There are finally some professionals weighing in on the recent case in Georgia where an 11-year-old girl accused three boys, ages 9 and 8-years-old, of rape and kidnapping. The article is interesting in that the only way in which rape is defined is as girls being victims:
Sally Thigpen, statewide coordinator for Stop It Now! Georgia, a public health campaign targeting child sexual abuse, agrees the problem is a growing one. There’s no single cause, she said. Some children may be repeating behavior they’ve experienced. Others may be influenced by repeated exposure to pornography.
“Sexual assault by children against other children is way more under-reported than sexual assaults committed by adults,” Thigpen said.
While the behavior may not be isolated, such acts are rarely prosecuted, particularly among children so young. But Medlin said she has dealt with several rape cases involving children under 10 years old, most referred to her by juvenile judges or the Georgia Department of Family and Children Services.
Georgia’s criminal code defines rape as “any penetration of the female sex organ by the male sex organ.” While it’s difficult for many to fathom children so young engaging in such activity, it can, and does, happen.
“Little boys can get erections,” Thigpen said. Medlin concurs that children can get aroused by sexual material. “Children are capable of having sexual feelings,” she said. “They can experience the same [physical] sensations an adult does.”
However, there are professionals who do share my skepticism about this case and whether rape actually occurred, assuming any sexual activity occurred at all:
Some experts believe the case doesn’t belong in the court system.
“Forcible fondling between children is miles apart from what we think of as rape,” said Frank Zimring, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley. He has authored books and papers on child legal issues. “The motivation, the sophistication, the degree to which it is sexual … it’s not in the same league.”
Charging the children with assault may be more appropriate, Zimring said. “But considering the ages, and relationships between the children, I’m skeptical,” he said. “It seems like this should be discussed without involving a sexual component.”
Child psychologist Elizabeth Ellis also disputes whether boys that age are capable of rape, in the adult context. “This whole case is rather mind-boggling,” Ellis said. “If the boys did anything, it’s more likely to be grabbing and groping. To act in such a coordinated fashion just seems far-fetched. Eight- and 9-year-olds aren’t really capable of conspiring to commit a crime.”
As I stated in my previous post about this case, I have great difficulty believing this girl is telling the truth. It is not impossible for her to make up such a lie and to sustain it for some time. A few years ago three 11-year-old girls claimed that a homeless man raped them. He spent three months in jail until one of the girls admitted to lying just to cover up her and the other girls’ truancy. One wonders what reason the Georgia girl has for making up such claim. Nevertheless, it is not impossible or unusual for girls her age to fabricate something of this magnitude:
Ellis, a former counselor at a rape crisis center, said young girls in the 8 to 13 age range sometimes fabricate stories about sexual assaults.
“I get about one a year among my patients,” she said. “There’s something about our culture that seems to love sexual abuse victims.”
A 1989 study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found rates of false allegations made by children range between 2 percent and 8 percent. However, the rate of reported sexual abuse cases that are never substantiated is between 50 percent to 65 percent. For children ages 6 to 12, the rate of false allegations is 4.3 percent. The rate rises with the onset of adolescence.
Granted, the study is fairly old. However, the last part is worthy of note. The rate rises with the onset of adolescence. It would be interesting to know the gender breakdown of the study, though given its age one could assume that the only gender polled was female. While 4.3 percent is not a high number, when one considers the potential results of a false allegation, particularly when made against another child, it is not a rate that should easily be dismissed.
While I cannot say for certain that the girl’s accusation is false, the fact that professionals who work with child offenders find the accusation questionable at the very least should be an indication that something is off about this case.