Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The truth about twelve-year-old girls and the world

“09-28-2010 2:59:13 PM EST
At twelve, girls are still children. They act like children, talk like children and think like children. And they are helpless like children. You grossly misrepresent the abilities of twelve year old girls, and portray them as older than their years. It is stories such as yours that destroy childhood as a time of innocence. Why do you people have to dwell on the trials of the few and apply them to all? No twelve year old should have to think about this stuff. Why write it?”  -- a comment left on my website

So it is wrong to portray in writing or other art forms the reality many twelve-year-old girls live – is this what you’re saying?

As adults whose memories of our own adolescences grow ever hazier and distant, we might not like the thought of it, but the reality is adolescent girls need to think about those things. Attempting to keep them ignorant (or remain ignorant ourselves of the plain fact that they're not) only teaches them that there is no real difference between acting on your own desire and being forced to act out someone else's.  If the only message to young girls is “Sex is bad; don't think about it at all, until I tell you otherwise," despite their own normal adolescent desires, lessons about self-determination and consent -- crucial information to have a few years down the line, when they're legally capable of making the distinction for themselves -- are not part of the picture.

And let’s face it, most twelve and thirteen year old girls are already the focus of too much adult oriented sexuality as it is.  Should we not equip them to understand what they face? Or shall we let them live in the shadows of our own denial and pray they will somehow – through the atmosphere itself, I suppose soak up enough savvy to deal with it?

The photograph to the right is of a twelve-year-old girl, an image seized by police during a raid of a "modeling" agency. It is one of several thousand.

You write girls of twelve act like children, talk like children, think like children and are helpless like children.  Twelve is legally still a child, no doubt, but are children necessarily helpless and unable to understand and manipulate the world around them? 

I decided to peruse world events keying in on twelve-year-old girls in the news. Here are a few stories:

In Bend, Oregon, Mimi Ausland, 12, wanted to help feed hungry dogs housed in the hard-pressed to keep up with costs animal shelters in her state. In order to do this, she created freekibble to try and do just that. Every day, people enter the site and answer the daily dog trivia question. Every answer, right or wrong earns a donation of 10 kibbles to the Human Society. In the first five weeks, freekibble has generated enough kibble to feed 560 dogs for one day. Is Mimi a voiceless and helpless child of twelve? I don’t think so.

In the Chilean waters of the Archipelago of Juan Fernandez, some 420 miles off shore, lives a twelve-year-old girl on Robinson Crusoe Island. One morning, she noticed a vibration of her bed. Everyone else was asleep in the early morning hours. She looked out the window and noticed the sea was moving the boats in a strange way, and ran to the village square and sounded the alarm bell, waking the 700 inhabitants of the islands only town, San Juan Bautista. It was just in time. While the villagers scrambled into the hills, the giant tsunami struck, destroying everything in its path. Was Martina Maturana incapable of understanding or implementing a plan of action? Most definitely not.

In Long Island, New York, Miriam Starobin saved the life of Allyson Golden – with a little help from Sponge Bob Square Pants.  Allyson choked on her gum while laughing over something funny. Allyson stopped breathing and turned blue. Without thinking, Miriam pulled her friend up and gave her three or four Heimlich maneuvers.  The gum shot out of Allyson’s mouth and landed five feet away.  Miriam said she remembered an episode involving Sponge Bob’s neighbor, Squidward and a choking episode she’d seen years earlier.  "It was like a flash right in my eyes. I saw in my head Squidward with his clarinet lodged in his throat and then SpongeBob does the Heimlich maneuver and the clarinet comes flying out of his mouth," she said. "I had no clue what I was doing until it was done." Another helpless child of twelve – yes.

The Seattle Times reported a conspiracy by two twelve-year-old girls to cause physical injury to their teacher. Their weapon of choice? Strawberry lip gloss. Yes – they smeared the teacher’s water bottle and coffee cup to prompt an allergic reaction in their teacher who has a severe allergy to strawberries.  Why? A progress report was due, and one of the girls lacked a parental signature and the girls wanted to distract the teacher. It worked – for a while. The teacher did have a reaction – watery eyes and shortness of breath and went home early. A fellow student turned in the girls – and the police were called.  Nothing my heroine concocted up as a plan came anywhere near this true life one.

