the aunt of the baby’s stepsister (and does Booker not mean half sister rather than stepsister? If we’re talking about kinship carers, you need to get the relationship right). This isn’t the closest of kinship ties and I do think sending the child overseas is a drastic response. Was there no family in Italy who could care for the child in order to allow the mother to continue her relationship with the child? I support kinship adoptions because I do think they are the best outcome in such circumstances but not if the kinship adopter lives on the other side of the planet. The whole point of kinship carers is to try to continue the relationship with the birth parents, if possible. How would this continue if the child was living in the US?
  3. What on earth does Booker mean by panic attack and “bipolar” condition? These are medical terms which have medical definitions. A bit more detail to make it clear wouldn’t go amiss here.
  4. I want to know why the caesarian was preformed. This is an incredibly drastic move which only takes place, within normal circumstances when the mother can’t legally consent, if the mother’s health was at risk. Having bipolar disorder does not put the mother’s health at risk whilst pregnant. If the hospital performed the caesarian for any other reason than the baby or mother being in immediate risk of death, then they have committed assault. I would expect the Italian government, on behalf of their citizen, to being taking the hospital trust to court over this.
  5. I don’t trust John Hemmings at all. The moment he gets involved in any case involving social services, my brain starts screaming ‘ulterior motive’. Hemmings is never involved for the best interests of the child; he’s all about the publicity.
There are obvious constraints on the publishing of this case but Booker’s article is too full of holes to make sense of. If this is a clear case of the assault of a woman, then the there are a whole lot of people who need to be prosecuted and both the British and Italian governments are complicit in this abuse.
Forcible caesarians are violence against women.
Removing a child from their mother because the mother is bipolar is violence against women.
A society which treats women as more than incubators and believes children are not possessions would invest more money and training in the police, education, health, social services and judiciary to ensure that all have more than adequate training to support women who need a little extra help. A society which cared would offer more support to a pregnant women with a mental illness [and here the Italian government is just as complicit]. This is why we are supposed to have a welfare state: to help those in need and not punish them for needing help.

UPDATE:

Essex County Council have released the following statement in response to Booker’s Telegraph article. The obvious holes in Booker’s piece are clearly answered below. I still think the child should have been returned to Italy, even if the mother could not care for her herself but the case isn’t quite as cut and dried as Booker suggests but then these things never are.

Essex County Council responds to interest in story headlined “Essex removes baby from mother”

2 December 2013

Key Dates

There have been lengthy legal proceedings in this case over the past 15 months.
  • Mother detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act on 13 June 2012
  • Application by the Health Trust to the High Court 23 August 2012
  • Application for Interim Care Order 24 August 2012
  • Mother took part in the care proceedings ending on 1 February 2013.
  • Mother applied to Italian Courts for order to return the child to Italy in May 2013. Those courts ruled that child should remain in England
  • In October 2013 Essex County Council obtains permission from County Court to place child for adoption

Context

The Health Trust had been looking after the mother since 13 June 2012 under section 3 of the Mental Health Act. Because of their concerns the Health Trust contacted Essex County Council’s Social Services.
Five weeks later it was the Health Trust’s clinical decision to apply to the High Court for permissions to deliver her unborn baby by caesarean section because of concerns about risks to mother and child.
The mother was able to see her baby on the day of birth and the following day. Essex County Council’s Social Services obtained an Interim Care Order from the County Court because the mother was too unwell to care for her child.
Historically, the mother has two other children which she is unable to care for due to orders made by the Italian authorities.
In accordance with Essex County Council’s Social Services practice social workers liaised extensively with the extended family before and after the birth of the baby, to establish if anyone  could care for the child:

UPDATE 2:

The judge’s statement has now been released and is available here.

This is the first part:

NOTE BY MR JUSTICE MOSTYN (4 December 2013)

Although no-one has sought to appeal the judgment dated 23 August 2012 during the last 15 months, or to have it transcribed for any other purpose, I have decided to authorise its release together with the verbatim transcript of the proceedings and the order made so as to inform and clarify recent public comments about this case.

It will be seen that the application to me was not made by the local authority or social workers. Rather, it was an urgent application first made at 16:16 on 23 August 2012 by the NHS Trust, supported by the clear evidence of a consultant obstetrician and the patient’s own treating consultant psychiatrist, seeking a declaration and order that it would be in the medical best interests of this seriously mentally ill and incapacitated patient, who had undergone two previous elective caesarean sections, to have this birth, the due date of which was imminent (she was 39 weeks pregnant), in the same manner.

