Hands are friendly,
Hands can help,
Sometimes it's best, best, best, best, best,
To keep your hands to yourself.
Apparently, these boys missed that grade school singalong. Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison were caught earlier this year running through the halls of their middle school, slapping girls on the butt; Mashburn is also accused of touching a girl's breast. They were arrested and spent five days in juvie. Charges of felony sex abuse were eventually dropped, but the 13-year-olds now face potential jail time and having to register for life as sex offenders.
That's right, sex offenders for life. I don't want to diminish what they did; it was a violation against those girls that might have been seriously traumatic. It's also deserving of serious punishment. But should they really serve prison time or spend the rest of their lives listed on a sex offender registry?
Coincidentally, the most recent issue of the New York Times Magazine had an excellent cover story about kids -- both boys and girls -- who have met that exact fate as punishment for everything from a butt grab to rape. Some of these kids seem naturally curious or determined boundary testers; others seem on the fast track to San Quentin. As the article suggests, it's pretty easy to categorize offenses on the extremes of that spectrum, but a lot fall somewhere in between.
This hardly seems like one of those shades-of-gray cases, though. Mashburn gave ABC News an explanation that, if true, suggests adult intervention was needed long before. He said butt slapping was a common greeting among both boys and girls at the school and compared it to a secret handshake. (As a fellow Broadsheeter snarked in an e-mail thread: "Well. Secret's out!") In a police report, a female student seconded that description, saying, "It's like a handshake we do."
It's reasonable to expect a 13-year-old to know that you don't shake hands by ... smacking someone. But there seems something, well, predatory about grouping two middler schoolers who participate in an alleged schoolwide ritual like this with, say, a 17-year-old repeat rapist under the lifelong title of "sex offender."