Boys Aged 10 and 11 Convicted of Attempted Rape as Apologists Deny Assault Was Possible

by Cara on May 25, 2010

in assholes, courts, Europe, International, media, misogyny, paternalism, patriarchy, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls

Trigger Warning for rape apologism. Linked articles contain descriptions of sexual assault.

Out of the U.K. comes an extremely disturbing case in which two young boys, aged 10 and 11, have been convicted of attempting to rape an 8-year-old girl.

I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

The case raises numerous ethical conundrums and requires a nuanced response. At one point during the trial, the victim recanted and claimed that she had invented the story — whether she was telling the truth during this recantation or responding to pressure from the defense’s cross examination is unclear, and was ultimately up to the jury to decide. Many are also arguing that the case was dealt with hugely inappropriately, that a full fledged criminal trial for boys so young was absurd, ugly, a display of society’s worst impulses, and a travesty of the judicial system.

And on that last point, I actually pretty strongly agree. I believe that the ideal goal of all judicial processes should not be punishment, but rehabilitation. Rehabilitation is not always possible. And the systems we currently have in place for rehabilitation are frequently flawed or abysmally failing. But if there is anyone, anyone at all, who is capable of being rehabilitated, any sex offender who can successfully make the decision to not commit sexual violence again, a child of this age has to be it. That doesn’t minimize or excuse the violence committed against the victim — in fact, I believe that it is a much greater dishonor to a victim’s suffering and trauma to throw up our hands and say that we can’t prevent the same thing from being done to somebody else, when there is indeed a very, very great chance that we can.

Trying these children as adults and ultimately putting them on the sex offender registry list instead of working with them through various means to ensure that they realize that what they did was wrong and lose any desire to ever do it to anyone else ever again, I think, was absolutely the wrong move.

I also think that my stance is a vastly different one from that displayed by many commentators, who seem to think that these boys were treated inappropriately by the judicial system not because of their age and high likelihood of being able to be successfully rehabilitated, but because they think that the boys’ ages mean that what they did wasn’t a big deal, doesn’t count, or couldn’t have possibly happened.

One writer who expressed this view in a rather notable way is Philip Johnston of the Daily Telegraph. In his column, he opines:

Consider: the two boys must be pre-pubescent, so how could there have been any sexual motivation behind what happened? The cause, surely, was nothing more than the curiosity that young boys and girls have always shown towards each other’s bodies. And even if there was what adults would consider to have been an unhealthy interest shown in the sexual organs, that is most likely due to the imagery that rains down on our children every day from television or the internet.

The first thing that strikes you about this case is how incredible it is that it even came to a trial at the Old Bailey – or anywhere else, for that matter. Which part of “they were children” does the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) not understand? Why, indeed, did the authorities respond to a story of rape from an eight-year-old, who cannot possibly know what it means?

Oh, Mr. Johnston, your privilege is showing. I assure you, there are sadly countless eight-year-old girls all over the world — and eight-year-old boys, and children of other genders, too — who may not be able to define the word “rape” for you, but know a hell of a lot more about what it means than you ever could. And you should be infinitely grateful for that, rather than using it as the basis for snide remarks. I think that “children are too young to know about sexual matters, so why should we believe them when they report sexual violence to us?” is the most shockingly irresponsible thing I’ve seen in print in a very, very long time.

Johnston also seems terribly confused about what constitutes sexual violence, and is under the impression that the perpetrator must glean sexual satisfaction from hir crime in order for it to “count.” I’m not being sarcastic when I say that I’m confident that in his world view, crimes such as obstetric rape, rape committed by straight men against other men or by straight women against other women, sexual assault by gay men against women, and so on, fall under the category of something else entirely. Because clearly, it is the view of the perpetrator that matters most, not the experience of the victim. I also wonder how far into prudish denial he is, if he thinks that children at that age do not have sexual selves or ever masturbate or experience arousal.

Skipping over the section where Johnston argues that kids who use bigoted slurs should be protected more than the marginalized children who are harmed by them (and coyly expresses his view that homophobia is an invented phenomenon), he goes on to argue:

The boys were virtually under the legal age of criminal responsibility, and while children can of course act in a criminal way, when it comes to sexual behaviour we must surely be mindful of motive. Rape is carried out both to exert power and for sexual gratification. Since when has idle, child-like interest been a sex crime? If they had hurt the girl then they could have been charged with assault. Now, astonishingly, the boys are to have their names placed on the Sex Offender Register – though, as Mr Justice Saunders, the trial judge, said, it is not clear what that will mean for children of this age.