The patient was represented by the Official Solicitor who instructed a Queen’s Counsel on her behalf. He did not seek an adjournment and did not oppose the application, agreeing that the proposed delivery by caesarean section was in the best interests of the patient herself who risked uterine rupture with a natural vaginal birth. I agreed that the medical evidence was clear and, applying binding authority from the Court of Appeal concerning cases of this nature, as well as the express terms of the Mental Capacity Act 2005, made the orders and declarations that were sought.

Although I emphasised that the Court of Protection had no jurisdiction over the unborn baby, I offered advice to the local authority (which were not a party to or represented in the proceedings, or present at the hearing) that it would be heavy-handed to invite the police to take the baby following the birth using powers under section 46 of the Children Act 1989. Instead, following the birth there should be an application for an interim care order at the hearing of which the incapacitated mother could be represented by her litigation friend, the Official Solicitor.

A How Not to Guide on Teaching Children Internet Safety

She said X was the closest park to her house

This is genuinely a line in a YouTube video called “The Dangers of Social Media” that claims to teach parents how easy it is for a ‘paedophile’ to groom a teenage girl: by identifying the neighbourhood she lives in to 30 million viewers.

In fact, the video reveals identifying details of three teenage girls, including street views of their homes and their parents’ faces. Rather than giving any information to help parents actually teach their children how to navigate social media safely, the video invites us to participate in the public shaming of these girls. We are allowed to watch the parents shouting at the girls but not actually engaging in why these girls arranged to meet a stranger they met online. If the aim was to highlight their lack of skills in navigating the internet, a more pertinent question was why no one bothered to teach them any. Why isn’t the focus on the parents rather than the children?

There are so many issues with this video that it’s hard to know where to start. The language itself is incorrect – the term paedophile has a specific clinical definition. The vast majority of child rapists are normal men who make a choice to harm a child; they have no pre-existing psychological condition.

The video also reinforces the ‘stranger danger’ myth. Statistically, fathers form the majority of perpetrators of domestic violence – whether this is physical, emotional and sexual abuse of the children themselves or witnessing the abuse of their mothers. Fathers, brothers, cousins, grandfathers, uncles, and stepfathers are far more likely to sexually abuse a child than a stranger. If we focus on ‘stranger danger’, we ignore the majority of men, and most child sexual abusers are male, who are actually a danger to children. This isn’t to say we pretend that strangers never harm a child; rather that we need to understand risk and help children develop the skills to keep themselves safe. Pretending that the only person who is a child rapist is a creepy man in a trench coat puts them at risk.

Rather than going for scare tactics like those in the video -having parents dress up in skeleton masks and drag their kids into a van- we need to teach children the skills to negotiate a world where a large number are at risk of experiencing domestic and sexual violence and abuse. We can start by using the appropriate words for body parts like vulva and penis.

Children also need to be taught about consent starting as toddlers. One easy way to do this is with tickling. If a child squeals no, stop and ask them if they want you to continue tickling. Then keep asking them. Another way is by telling children that they don’t have to hug or kiss anyone anyone that they don’t want to. Granny might want a hug but a child shouldn’t feel pressured or obligated to do so. Doing this teaches children that they have the right to bodily integrity and that their boundaries should be respected.

Children need to learn the skills to negotiate social media, including online gaming safely. Banning social media until the age of 13, as Facebook does, and then expecting children to be safe online is simply ridiculous. How are children meant to differentiate between unsafe and safe adults when their parents have 900 ‘friends’ on Facebook? If we depend on ‘stranger danger’ myths, do these 900 adults then become safe because their parents ‘know’ them? Equally, we give children mixed messages if we tell them not to talk to strangers but allow them uncontrolled access to X-Box Live. How are children meant to recognise that the older boy from down the road is a child rapist or that the really cool guy on Minecraft is a safe person if we don’t give them the tools to do so.

More importantly, shaming is not an acceptable teaching technique. Publicly shaming your child will not encourage them to have open and honest dialogue with you. It teaches children that their parents are more interested in the performance of ‘safety’ than their actual safety. It makes it impossible for children to ask for help when being bullied at school, never mind when experiencing abuse by a family member or a stranger they’ve met online.