Apparently, law enforcement doesn’t share the above commentor’s view of childhood.

In Queens, Alexa Gonzalez, age twelve, was led out of her school in handcuffs and detained for hours at the local police precinct. Her crime? Doodling on her desk with an erasable marker.  Alexa is the latest in a string of city students who have been cuffed for minor infractions. In 2007, 13-year-old Chelsea Fraser was placed under arrest for writing "okay" on her desk at Intermediate School 201. And in 2008, 5-year-old Dennis Rivera was cuffed and sent to a psych ward after throwing a fit in his kindergarten. Alexa states the fear and humiliation was overwhelming. "I cried for hours." At least, she says, her arrest has taught her not to doodle on her desk.

The police don’t see twelve-year-old girls as helpless or lacking the ability to plan nefarious acts.

Consider this story.

It was 7:45 PM on a balmy Galveston, Texas evening when the power went out in twelve-year-old  Dymond Milburn’s home.  Her mother sent her out to flip the main breaker switch.  There she was, standing in her own front yard, when an unmarked van screeched to a stop and four men, dressed in ordinary street clothes jumped out. One shouted “You’re a prostitute. You’re coming with us.” The girl grabbed hold of a tree and shouted, “Daddy! Daddy!” The four men commenced to beat her. When her father arrived and tried to defend his daughter, they beat him too. They were police officers, undercover, responding to a complaint two blocks away of two white prostitutes soliciting a black male. Dymond, an African American pre-teen, eventually made it to a hospital that night and was treated for her injuries. As if this wasn’t bad enough, three weeks later, she was arrested at school for assaulting a police officer. So was her father.  You can read the whole story here, so I won’t give any further detailst Though I do wonder how threatening four male police officers found this pubescent girl, and why, instead of apologizing for the mistake, they felt compelled to lay further charges. 

Here’s another astounding story.

New York: The music industry has turned its big legal guns on Internet music-swappers — including a 12-year-old New York City girl who thought downloading songs was fun. Brianna LaHara said she was frightened to learn she was among the hundreds of people sued yesterday by giant music companies in federal courts around the country. "I got really scared. My stomach is all turning," Brianna said at the city Housing Authority apartment where she lives with her mom and her 9-year-old brother. "I thought it was OK to download music because my mom paid a service fee for it. Out of all people, why did they pick me?" The Recording Industry Association of America (search) — a music-industry lobbying group behind the lawsuits — couldn't answer that question.

Apparently, dear commenter, the world at large doesn’t share your beliefs as to the innocence, the helplessness or the lack of ability of twelve-year-old girls.

But back to the sad and sorry state of true affairs for twelve-year-old girls in this incomprehensible world of ours.  My story is undermining the innocence of young girls, this commenter says. Perhaps we should all consider these stories.

Dallas, Texas: A sixth grader danced nude at Diamonds Cabaret for a two-week period, but that is not enough to shut the place down. "If they're not shut down, it's like they're giving them permission to have underage girls dancing and working in that club," said the mother of the 12-year-old. The mother is not being named because her daughter, a runaway at the time of the incident, is considered a sexual assault victim.

Minnesota: A 12-year-old girl in Minnesota has been charged with drunk driving. The girl met a 19-year-old boy at a party where both were drinking. And for some reason, this guy asked the girl to drive him home. She obliged and on the way, mistook the gas pedal for the brake. She hit a highway sign before skidding into a yard. Amazingly, no one was seriously hurt. But when the cops arrived, they had a lot of head scratching to do. Cause there’s not really a law for this one on the books.

And speaking of the inability of the law to make sense of a situation, here’s another:

Salt Lake City - Utah Supreme Court justices acknowledged that they were struggling to wrap their minds around the concept that a 13-year-old girl could be both an offender and a victim for the same act - in this case, having consensual sex with her 12-year-old boyfriend.  The Ogden, Utah, girl was put in this odd position because she was found guilty of violating a state law that prohibits sex with someone under age 14. She also was the victim in the case against her boyfriend, who was found guilty of the same violation by engaging in sexual activity with her. Randall Richards, the girl's attorney, argued that prosecuting children under a law meant to protect them is illogical.  "A child (victim) cannot also be a perpetrator in the exact same act."

