Sod me! Two six-year-old boys in the US have been charged with sodomy!

And first degree sodomy at that, which applies under Kentucky law when a victim is under 12 years old. In a case from that state, the two first graders “were found in the bathroom performing sexual acts” together, according to a report highlighted last month on Sexnet. As the pair were each other’s “victims”, they had both allegedly committed a Class A felony against a person under 12, for which the available penalty would ordinarily be 50 years in prison.

Even worse, the only media report of the prosecution focuses not on the craziness of bringing the case but on parental shock and horror that kids would do such a thing.

Not that we are entirely sure what “the thing” was. Sodomy is defined in Kentucky law as “deviate sexual intercourse”, which means “any act of sexual gratification involving the sex organs of one person and the mouth or anus of another. It also means penetration of the anus of one person by a foreign object manipulated by another person.” Doctors have long known it’s not uncommon for little kids to try sticking things in each other’s bums, but I’m guessing the boys in this case were caught doing something more obviously sexual. After all, who is going to make a big fuss when an “innocent” explanation is available? It is not clear whether all the acts in question were seen directly but one or both of the boys may have “confessed” anyway.

In most jurisdictions, though, even a clear admission could not have resulted in criminal charges against children so young. A few countries, including India, have a minimum age of criminal responsibility as low as 7. In England, also on the low side in the international table, it is 10. In Canada and the Netherlands it is 12, in Germany and Spain 14, and in all five Scandinavian countries it is as high as 15.

But the US, as so often, is exceptional. Along with a handful of countries including such enlightened outposts as Somalia and Sudan, there are no fewer than 37 US states that specify no minimum age of criminal responsibility at all. Kentucky is one of them.

As for continental Europe, the cultural contrast goes beyond criminal responsibility. Some heretics will remember a couple of blogs here last year, one of them about a four-year-old boy in America dubbed a sex “predator”, the other about the more positive view of child sexuality taken in Scandinavian kindergartens: Being a predator is child’s play; and Mickey and Maria make out in kindergarten.

On another forum, Sexnet, an elderly professor said he was puzzled over the fuss about the American pre-school “predator”. Writing about his childhood in Germany, he said:

I had my first orgasm at 8 when humping a willing naked girl of 6. In the next 3 years, I, some male friends and some girls in the neighborhood (all of the same age) played all kinds of sex games. When, at age 11, we were finally discovered and scolded by our parents, we felt no guilt at all and thought the adults were crazy.

So they were chastised, but that was as far as any punishment went. This was not seen as a police matter and certainly not an occasion for criminal charges.

The four-year-old American “predator” got lucky. There was a police investigation and the kindergarten was closed down (natch!) but he never faced charges. Increasingly, others are less fortunate. In both the US and the UK more and more kids find themselves acquiring a record as a sex offender very early in life. And once that record is there, it stays: the dreaded sex offender registry schemes give a dog a bad name for ever, with devastating effects – as detailed in last years’ Human Rights Watch report, Raised on the Registry.

The 111-page report begins with an account of what happened to one victim of the registry:

Jacob C. was 11 years old and living in Michigan when he was tried in juvenile court for touching, without penetrating, his sister’s genitals. Found guilty of one count of criminal sexual conduct, Jacob was placed on Michigan’s sex offender registry and prevented by residency restriction laws from living near other children.

This posed a problem for his family – Jacob’s parents were separated, his father lived in Florida, and Jacob could not live in the same house as his little sister. As a result, he was placed in a juvenile home. When Jacob was 14 – and still unable to return home – he became the foster child of a pastor and his wife. According to Jacob, the couple helped him to “deal with the trauma” of growing up on the registry.

Since his offense fell under juvenile court jurisdiction, Jacob was placed on a non-public registry. But that changed when he turned 18 during his senior year in high school, and his status as a sex offender became public. Parents of his schoolmates tried to get him expelled and he had to “fight to walk across the stage” at graduation. Jacob attended a local university in Big Rapids, Michigan, but ended up dropping out. “[I was] harassed for being on the registry,” he said. “The campus police followed me everywhere.”

There’s more, much more. Aged 26 when the report came out, Jacob, finds his life is still being massively screwed up by the registry. Thanks to a violation of some impossibly stringent sex offender rules, including reporting daily to the police, he has lost visitation rights to a daughter he now has.