Parents, and schools, need to take more responsibility for helping children develop the skills to negotiate social media and gaming safely, but, as Lynn Schreiber, an expert in social media, says about the video:

Scaring parents will not protect children. Blaming victims will not protect children. This video also reduces the eSafety message to one (fairly rare) danger, while ignoring the far more commonly occurring issues of children viewing violent or sexual content, cyberbullying, going viral, reputation management, and public shaming. Our children are growing up with this technology and need to be taught how to use it in a positive and sensible way.

The average age a child views porn online is between the ages of 9 – 12. Many children experience online bullying and harassment. Others live with domestic and sexual violence and abuse within the home. These conversations on personal safety, online and off, are very difficult but that is why they are necessary. We need to teach children the skills to deal with unsafe people and navigate the real world. In our global economy, the Internet is the real world.

This is what child protection should start with: teaching children their emotions are valid, that they have the right to say no, and that is completely unethical and unfair to publicly shame them on social media.

 

Originally published in the Huffington Post on 02/8/15.

An earlier version of this article appeared on Everyday Victim Blaming on 17/8/15

These 17 parents should have their kids taken away.

In the continuing theme of people wearing judgey-pants in response to others pretty much breathing in public, we also have “These 17 parents should have their kids taken away” which rocked up in my FB feed today. I absolutely agree that the parents in the first image whose child has a gun in their mouth aren’t going to win Parents of the Year. Frankly, I can think of a whole lot of nasty names I’d like to call them because its fucking stupid to let a toddler play with a gun. The parents who put their kids in carseats in the back of a pick-up truck are also fucking stupid and the dude skiing with a kid on his back is equally an ass. The father with the rope around his kids neck in Walmart is also an ass/

Many of the other pictures aren’t of serious child safety concerns though. They are images chosen with the sole purpose of deliberately humiliating either the child or the adult in the image. I’ve deliberately not linked the article because the images are nothing more than online bullying, alternating between abuse and harassment.

I opened the article because the image showing on FB was of the child with a gun in its mouth. I assumed the title was hyperbolic, but it was actually mean. One of the images is of a woman cycling with a child in seat at the back. The woman is overweight and the image is implying she will smother the child because she is so fat. Another is of a child who is obese and too big for the buggy. Cue jokes about fat kids. Because nothing says hilarious like an overweight toddler. We couldn’t possibly have a discussion as to why a toddler might be overweight without posting images of that child -who is identifiable – in order to make sure everyone gets to take 5 minutes to make abusive comments.

The rest of the photos are the same. It includes Peaches Geldof with a buggy tipped over – something that has happened to me and is terrifying even without paparazzi chasing you about. Geldof is the only mother (and they are almost all images of mothers to continue today’s theme of blaming mothers for everything) who is identifiable as wealthy. Because we can’t just insult mothers – we have to toss in some classism. Just because.

How to identify a school you shouldn’t send your kids too.

A school in Gustine Texas has forced around two dozen kids, segregated them by sex and then forced them to pull down their pants after feces was discovered on the gym floor. The school’s defence, via Superintendent Baugh of the school district, appears to be that they only made the kids pull down their pants just a little bit.

Because there is totally an acceptable amount of lowering underwear that schools should be able to force children to do.

I am completely flabbergasted by this. I cannot believe that any adult with even a modicum of respect for children could even think about doing this, never mind actually following through with it. And, this is without getting into the issues of child protection and the possibility of the child acting out due to child sexual abuse or a developmental delay that results in children being unable to understand the consequences of their actions. I find it very hard to believe a neurotypical child who has never experienced abuse would do something like this. Even if this turns out to be a bet between children, there is clearly an unhealthy power dynamic occurring.

The parents have gone to the media and are demanding that the school be held accountable. I’d be tossing around words like sexual assault and threatening to sue the school. I’d also be looking for a new school for my kid because children have the right to bodily autonomy. They shouldn’t be exposed to this type of abusive behaviour. Because, it is abusive.

Granted, finding feces on the gym floor isn’t a highlight of anyone’s career in education and a school in this situation does need to find the child responsible. They need to find the culprit to appropriately support the child. Demanding children lower their underwear is disgusting behaviour – and this without getting into the issue of child sexual abusers working in schools. To be honest, I’d be wondering if the teachers whose idea this was and those who participated were child sexual abusers. I certainly wouldn’t trust them near children.

