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When does a child's game become sexual assault?

Many people in Montgomery County and across Maryland have read stories of schools and local police departments charging young children with serious juvenile crimes. Sometimes a child really should be punished, but in many cases schools are overreacting to what is sometimes simply children playing. It seems another school has recently become "really overzealous" with its accusation that a 6-year-old committed a juvenile sexual assault on one of his classmates.

The boy's mother says her son was merely playing tag with some kids from school when he inadvertently tagged another boy's groin or thigh. Instead of recognizing that the children were playing tag and the 6-year-old probably did not mean to touch the other boy where he did, the child was suspended after the school determined he had sexually assaulted the boy.

While this reaction seems extreme, schools across the country have been reacting similarly. Late last year, a 7-year-old boy apparently kicked another boy in the groin and his school also accused him of sexually assault. While school-age fighting isn't acceptable, it is unlikely that the boy was intending to cause a sexual assault.

Luckily for the boy and his family, his record was expunged after his mother hired a lawyer and threatened to file a lawsuit against the school. Even though prosecutors could not have filed any criminal charges against the boy, having a record of sexual assault on his school transcript could have negatively affected him for the rest of his life, much like a permanent criminal record

It is certainly admirable that schools are attempting to curb juvenile bullying, but the threat of criminal charges for something as minor as playing tag with a friend or hugging another student is an overreaction.

Source: The New York Times, "A Touch During Recess, and Reaction is Swift," Scott James, Jan. 26, 2012

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