The two are the youngest boys ever charged with rape in this country (and possibly anywhere else). There must be an explanation for that: previous generations would not have put children on trial in this way. We seem to cosset our offspring more than ever, yet treat them as though they were grown-ups for merely behaving like children.

Again, I disagree with the way that this case has been handled. I think that better methods for handling this type of situation, which unfortunately will undoubtedly occur again, need to be developed right now. But the fact that this case was handled very, very poorly does not in any way suggest that non-consensual sexual touching of another person is merely children behaving like children.

Indeed, the vast majority of us get through our entire childhoods without sexually assaulting other children. And those of us who really are as genuinely curious as Johnston seems to think that these boys were managed to express and act out such natural curiosity in a way that didn’t infringe on another child’s rights or force another child to grant unwanted access to hir body.

There is a line — a really big, bright red one, actually — between acknowledging that there is not a one size fits all appropriate response to sexual offenders regardless of specific circumstances, and outright rape apologism. It is possible to say that 10 and 11 year old boys probably don’t deserve to be branded for life without completely excusing what they did. And it’s absolutely necessary to say that while they don’t deserve to be branded for life, they desperately do need help, rather than to just brush aside what they did as acceptable because of age and all the sex on TV.

We can argue that this case was handled inappropriately — and as I believe that if the boys are forced into detention their likelihood of recidivism will skyrocket, even dangerously — without claiming that certain bodily violations are inconsequential. Indeed, I argue that we must, if we actually desire to stop sexual violence, rather than simply decide who is and isn’t worthy of being punished.

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{ 24 comments }

1 GP May 25, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Thank you for this. I read about the conviction today and while I wasn’t at all sure it was wrong, something didn’t feel right about it either and the comment in the telegraph made it even worse. Hearing someone else say what I’ve been thinking helps.

2 SunlessNick May 25, 2010 at 4:04 pm

And most of the comments seem to agree with him (at least by the time I gave up on reading them).

3 Catriona May 25, 2010 at 5:31 pm

This is an utter disgrace. I was shocked this was publicized or even made it to court. This is clearly outrageous, exploitative and not in any way child protective. How can this have been allowed to happen.

4 Clarence May 25, 2010 at 9:18 pm

A. The boys could have been convicted of rape. They were convicted of the lesser charge of attempted rape. I don’t know how juries operate in Britain, but if I was a juror here in the states and I knew a sex offender registry was involved I would have never voted to convict.

B. British rape definitions vary quite a bit from American rape definitions. Last I heard, less than 2 years ago, it was impossible under British law for a female to rape a male because rape involves penetration only and only with a sex organ. I’ve read three accounts of this story in various British papers but I’m still not sure how what they did could have been called rape or attempted rape instead of something like attempted sexual assault.
C. Since you admit they might very well be innocent it’s kind of disgusting that there is a very real possibility that for a consensual game of “show me yours, I’ll show you mine”, something I did as a child with a girl who was my best friend back at the age of 8 or thereabouts, they will be placed on a registry where they have a very real chance of having their lives ruined.

At most what they did deserves some kind of rehabilitative punishment, not this. I’m glad you are at least fair minded enough to see that.

5 Cara May 25, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Aaaaaaannnndddd, this is what I get for not automatically putting on moderation someone who came to my blog specifically for the purpose of ranting about false rape accusations.

Any convicted party “might” be innocent. I’m not going to use the word “alleged” even in case of a conviction just because there is always a “might.” I’m also not sure what that has to do with anything in my post. But thank you for the compliment! I hate when random dudes whose only two comments on blog are about concern over false accusations don’t see me as “fair minded”!

6 Tamora Pierce May 26, 2010 at 3:59 pm

Children unfamiliar with rape? Is he out of his MIND? These boys learned about it somewhere–at home, from television or movies, somewhere. One of them has been assaulted or witnessed a sexual assault, that’s for certain.

Yes, rape is for power–not necessarily sexual desire. Plenty of rapists do not have an orgasm, or at least, not at that time. One of these two wanted power over the girl and his friend, and he got it both ways, by getting his friend to join in and by assaulting the girl when she made it plain she was unwilling.

No, I would not try these kids as adults or put them on the Sex Offender register. By the time their brains finish changing at adulthood, even they won’t be able to recognize themselves. But rape at this age is a very bad warning sign and they need to be removed from their homes and treated for it, until educated people who don’t run a juvie mill are satisfied they are no longer a danger to others.

