29 Jul 2007

Criminalizing Childhood

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Contemporary American society is afflicted with an epidemic of metastatic growth in the self importance of petty officials at a time in which ordinary common sense has taken a vacation from American life.

One noteworthy result, especially common on America’s liberal coasts, has been the expansion of zero tolerance policies to include ordinary childhood behavior.

The Canadian Mark Steyn is deservedly appalled at a case in Oregon.

Do you know Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison?

If you do, don’t approach them. Call 911 and order up a SWAT team. They’re believed to be in the vicinity of McMinnville, Ore., where they’re a clear and present danger to the community. Mashburn and Cornelison were recently charged with five counts of felony sexual abuse, and District Attorney Bradley Berry has pledged to have them registered for life as sex offenders.

Oh, by the way, the defendants are in the seventh grade.

Messrs Mashburn and Cornelison are pupils at Patton Middle School. They were arrested in February after being observed in the vestibule, swatting girls on the butt. Butt-swatting had apparently become a form of greeting at the school – like “a handshake we do,” as one female student put it. On “Slap Butt Fridays,” boys and girls would hail each other with a cheery application of manual friction to the posterior, akin to a Masonic greeting.

Don’t ask me why. …

So, upon being caught butt-swatting, Mashburn and Cornelison were called to the principal’s office, where they were questioned for several hours by vice principal Steve Tillery and McMinnville Police officer Marshall Roache. At the end of the afternoon, two boys who’d never been in any kind of trouble before were read their Miranda rights and led off in handcuffs to spend five days in juvenile jail.

Tough, but I guess they learned their lesson, right?

Ha! The state of Oregon was only warming up. After a court appearance in shackles and prison garb, the defendants were charged with multiple counts of felony sexual abuse, banned from school and forbidden any contact with their friends. …

Having had no previous prolonged exposure to the American justice system, I was interested to see whether the techniques used by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald were particular to that case or more widely applied. The Oregon butt psychos make an instructive study. … once the authorities had decided on their view of the case, other parties were leaned on to fall into line and play the role of “victims.” Of 14 other students interviewed by officer Roache, seven (boys and girls) told him they had engaged in bottom-swatting themselves. Two of the “victims” said they had done it to others. At the initial hearing, a couple of female students spontaneously testified that they’d felt very much pressured to conform during their interviews with the vice principal and the police officer. “Well, when the principal asked me stuff, I kind of felt pressured to answer stuff that I was uncomfortable, and that it hurt, but it really didn’t,” said one girl.

What does hurt? Attracting the attention of the district attorney. The prosecutor’s office reduced the counts from felony sexual assault (with which he’d successfully charged a couple of other middle-school students a year ago) to five misdemeanor counts of sexual abuse and five counts of sexual harassment.

With the boys’ respective parents already in the hole for $10,000 apiece in legal fees, the D.A. used the most powerful weapon in the prosecutor’s armory: Cop a plea, and we’ll make all the pain go away. In this instance, that would mean pleading guilty in return for probation. The terms of probation would prevent Mashburn and Cornelison from contact with younger children, which would mean they couldn’t be left with their younger siblings.

Mashburn and Cornelison do not believe they’ve committed a crime, so they would like to exercise their right to the presumption of innocence – a bedrock principle of the English legal tradition now in great peril from American prosecutorial excess. Instead of letting the state bully them into a grubby, shaming deal, the boys would like it to do what justice systems in civilized societies are required to do: prove the crime. It’s a gamble: Those 10 charges each command a one-year sentence, plus lifelong sex-offender registration.

District Attorney Berry told reporter Susan Goldsmith of the Oregonian that his department “aggressively” pursues sex crimes. “These cases are devastating to children,” he said. “They are life-altering cases.”

No, sir. The only one devastating children’s lives is you. If you “win,” and these “criminals” are convicted, 20, 30 years from now – applying for a job, volunteering for a community program, heading north for a weekend in Vancouver and watching the Customs guard swipe the driver’s license through the computer – there’ll be a blip, something will come up on the screen, and for the umpteenth time two middle-age men will realize they bear a mark that can never be expunged. Because decades ago they patted their pals on the rear in a middle-school corridor.

