6-Year-Old's Sexual Harassment Claim Dropped: Why We Should Take Elementary School Harassment Seriously

Hunter Yelton, the six-year-old boy who’s being portrayed as a “hopeless romantic” and “young Casanova” after his recent school suspension, will no longer have the offense of sexual harassment on his permanent record. Following negative press surrounding his two-day suspension from Lincoln School of Science and Technology in Colorado, the school reduced the offense on Hunter's permanent record from "sexual harassment" to "misconduct" Thursday. Hunter's seemingly innocuous crime? Kissing one of his classmates on the hand.

Jade Masters-Ownbey, the mother of the young girl Hunter kissed, felt his original punishment was appropriate. After all, this wasn't the first time Hunter had been reprimanded for violating his school’s sexual harassment policy: he apparently had a history of pursuing this same girl, and had previously kissed her on the cheek. But Hunter’s mother, Jennifer Saunders, thought the school’s punishment was too harsh.

"This is taking it to an extreme that doesn’t need to be met with a six-year-old. Now my son is asking questions. ‘What is sex mommy?’ That should not ever be said, sex. Not in a sentence with a six-year-old,” Saunders said. Well, there's your first clue as to why this kid might be acting out. Clearly, he's curious about sex, and his mom would rather not talk about it.

Most girls my age took it as a compliment when this particular student hit their behinds — he was, after all, such a hunky nine-year-old and popular to boot. But I was unimpressed, and actually pretty pissed off. I didn’t care how “popular” he was. I had been touched somewhere I was uncomfortable being touched.

The thing is, if sexual harassment is happening, it needs to be discussed. When inappropriate and nonconsensual touching happens in elementary school, it’s crucial to address it. Ignoring and minimizing its significance doesn’t just perpetuate preexisting cycles of misogyny — it also plants the seeds for the continuation of our rape culture.

“Yes … I have a lot of energy,” the six-year-old Hunter told a local news channel. “I mean six year olds. They have a lot of energy.” At least he's emotionally aware.

But most likely, Hunter is echoing age-old tropes he hears at home and at school. Encouraging this “boys will be boys” rhetoric is dangerous because it carries over beyond elementary school and into young adulthood, where we end up making excuses for grown men who assault women. Hence the cycle of rape culture.

One time, when I was in the fourth grade, I was playing tag on my elementary school’s playground during recess when one of my classmates smacked my butt. I wasn’t the first student that he did it to — nor would I be the last — but I remember the moment well.

Most girls my age took it as a compliment when this particular student hit their behinds — he was, after all, such a hunky nine-year-old and popular to boot. But I was unimpressed, and actually pretty pissed off. I didn’t care how “popular” he was. I had been touched somewhere I was uncomfortable being touched.

He didn’t have my consent or encouragement. I didn’t "like it" or "want it." So I did what any nervous and unsure fourth grader would do: I dragged my best friend with me for moral support across the playground to find the teacher on recess duty, and I told on him.

I was the first girl in my class to complain about my classmate (even though most of the teachers had an idea about what was going on), and in the weeks that followed there were a number of conferences with both of our parents, teachers, and other faculty members. He ended up apologizing to me at the request of our teacher — but not before I was met with resistance from him and his family.

Parents say things like “He’s just flirting” and “That’s what kids do when they like each other” instead of readily admitting that unwanted advances are problematic. They’d rather belittle these kind of incidents and chalk it all up to playful, youthful romance, instead of recognizing these actions for what they are: unwanted sexual contact.

Just because sexual harassment happens at a young age, that doesn't make it any less harmful. Unwanted advances are unwanted advances, plain and simple. When we call Hunter Yelton a "young Casanova," we only reinforce a culture of victim-blaming. If we don’t take these opportunities to teach young boys about consent — and, yes, sex — the cycle of harassment will only continue.

Photo via Flickr/woodleywonderworks