Playing Doctor, 10-Year-Old Girl Charged with Aggravated Sexual Assault

As reported by New York Daily News, a 10-year-old Houston girl faces charges of aggravated sexual assault after playing doctor with a young boy in her apartment complex.

The girl — identified as “Ashley” — was playing with other children in her apartment complex’s courtyard in April when a witness reported that she inappropriately touched a 4-year-old boy “in his private area,” according to Fox affiliate KRIV.

The family contends Ashley, who was 9 at the time of the incident, is innocent.

It wasn’t until two months later in June when the Houston Police Department began investigating the case.

The then 9-year-old spent four nights in the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center, after the sex crimes unit denied Ashley’s mother the opportunity to attend the 45-minute interview between the girl and authorities.

The charging and detention of ten-year-old Ashley presents a number of procedural questions that have plagued the juvenile justice system since its creation. Title 3 of the Texas Family Code, the Juvenile Justice Code, provides that children, under the age of 10, cannot be charged with or punished for criminal acts. Nine years old when the incident occurred, Ashley falls outside the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, which calls for the accused to be ten-years-old at the time of the alleged offense.

Along with questions of jurisdiction, Ashley was detained for four nights in the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center. The juvenile court typically reserves detention as a last resort for particularly problematic or violent offenders. Ashley, playing doctor, allegedly touched another child inappropriately. But the Houston Police Department (“HPD”) waited two months before investigating charges against Ashley, indicating that HPD didn’t view Ashley as a dangerous or imminent threat to society.

Finally, HPD did not allow Ashley’s mother to accompany her during a 45-minute interview between the girl and authorities. While the Texas Family Code provides that the child must explicitly request counsel, it does not account for the presence of a parent. Ashley, a ten-year-old, couldn’t be expected to request or even ascertain the need for counsel.

The issues of jurisdiction and detention make this case ripe for investigation. Hopefully, this young girl will get the justice she deserves, while also being appropriately punished for the alleged offense.

Court Upholds Law Banning Gay to Straight Therapy for Minors

Last week, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a California law barring psychological treatment aimed at turning gay youth straight. Liberty Counsel, a religious-based legal and public policy group, had filed an injunction against the law before it took effect earlier this year.

In a unanimous opinion, the panel said that attempts to change a minor’s sexual orientation though intense therapy appeared dangerous and that California properly illustrated that gay to straight therapy (aversion therapy) falls outside the realm of the scientific mainstream.

Gay aversion therapy attempts to utilize psychological treatment to rid individuals of homosexuality and replace it with heterosexual desires. Gay aversion therapy uses pseudoscientific tactics to attempt to turn gay individuals straight. These tactics include, in some cases, the application of electric shock therapy to the hands or genitals, nausea inducing drugs simultaneously administered while the patient views homoerotic material, masturbatory reconditioning, visualization, social skills training, psychoanalytic therapy, and spiritual interventions.

The American Psychological Association (the “APA”), the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States, condemns these alternative practices and reaffirms the fact that homosexuality does not classify as a mental disorder.

The APA reports that some individuals have been harmed during these sexual orientation change efforts by an increase in distress and depression. The APA also reports that gay aversion therapy represents a significant cause of distress and negative self-image to those individuals who have participated in therapy but did not shed their homosexuality.

The APA “encourages mental health professionals to provide assistance to those who seek sexual orientation change by utilizing affirmative multiculturally competent and client centered approaches that recognize the negative impact of social stigma on sexual minorities and balance ethical principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence, justice, and respect for people’s rights and dignity.”

In line with the APA’s findings, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that trying to change a minor’s sexual orientation through intense therapy seemed dangerous and that California, through reports, experts and anecdotes involving suicides, substance abuse and other behavior by young therapy recipients, properly showed that aversion efforts have been rejected for good reason.

Judge Susan Graber, one of the judges sitting on last week’s panel, said, “one could argue that children under the age of 18 are especially vulnerable with respect to sexual identity and that their parents’ judgment may be clouded by this emotionally charged issue as well.”

When California’s governor, Jerry Brown, signed the law, he said that those who practice aversion therapy practice “quackery” and that aversion therapy has “no basis in science or medicine.”

On August 19, New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, signed a similar law into effect. The New Jersey law bars any licensed therapist, psychologist, social worker or counselor from using therapies to change the sexual orientation of children under the age of 18.

The New Jersey law, like the California law, comes with its challengers. Liberty Counsel, representing parties that filed a challenge against the New Jersey law, claims that the law does not respect the rights of clients to make decisions about treatment, interferes with a therapist’s First Amendment rights to free speech, and restricts a family’s right to informed consent about the therapeutic options available to help minors “reduce or eliminate their unwanted same-sex attractions, behaviors or identity.”

While the New Jersey law’s fate remains to be seen, the upholding of California’s law banning gay aversion therapy serves as a significant step forward in protecting the rights of homosexual minors, a group often stigmatized in an age of cyber bullying and changes in the legal landscape.

Wednesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Judge Strikes Down Louisiana Law Allowing Kids to Own Guns, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

A Louisiana juvenile court judge rankled the state’s pro-gun activists last week when she struck down portions of a state law allowing minors to carry firearms.

East Baton Rouge Juvenile Court Judge Pamela Taylor Johnson ruled that a law allowing concealed carry for juveniles was unconstitutional, as the statute, which allows Louisiana youth to possess certain firearms, with parental consent, conflicted with an wider law prohibiting juveniles from possessing handguns.

Minority Children Less Likely to be Diagnosed with ADHD, CNN.com

Minority children are far less likely than their white counterparts to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a new study in this week’s journal Pediatrics.

In fact, authors found that African-American children were 69% less likely to be diagnosed, while Hispanic children were 45% less likely to have an ADHD diagnosis.

New HIV Infections Among Children Have Been Reduced by 50% or More in Seven Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, UNAIDS

A new report on the Global Plan towards elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive (Global Plan) has revealed a marked increase in progress in stopping new infections in children across the Global Plan priority countries in Africa.

The report outlines that seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa—Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia—have reduced new HIV infections among children by 50% since 2009. Two others—the United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe—are also making substantial progress. It highlights that there were 130 000 fewer new HIV infections among children across the 21 Global Plan priority countries in Africa––a drop of 38% since 2009.

Hyperconnectivity Found in Brains of Children with Autism, Study Says, HealthCanal

The brains of children with autism show higher-than-normal connectivity along many neural networks, a new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine has found.

The study’s results may contribute to the development of a brain-based test that could be used to diagnose autism at an early stage. The findings, published June 26 in JAMA Psychiatry, were unexpected because they contradict prior reports of reduced brain connectivity in adults with autism.