A world that requires handcuffs and judges and district attorneys for what took place that Friday in February is not just a failed education system but an entire society that’s losing any sense of proportion. Without which, civilized life becomes impossible. So we legalize more and more aspects of life and demand that district attorneys prosecute ever more aggressively what were once routine areas of social interaction.

A society that looses the state to criminalize schoolroom horseplay is guilty not only of punishing children as grown-ups but of the infantilization of the entire citizenry.

9 Feedbacks on "Criminalizing Childhood"


Wow, I’ve been listening to Bill O’Reilly tell me about child rapists (as in adult men who engage in non-consentual intercourse with young girls) getting less punishment than these two kids.

I sure hope this gets straightened out — common sense is certainly on vacation here.


The prosecutor is beneath contempt and rivals Durham dodo-nimrod Nifong for vacuous villainy. Is this proto-CroMagnon running for some sort of PC proxy-office? Or just a headline hog? And why are these kids names being published when here in bocaland, illegal immigrant murderers under 18 are protected via anonymity? Maybe the state of Organ is different.


i know the boys you are talking about
in fact i go to that school
i love the first paragraph
it really made me laugh
ur completely right they blew this way out of proportion
it is rediculas
and everyone thinks so
but i really like the way you wrote this
it made alot more sence then other ones i have read


I have a problem with the premise of this prosecution. This wasn’t initiated because a female student had a problem with their behavior and decided to press charges. Rather it was initiated because it was against student policy:

“But bottom-slapping is against policy in McMinnville Public Schools. So a teacher’s aide sent the gawky seventh-graders to the office, where the vice principal and a police officer stationed at the school soon interrogated them.”

Some might consider this splitting straws, but in my mind there is a difference between aggressively pursuing complaints of sexual harrassment/assault made by victims (which I support), and a blanket policy of criminalizing certain actions that can be prosecuted without a victim’s complaint. The main difference is the fact that there is a victim. Yes, you can claim that any girl who gets her butt slapped is a ‘victim’ but unless she considers herself to have been victimized, you have no right to enforce a victim status on her.

Please note that I am not defending sexual assault. I’m not even defending these boys’ actions, however I’m not criticizing their actions either. I’m simply saying that the reason for prosecution is ridiculous – it’s forcing all women into the class of ‘victim’ whether or not they feel victimized, and forcing them to be ‘protected’ from things that quite possibly not everyone wants to be protected from. A policy like that has no place in a free society; it should be replaced with a policy that states and enforces an aggressive investigation into and prosecution of (if applicable) any reported incidents of sexual harrassment/assault.

Like I said, it seems like it’s splitting straws. But it’s actually a really big difference.

I posted this in my LJ community as well – I hope you don’t mind that I linked back to here.

Roberta Robinson

I called the District Attorneys office to complain about the harsh treatment of these boys. The person I talked to said he could not give me information because the were under 18.
Strange they want to charge them as adults…give them a life long record as a sexal offender and still treat it like the case as if they were children….there just
13 years old and every thing is a secret.
There is something wrong with the whole
thing…sounds like this is “selective prosicution”.


Well I personally know these boys. Actually they are my best friends. I have been there for them through this entire situation and I think its ridiculous. I have been to every hearing, every trial you know through thick and thin. I think whoever would do this to two great, funny boys is so sick. And it really scares me what this world is coming to. But these boys during school are just the funniest boys and when they left are school seriously was so quiet and sad and nobody would even like smile. Hopefully this whole thing will be over on the 20th.=)

Cody Jarrett

A lot of money was wasted on 2 breast-grabbing butt slappers. And all the judge had them do is apologize to the victims that wanted no part of the trial, but showed up every day to listen to the motions before the court. I wonder who pressured the victims to renege on their initial answers? Well at least the lawyers made a lot of money. When does the book and movie come out on TV?

Never Yet Melted » Charges Against Oregon Kids Dropped

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