Yet available research, the report points out, indicates that youth sex offenders are among the least likely to reoffend. As a press release for the report said:

Numerous studies estimate the recidivism rate among children who commit sexual offenses to be between 4 and 10 percent, compared with a 13 percent rate for adult sex offenders and a national rate of 45 percent for all crimes.

Also, while some of the offences are serious, you can get on the register for consensual sex with another kid, and for harmless behaviour such as public nudity.

The report concludes with some shocking quotes from those who were raised on the registry:

Once while attempting to register my address, a police officer refused to give me the paperwork and instead stated, “We’re just taking your kind out back and shooting them.”
– Maya R., placed on the registry for an offense committed at age 10. Howell, Michigan.

One time a man from one of those cars yelled “child molester” at me. A week later several bullets were fired from a car driving by. The bullets went through the living room window as my family and me watched T.V.
– Camilo F., registrant since age 14. Gainesville, Florida.

Neighbors harassed our family. We later found out that one of the neighbors shot our family dog.
– Jasmine A., mother of Zachary S., who has been on the registry since age 11. Dallas, Texas.

For sex offenders, our mistake is forever available to the world to see. There is no redemption, no forgiveness. You are never done serving your time. There is never a chance for a fresh start. You are finished. I wish I was executed, because my life is basically over.
– Austin S., who started registering at age 14. Denham Springs, Louisiana.

A big irony in all this is that the kids in question are almost invariably described in legal, medical and political discourse as violent, yet the life- and soul-destroying hostility they face is far more violent than anything most of them have ever done.

Another excellent source on this is defence lawyer Andrew Heller. In a chapter of Tom Hubbard’s recent book Censoring Sex Research, he notes that the US Department of Justice describes sexual “aggression” as starting with three-year-olds, with the most common age of onset as 6 to 9 – which sounds suspiciously like an official state condemnation of all child sexuality.

Heller also reveals that violence of a far more insidious kind than drive-by shootings is endemic within the “treatment” regimes meted out to these kids. Some of it just plain abusive, such as teenagers being made daily to recite creeds such as “I am a paedophile and I am not fit to live in human society…I can never be trusted… Everything I say is a lie…”

Then there is stuff which is not just abusive but sexually abusive. He tells of boys as young as 10 forced to undergo sexual arousal testing in which response to “deviant” stimuli is measured by an erection detector placed around the penis. Programs include the use of aversion therapy in which kids (including girls) are made to inhale vile-smelling ammonia while listening to pornographic taped descriptions of adult-child sex, as an aversion therapy to stop “inappropriate” arousal.

These are the sort of methods that were used on gay men fifty years ago and then abandoned as unethical and dangerous. Yet, according to Heller, “no professional organisation has made any statements rejecting the use of arousal conditioning methods on juveniles and they continue to be used”.

Back to Kentucky. As the case of the six-year-old sodomites was presented on Sexnet only last month, I assumed it was a new case, yet to come to trial. The news report linked above is undated, so I was none the wiser from that. With a bit more digging, though, I found that this was actually a case from February 2005. When I discovered this, I thought about dropping the story from this blog: after all, the report Raised on the Registry is much more recent and it too exposes the awful fact that large numbers of preteens, as well as teens, are being prosecuted as sex offenders these days.

However, apart from the continuing intrinsic interest of such exceptionally young kids facing a sodomy charge in the Kentucky case, there was another reason to retain it as my initial focus: my research turned up a couple of later media reports from May 2005, three months after the charges were laid: Investigation Into Elementary School Sex; and Arrests of boys spark debate.

By this time the case had gone to court and been resolved. The judge had dismissed the charges with the condition that the boys were to undergo treatment.

Not “arousal conditioning”, one hopes. And not registration either, as the earliest for this in the US is the grand old age of 9, according to Raised on the Registry.

We don’t know about the kind of treatment, but one of the reports did give us some insight into why police and prosecutors had felt the need to take such extreme action. They claimed their intention had not been to punish; rather, they needed to charge the boys to determine whether adults had abused one or both of them, triggering their behaviour at school.

Police Chief J. Craig Patterson is quoted as saying, “They are both victims of someone. I want to know: ‘Where did these children learn this?’ ”

You know what? It’s entirely possible this cop actually believed what he was saying. The idea of spontaneous childhood sexuality has been written out of our cultural script so thoroughly that for many people it can no longer be imagined. It has become literally unthinkable.

We know that kids need good sex education; not as much, though, as many ignorant adults in positions of power.