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.

A Practical Program for Children’s Health Rights

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Over the last few weeks I have been very aware of an increasing amount of news articles related to children’s health rights.  I have seen discussions around immunization, court rulings on parent’s ability to opt their children out of treatment, laws passed on medical marijuana availability to children, and if you type in Obamacare and children you will receive around 105 million results. This is not a new issue, but it seems to be trending in a unique way at the moment.

Each of these items is directed to some level at policy.  What rights are protected?  How do we treat children medically compared to adults?  Who should be covered?  These are all valid questions, but primarily coming from a theoretical space, with a few inroads being made into practical application.  Some area schools, however, are doing something very practical that could have more real world effect on the rights of children than many of these overarching policies filtering down through the legal and political systems.

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This year the KIPP Public Schools in Houston, Texas will institute a program called KIPP Care that will locate health care clinics for students on the school campuses.  Nurse practitioners and overseeing pediatricians will be located on campus with the ability to give immunizations, prescribe medicines, conduct physicals and give treatment for a variety of minor and long-term conditions.  The program works with Medicaid, public and private insurance, or offers an inexpensive fee-based option for usage.  The hope is that this program could expand to the broader community in the future.

This is an example of a program that could affect the health rights of children on a very practical day-to-day basis.  Access is one of the major factors in why a family may not go to see a doctor.  This is likely also part of the reason why clinics are becoming more popular for families that a traditional doctors office setting, but even here there are issues.

I recently enrolled my 4-year old in a new school after a move.  As part of that process I needed to get a well child check up and immunizations with all the appropriate documentation.  20 phone calls to medical offices, 4 visits to clinics and 2 discussions with the school later I was finally able to get at least the well child checkup done in order for my child to start school the next week.  It took an additional two weeks to get the immunizations.  Many wasted hours and accumulated stress went into this process.  I am lucky that I have the flexibility both temporally and financially to accommodate the process, but that is not necessarily the case for many families out there.  What would their options be?  Not have their child in school?  Forge a signature? Ignore it and hope the schools record keeping doesn’t pick it up?  An on campus clinic can provide access and convenience in a way that creates a positive situation for the families and children involved rather than a stressor.

Another benefit from this program is a child’s exposure to the medical staff.  Rather than seeing a stranger once every few years for painful shots and uncomfortable check ups, students are able to build a relationship with people they see on and around campus daily.  A practitioner can form a trust in which well-being is the object, which may hopefully grow with the child, promoting a positive relationship with the medical system.

As anyone involved in education can tell you, it doesn’t take much to pull a child away from education.  Distraction, sleepiness, hunger and maybe especially sickness can stop the learning process in its tracks.   We already limit distraction nd feed our students and now, being able to holistically aid a student on campus can be a great help.  If a child is sick, they aren’t sent home to a parent in hopes that they’ll get the treatment they need; they are treated.  Students aren’t removed from class after class and forced to play catch up upon their return; they instead may miss minutes.

This is a child-first practical, hands-on program that can positively effect the health education and–to an extent–family of its students.  In contrast with policies that try to filter down to make a change, with success it may be able to filter up to change policy.

Shine a Light on Human Trafficking

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Many people believe that slavery ended in 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.  While this is of course true and helped to close the door on a dark period in American history, slavery is in fact still a harsh reality in today’s world.  Regarded as a form of modern day slavery, human trafficking, the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of individuals for the purpose of exploitation, is the fastest growing and most profitable area of organized crime in the world.  With approximately 20.9 million victims, human trafficking impacts children and adults alike in cities, countries, and continents all around the world.

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The severity and continued growth of the human trafficking industry caught the attention of Congress and in 2000 they passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which declared all types of human trafficking a federal crime.  The TVPA wasn’t enacted for only prosecutorial reasons, but is also aimed at prevention through public awareness programs.  In 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2011, increasing knowledge and awareness of the issue led to developments in the act and in 2013, President Obama signed the reauthorization of the TVPA, recognizing the magnitude of the international human trafficking problem and reestablishing the important role the TVPA plays in combating it.

While the U.S. government has taken a stance against the human trafficking problem through legislation, campaigns for public awareness and educating citizens on reporting tips can urge individuals to take a stance as well. One such initiative is underway in the city of Houston, one of the principal supply and transport sites for children and adult trafficking victims due to its proximity, demographics, substantial immigrant labor force, and easy access to I-10, the number one route for human trafficking in the United States.  During the month of September, Houston’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month, Mayor Annise Parker vows to provide the pubic with informative facts about the global dilemma as well as educate individuals about ways they can help combat the problem.  Houston’s public awareness campaign, “Shine a Light on Human Trafficking,” is aimed at educating the public on how to recognize signs of human trafficking and encouraging them to report suspicious situations to the appropriate authorities.  Other states, such as Ohio, have recently pledged resources and manpower to establish public awareness campaigns in order to educate the public on the problem of human trafficking.

Long-term education and awareness campaigns like “Shine a Light on Human Trafficking” can play a big role in combating modern day slavery.  With numerous businesses such as massage parlors, escort services, salons, and modeling agencies acting as fronts for the human trafficking industry, increased awareness of the warning signs and recognition of the types of establishments that have been known to be involved in the industry can help authorities put an end to this epidemic.  Often hidden in plain sight, law enforcement agencies often rely on the public for tips to locate, dismantle, and prosecute individuals involved in these organizations.

Modern human trafficking presents the most widespread global slave trade known to mankind, with more people enslaved today than at any other time in human history. A violation of one of the most basic human rights, efforts to combat this epidemic should be tailored towards the restoration of that fundamental human right—freedom.  It is a common misconception that human trafficking presents only a vast international problem; the U.S. State Department estimates that between 600,000 and 800,000 individuals are purchased and sold across international lines and borders every year, the United States included.  Making people more aware of this fact alone can help combat the human trafficking dilemma.  Awareness campaigns are invented to provide the tools needed to help bring the victims to safety and individuals involved in the human trafficking industry to justice.

For those who live in Houston and would like to take part in “Shine a Light on Human Trafficking,” the campaign will kick off at City Hall on September 24 at 6:30 p.m.