Sexual Abuse or Harmless Horseplay?

Did you hear about the young sexual harassers in McMinnville, Ore.? In February 2007, Ryan Cornelison, 12, and his pal Cory Mashburn, 13, were charged with five counts of felony sex abuse in the first degree.

Police Officer Marshall Roache testified in court about what the boys did to some 13-year-old girls at their middle school: "I remember her telling us that her buttocks was spanked."

And in Waco, Texas, an official from the La Vega Independent School District wrote Chris Blackwell's father that Chris engaged in "inappropriate physical behavior interpreted as sexual contact and/or sexual harassment."


A teacher's aide filed a "student behavior referral" stating that as he waited in line for the school bus, "Christopher called my name, he looked at me and smiled with a great big grin on his face, he stuck his face and rubbed it across my chest and he thought it was funny."

The odd thing is … Chris is only 5 years old. He was 4 at the time of the alleged "sexual harassment." His father, DeMarcus Blackwell, says he was "devastated" when he received the letter from the school.

"That's human, to show this display of affection or kindness to each other," Blackwell said. "At 4 years old, my son is being taught and trained to be friendly toward everyone."

Watch John Stossel's special "The Age of Consent" next Friday, March 14 at 10 p.m. ET

Only after Chris' father complained did the school agree to change Chris' record from sexual harassment to "inappropriate physical conduct."

At least Chris wasn't sent to jail, as were Cory and Ryan in Oregon. Cory's mom, Tracie, who got the terrible phone call, says she was told, "He had been touching some girls and we needed to get down to the juvenile detention. They were arresting him."

'Slap Butt Day'

Tracie and her husband Scott rushed to the Yamhill County jail, where they were told, "We can tell you Cory is here, but you cannot see him or talk to him."

Ryan's dad, Joe, hit the same brick wall. "I thought it was crazy. I can't believe that they could take your kid and just take him to jail like that and you're not able to talk to him."

The boys were in jail because they ran through the halls at school, swatting the bottoms of girls. Friday is unofficially "Slap Butt Day" at Patton Middle School, where swatting butts is considered a form of greeting by kids but a violation of school policy.

Ryan and Cory were sent to the office, where the school's vice principal and police officer Roache questioned them and the girls who were the supposed "victims." After hours of interrogation, the boys were read their Miranda rights, handcuffed and taken to the juvenile detention center.

Attorney and former sex crimes prosecutor Ken Padowitz says accounts of sexual harassment in the workplace have filtered down to the classroom. "We're now having children being charged with crimes such as sexual harassment where these children might not even be aware of what that term means.

"With so many lawsuits, I think that teachers and principals are on a CYA mentality. They basically want to ensure that they're not going to be under the microscope and accused of allowing misbehavior by children to go unpunished. So in order to cover themselves, the police are called," said Padowitz.

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