On the international scene, try this one.

A girl is to become Britain's youngest mother after becoming pregnant at 11. She will be 12 years and 8 months when she has the child next month. Jenny Teague, Britain's youngest mother until now, was a month older when she gave birth in 1997. Her boyfriend, 15 has since been charged with rape. Her 34-year-old mother, who gave birth to her youngest child eight months ago, said she was proud of her daughter.

In Yemen, it is legal and common for young girls to marry fully-grown men. But a growing activist movement trying to abolish the practice won a small victory Saturday, when 12-year-old Sally al-Sahabi was granted a divorce from her 26-year-old husband. After four months of begging her husband and petitioning human rights groups, Sally was finally getting her divorce.  Shadda Nasser, Sally's lawyer later said that the only reason the divorce went through was because Nabil had requested it. Sally was beaten and raped as a 10-year-old bride, but her December 2009 petition for divorce had failed.

Lahore (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A 12-year-old  girl died on Friday as a result of physical violence inflicted by her employer, a rich and powerful  lawyer in Lahore.. The authorities are trying to appease people and have pledged that justice shall be done. Pakistani President Zardari has also promised to pay compensation to the family. A concerned religious leader, reported the case of Shazia Bashir, 12, who was employed for the past eight months as a domestic worker in the household of Chaudhry Muhammad Naeem, a lawyer and former president of the Lahore Bar Association. This sad picture accompanied the story.

Turkey: Police have rescued a 12-year-old girl from Syria who was married to a middle aged man in a “bride wealth” exchange after she informed her parents that she had been raped and was forced to use drugs. The girl was handed over to Abdülhakim Doğan in the eastern province of Şanlıurfa for 12,000 Turkish Liras, which was paid to the family in two installments. Daily Radikal reported that 40-year-old Doğan has had 38 criminal convictions against his name prior to his recent arrest for raping and forcing porn and drugs on his wife.

And back here at home in the good old US of A:

Maryland:  A man is accused of forcing a 12-year-old girl from Washington, D.C., to work for him as a prostitute in New Jersey and Maryland. Forty-two-year-old Derwin Smith of Glen Burnie has been charged with human trafficking of a minor and related offenses. He's being held on $3 million bond. Anne Arundel County police say Smith was arrested Monday night at a Laurel hotel by a task force of local and federal law enforcement. The girl told police that Smith kept all the money she made and that he held her against her will.

So my dear commenter, tell me why I should not write a fictional account of a girl’s life that mirrors some of what goes on in this world every day, and everywhere? Did I suggest this story be put in the library of a middle school (junior high school)? No. Though I have targeted women and mature girls -- maturity being a state of mind, not years, my advance readers only included girls as young as sixteen.

I think you do our girls a disservice by labeling them as lacking in ability to plan, to understand the world, to make decisions and take actions to care for themselves. Further, I think you endanger them by desiring to keep them in ignorance of the truths they face. Considering that of the 100,000 American children trafficked each year in the U.S. most are girls with an average age of eleven, and that one in three girls reports sexual abuse by age twelve, there's no doubt the issues they must make sense of are entirely real, and far from rare.

Sincerely yours,


"It is a dangerous world for a girl child." -- Oprah Winfrey, in "The Color Purple."

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  1. It is indeed a dangerous world for teenage girls. I am friends with my friend's daughters and I am amazed at their sexual maturity. I am even more amazed and apalled at the interest these girls get from 20 to 30 year old men, even after they know their age, some of them continue chatting them up!

  2. These days, at least in the U.S. the danger is shared by the men, many of whom do not know the ages of the young women they flirt with. What may start out as a lark for a growing girl testing her new wings (or new breasts) may end up as a life branded as a sex offender for the male. Thanks for the comment Uneditedlifeinfrance.