As the Herman Cain sexual harassment story recedes from the headlines, a different flavor of jaw-dropping sexual harassment charge has taken its place and sparked fevered reaction in the media and blogosphere. According to a Boston Globe report, 7-year-old Mark Curran is being investigated for sexual harassment for kicking another boy.
News reports suggest that Mark and another child got into a fight on a school bus on November 22. The other child choked Mark, who responded by kicking or punching him in the groin. Tasha Lynch, the boy’s mother, allegedly encountered a lot of resistance from school officials as she sought to understand what happened during and after the fight.
Lynch reported that Leslie Gant, Mark’s interim school principal, sent home a letter that threatened to put Mark on suspension or transfer him out of the school for endangering the safety of a student and for sexual harassment. Lynch was understandably apoplectic. She voiced her outrage to the Globe: “[Gant] said ‘Mark hit [the other boy] in the testicles. That’s assault. That’s sexual assault.’ I said: ‘The kid choked my son first, and that’s called attempted murder. [Mark] said he couldn’t breathe.'”
The story touched off a sea of chatter in the blogosphere. The Huffington Post reported that this sexual harassment charge came on the heels of another similar case, in which a 9-year-old child from North Carolina was suspended for school for two days for “sexually harassing” a substitute teacher by calling him “cute.”
Although it’s almost never a good idea to prejudge cases without hearing all the evidence, it seem clear that some folks are testing the elasticity of “sexual harassment” (and “attempted murder”, for that matter), especially when and by applying the allegations to children. It’s frustrating because stories like these provide cannon fodder for critics of sexual harassment laws. These critics can highlight stories of a 7-year-old getting tarred with sexual harassment allegations and use them to make broad-brushed critiques of sexual harassment laws in general. In truth, thousands of women and men benefit tremendously from having these laws in place to protect them against unfair and often times scary co-worker and employer misbehavior.
But just as it is important to have laws against certain specific behaviors and public awareness of such practices and their due consequences, it is also important to be accurate when describing and drawing attention to unwanted behavior. Bullying and schoolyard fights, when they are just that, should be called just that.
If you or someone who you care about has been harassed or mistreated at work, get professional and seasoned assistance in properly classifying the unwanted behavior so that you can know your legal options with regards to stopping and/or enacting consequences for the perpetrator. Connect with the team at Joseph & Kirschenbaum at www.jhllp.com or (212) 688-5640.