What if they had found the culprit this way? Does the school believe public humiliation is an appropriate punishment? Or, that mass humiliation as a communal punishment is anything but piss poor teaching? What if the child had done it as a cry for help because of sexual abuse in the home? Or, that the gym teacher was sexually abusing them? Or, the caretaker staff were? What if this was an accident following long-term bullying of the child by other students? What if it were incontinence caused by long-term anal rape?

There are so many other questions that arise from a school who does this that I could spend the next 7 hours listing them. What they all boil down to is that any school who thinks this is appropriate isn’t a safe school for children.

Mrs Doubtfire is a Great Dad: And Other Stories of Stalking as Fathering

I was watching reruns of Bones the other day. I love Kathy Reich’s books and her character of Temperance Brennan and the TV show is an interesting way of rebooting the series without following the books (although I suspect partly this was a way of ensuring that an actress in her 40s wouldn’t play the main character because middle age women are a no-no if they aren’t married with children). The entire subplot of one episode was of the male lead Special Agent Seely Booth, played by David Boreanaz, using his privilege as an FBI agent to investigate the new partner of the mother of his child. At no point during the episode was it made clear how creepy, controlling and illegal the act was; instead, it focused on what a good Dad he was.

This same story line was integral to the plot of Mrs Doubtfire: a movie which celebrates incompetent fathers stalking their ex-wives and gaining access to their personal life and house through deception.  I’ve written before about my failure to recognise the abusive behaviour within Mrs Doubtfire:

 The stalking of the mother and the wearing down of her boundaries is classic abusive behaviour. Being “jealous” of Miranda’s relationship with a new man isn’t the behaviour of a good man – it’s the behaviour of an abusive man who believes his ex-wife is also his possession. Daniel has no right to interfere with his ex-wife’s new relationships. He has no right to stalk her and he has no right to manipulate her. Lying to Miranda and the children about who he is isn’t a funny movie plot. It’s the creepy behaviour of a classically abusive man.

I’ve seen far too many police dramas recently where fathers misuse their power to stalk their former partners and spy on them. This is always presented as normal behaviour by a man concerned about his children’s safety. The male lead in Breakout Kings, played by Domenick Lombardozzi,  consistently violates the boundaries of his ex-wife and screams in her face. Even when their child is abducted, he fails to talk to the ex-wife and, instead, screams repeatedly at her. This is the entire sum of their communication throughout the series: he shows up at her house screaming and demanding to see the kids. He pushes his way into the house, demands they do exactly what he says immediately and repeatedly refers to the child as his possession. Somehow, we’re supposed to believe these are the actions of a good cop who loves his children and not of an abusive man continuing to abuse both the ex-partner and child after the end of the relationship – that stalking and harassment are the signs of a good partner and not a criminal act.

I would like to see a cop drama run this story line and the police officer get caught and sent to prison. Just once, I want a program to reflect the reality of male violence, stalking and harassment.

 

Men Who Commit Domestic Violence Should Not be Allowed Custody or Access of their Children

Men who commit domestic violence against their partner, or their children, should not be allowed to have access or custodial rights over those children.

Heresy, I know but I do not believe that a man who is violent to their partner can be trusted to be a good father to their children. After all, not abusing the mother of your children isn’t exactly a high standard of parenting.

A man who abuses the mother of his [step]-children is not a good father.

It doesn’t matter if he never directly physically or sexually assaults the children; the fact that a man abuses his partner negates his ability to be a good father. Forcing a child to live with a man who abused their mother is psychological child abuse and we are all complicit in a culture which is psychologically abusing children.

Men who commit domestic violence should have no legal rights to their children. They should be legally required to pay maintenance to support their children as the failure to pay maintenance is child abuse.

Men who refuse to pay child maintenance are not good fathers.

Children are not possessions. They do not ‘belong’ to their parents. What are we teaching our children if we allow them to live with men who emotionally, physically or sexually abuse their mothers?

What are we teaching our children about women’s bodily autonomy?

What are we teaching our daughters about their value? What are we teaching our sons: that being violent is the only way to be a man?

Children are entitled to live in safety surrounded by people who love them.

Children do not deserve fathers who are “good enough” when “good enough” ignores the history of male violence.