And that girl–what happens to her? This smug SOB is saying what the boys did to her was play, it wasn’t serious. She had a part of her that was interesting and secret pried open by strangers; she was forced to talk about her experience in public; she was baffled by crafty attorneys, and now she’s forced to hear how she recanted on the stand and got those poor boys in trouble? I hope someone’s looking after her, because the media doesn’t seem to care!

7 wiggles May 26, 2010 at 4:55 pm

As bad a rep Britain has lately for rape apologism and victim-blaming (worse than the U.S. even, which is quite the towering accomplishment), you’d think these columnists and commenters would want to strap on those thinking caps before they get to typing.

8 GabrielD May 26, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I want to point out to that guy at the Telegraph that I hit puberty at 9. the possibility that these two had already started puberty should not be brushed aside. I’m not saying that they had, but that we should not assume they had not.

I also agree that rehabilitation was the route I would have gone in this case. I disagree with how the “Justice System” has increasingly begun to treat children and youth as adults, branding them sex offenders for life, trying them as adults, giving them adult sentences and refusing to consider counselling and other methods first before ruining a child’s life forever. I hope that an appeal can reverse this decision and get these two (three) the counselling and/or education they obviously need. Thank you for bringing this into the discussion.

9 Matthew Smith May 26, 2010 at 5:55 pm

This whole case seems really unlikely to me as well, but it is theoretically possible for boys that age to not be pre-pubescent, but it’s pretty unusual – kids are getting mature younger nowadays and this must apply to boys as well as girls. In any case, they were found guilty of attempted rape rather than rape itself.

These columnists are basically second-guessing the jury – most if not all of them weren’t there in court and didn’t hear the evidence. The judge was asked to dismiss the case when the girl said she actually wasn’t raped, and he didn’t so obviously he thought there was something to it.

10 Jas May 26, 2010 at 8:06 pm

Children of any age can commit acts of sexual violence, even if they gain no sexual gratification from said acts. I knew a boy, aged 11, who forced another, age 10, to give him a blow job. Neither was seeking sexual gratification, I believe, but the first used the knowledge that sexual domination equals power to subvert the physical rights of the second. When I found out about this, I was far too young and inexperienced to report anything to the police, or to encourage the assaulted boy to report it.
While the first boy may not have meant it sexually, the second will now have the shame and the humiliation of forced sexual contact on him for the rest of his life. And he had to live with the whispers of neighborhood children gossiping about him until his family moved away.
I was simply relieved that it had been someone else, and not my little sister (who was close in age and hung out with the boys) who’d been forced. Because the 11-year-old might have ended up dead.

11 SunlessNick May 26, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Why, indeed, did the authorities respond to a story of rape from an eight-year-old, who cannot possibly know what it means?

I also note that his assumption of this girl’s inability to comprehend rape means she must be lying, not that she lacked the tools to imagine a story like this in order to lie about it.

12 Quercki May 26, 2010 at 8:47 pm

Rape is about power-over, not sex.
When my daughter was 5 or 6, there was a boy she had complained about that was bothering her. I suggested that she avoid him, and I asked his father to please make sure the boy was supervised. Later, she and I were walking toward each other about 100 feet away. The boy was at right angles about 40 feet away when he found a big stick. He picked it up, ran over and hit her with it. I couldn’t get there quick enough to stop him. When I found and told his father, the man said, “What did she do to him?”

That day the boy was hitting a girl with a stick for no reason. I suspect that he moved on to raping them.

13 Katrina May 26, 2010 at 9:14 pm

Note: I just want to warn that a few of the articles upset me because I was also taken advantage of my older children when I was about 6 years old. I would love to be told how I’m wrong and jumping to conclusions due to my own past, but I doubt that.

I have seen various forms of this story that include and exclude various bits of information. One article on the bbc news website says that the girl’s younger sister and 5 year old friend both said the boys were hurting the 8 year old girl. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8677779.stm) Another article on dailymail says that not only did the boys rape the 8 year old but wanted to do the same to her younger sister. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1277790/Two-boys-10-raped-8-year-old-girl-park-Hayes-west-London.html) Does anyone know if there were in fact two witnesses who knew the girl was being raped by the two boys and went to get parents? Or if the two boys did in fact request the 5 year old friend to get the 8 year old girl’s sister for them?

