Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Steak-Knife Fugitive

Every once in a while we get busy (I'm sure you know the feeling) and something slides under the radar that we mean to address at the time but never get around to. Eventually, if that something is such a thing of enough importance, we'll revisit it later, or perhaps again and again and again, until you get so sick of it you want to puke. This is one of those things we meant to write about at the time, but never got around to. It's one of those things we just couldn't let go without mentioning it. Even though the original event happened in December of 2007, it snuck under the radar in many places and will probably be new to most of you reading this.

You see, a 5'th grader at Sunrise Elementary School in Florida, packed a lunch for a special outing at school. And in this lunch she packed a steak. (Which could be a story in itself. I'm lucky if I get a soggy, crushed PB & J in my lunches, but that's a whole new article.) In this lunch where her mother packed her a steak, she also packed her daughter a little steak knife for which to cut it with. That's when all hell broke loose.

When teachers discovered the girls’ attempts to eat her steak with this "dangerous weapon," they called the police on her. No joke. The Police responded, and Florida Police, having nothing better to do than to scare the living daylights out of little girls, forcefully handcuffed her, arrested her, and took the crying, distraught child to a juvenile detention facility. She was kept in a cell until her mother retrieved her, and was also suspended from school for 10 days, under the guise of "bringing a weapon onto school grounds." (Me thinks the real reason behind all of this is that the teachers were just jealous...they were all packing Lunchables.)

Sort of reminds you of that KFC commercial, doesn't it? The one where the lady is trying to eat lunch in her office and a coworker screams "she's got a knife!" as everyone ducks behind their cubicle? The school of course cited its no tolerance policy, which essentially means no tolerance for reasonable thinking. 0-tolerance policies are just another way of saying "we're sorry, but our staff possess the intellect of a retarded chimpanzee, and can't possibly be expected to use independent thinking and reason to discern benign situations from legitimate threats. These types of stories happen periodically, but what's really disturbing about this incident is how far it was taken.

Police? Physical force? Handcuffs? Prison cells at juvy hall? Seriously? What is this girl, like 6 foot 8, 295 pounds and the attitude of a hardened criminal? Wouldn't a simple call to the parents have sufficed? Such actions are not benign little procedures, you know. In our society, we've gotten into a bad little habit of thinking of abuse as "things." (Rape, physical abuse, molestation, etc.) But it's really the elements of such things, not the things themselves, which actually matter. Rape isn't harmful because it's rape. It's harmful because it inherently involves pain, fear, conflict, force, a lack of regard for the victim, and a loss of control. The more pronounced such elements are, the more severe the harm. It has little to do with the sex act. Another situation without the sex but that produces these same elements can be every bit as harmful.
What these officials did may not have qualified as child abuse according to our prejudicial category of "things," Yet the conflict, force, fear, anxiety, loss of control, imprisonment, embarrassment and social hurt any child would feel in such a situation makes our labels irrelevant. Those involved can pretend they were merely following procedure, but in real-world terms, this was nothing short of child abuse.

We hope this little girl recovers Ok. We also hope her parents have decided to sue. It’s discouraging to know that school officials would ever behave so nonsensical, and in a way that blatantly injures a child who is merely trying to eat her lunch.

Story derived from (Fox News, 'The Big Story,' 12-18-07, 4:00-5:00) For more information on the laments of abuse and how things not labeled as abuse compare to those that are, read our upcoming book 'Child Maltreatment: A Cross-comparison,' due out shortly.

For information on child safety issues visit

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