Not to mention an article at times online that says the girl agreed with the prosecution that is was not rape and she just didn’t want to get in trouble. (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article7125357.ece) Does anyone else want to know how an 8 year old thought, “Hmm….I don’t want my mom to think I’m naughty; So I’ll cry rape and get out of trouble.” Seriously….she’s 8. How would she know that saying the boys raped her would get her out of trouble? Women don’t come out of the womb thinking: crying rape = promiscuity without slut title. I’m not even going to get into the fact that a child as young as 8 can’t consent to sex, even if the sex is with other children.

Due to the variations in the story, potentially missing witnesses, and the fact that the girl was crossed examined until she was exhausted makes me cringe. I can’t make a 100% accurate judgment based on facts, but my gut says this girl was raped and the case was not handled properly at any point in time. I think neither the girl or the two boys were helped by this trial or the results of this trial.

I know this is more along the lines of a rant than a response to an article, but I greatly dislike how this case was handled.

14 Alyson May 26, 2010 at 10:51 pm

When I was seven, I was raped by a ten-year-old boy. I know first hand what children can be capable of. Was he just “playing around” when I said “NO” and begged him to stop? Was it “childhood curiosity” when he held me down and violated me? No, Philip Johnson, it was not. It was a real live rape, Mr. Johnson, and I cried every night for years. It’s difficult to put into words how insulting I find this article. What’s really “astonishing and depressing” is how truly ignorant people can be.

15 Alyson May 26, 2010 at 10:54 pm

I agree. Like hell would any little girl cry rape to get out of trouble. For seven years I was too ashamed to tell anyone what happened to me because I was afraid no one would believe me and that I WOULD get in trouble.

16 Rebecca May 27, 2010 at 4:10 am

Thank you. This is a great article.

17 Ruth May 27, 2010 at 7:16 am

I’m going to go and be sick now.
Really, this makes me physically ill.

18 Sunset May 27, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Stories like this make me wonder a lot of things. Where did boys this age learn this kind of thing? What’s going on in their homes? We don’t know here, but age-inappropriate sexual behavior is one of the classic signs of abuse in children.

19 Anna May 28, 2010 at 7:36 am

‘A. The boys could have been convicted of rape. They were convicted of the lesser charge of attempted rape. I don’t know how juries operate in Britain, but if I was a juror here in the states and I knew a sex offender registry was involved I would have never voted to convict.’

It’s genuinely fucking amazing how you can decide that with an admittedly poor knowledge of the British legal system and NOT HAVING BEEN AT THE TRIAL. I sincerely hope you never get within five miles of a trial involving violence against women – if the poor dudez will end up on some sort of registry, anyway. Being on the sex offenders registry is obviously too harsh a punishment for, y’know, being a sex offender.

20 Sunset May 28, 2010 at 3:28 pm

I ad least understand the sentiment. I don’t know how the British legal system, but it appears they do have a sex offender registry. Would I have a problem putting an adult male on the sex offender registry? No. But I don’t like the idea of a young boy being on it for life. Like Cara said, I would much rather these boys be put on supervision and theraputic intervention to teach them how to interact with girls.

21 Acey May 29, 2010 at 1:23 am

I was sexually assaulted several times and raped by a 17 year old when I was seven – I am sure I need not even qualify that. When I was eight, I was sexually assaulted and raped by a 12 year old babysitter several times. When I was eight, I was raped by an 11 or 12 year old boy. But I often wonder if others think that those incidents carried about by the 12 year olds were more about “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”. When, in fact, it was sexual assault and I still carry the burden of trauma. Still, I too believe in rehabilitation where possible and I wish that something could be done to rehabilitate the boys in the story.

22 Rachael May 29, 2010 at 10:42 pm

Unbelievable. One of the earliest things we teach children is “Keep your hands to yourself.” I most kids at the ages 10-11 understand the gravity of breaking that rule.

We may not know exactly what happened, but it’s incredibly naive to think that children are not capable of understanding the seriousness of sexual assault.

23 minna May 31, 2010 at 10:52 am

The son of a family friend was molesting girls he knew from the age of seven. That behaviour went away with puberty. But the harm he did to those girls didn’t.

24 Anemone June 1, 2010 at 4:33 pm

There are a few kids who are already hardened criminals by the time they reach puberty, except that they’re unlikely to have been caught and tried, because of their age. I think a lot of dangerous violent behaviour at that age gets ignored. So I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both of those boys deserved to be on a sex offender registry.

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