This was originally published Dec. 12, 2013
6 year old boy suspended for kissing classmate is the actual title of a Sky News story. As with much of Sky News’ content, the article is high on drama but short on analysis of systemic violence against women and children which starts with grooming girls from a very young age that they have no bodily autonomy. Whilst everyone is an uproar about the suspension of 6 year old Hunter Yelton for kissing the hand of a six year old girl, no one seems to have thought to ask what the little girl thinks of the situation. All we have is Yelton’s statement that he has a crush on the little girl and that “she likes him back”.
What this rather sensationalist title doesn’t say is that this is Yelton’s second suspension for inappropriately touching a classmate and that he has a history of other disciplinary problems. This is clearly not a case of a once off kiss on a hand in which a school grossly over-reacted with a punishment. It is a case of unwanted touching. If the children were 16, would we be dismissing the behaviour still?
Children are allowed to have boundaries and they deserve to have those boundaries respected. They need to know they will be supported if someone does violate their boundaries, and that includes when the person violating their boundaries is their six year old classmate. Young girls need to be taught that they can say no and young boys need to learn that their wants and desires aren’t more important than the bodily integrity of other people.
The response of Yelton’s mother, Jennifer Saunders, is quite concerning. She has dismissed the punishment as an over-reaction on the part of the school and seems to be implying that her sons ‘crush’ on the little girl means that he is entitled to touch her without her permission. This is rape culture. It is the grooming of a young girl into an object for the (sexual) exploitation by boys and men. It is a young boy growing up to believe that he has the right to touch whoever he wants whenever he wants.
There is a discussion to be had about the appropriateness of the punishment, but this must not come at the expense of the young girl who experienced unwanted touching from a classmate. Rapists and other sexual predators are not born; they are made in a culture which privileges’ men’s needs over the bodily integrity of everyone else. Both of these children have learnt a lesson here: the young girl will know that she has the right to bodily integrity and the young boy will, hopefully, learn that he does not have the right to touch others without permission.
Salacious and misleading headlines aside, we need to start discussing how young boys are groomed in a rape culture. We will not stop the sexual violence of women and children as long as we tell young boys that it’s okay to pull the hair of the girl they like or that they kiss whoever they want without permission.
We all have the right to bodily integrity and 6 year olds need to learn this lesson too.
Update: The school has backed down due to public pressure and is allowing the young boy back to school. Whilst I’m still unsure about suspension, because it would be inappropriate for the school to give out a full record of the child’s behaviour, I do not believe it is appropriate for the school to change it’s position because of public pressure. The article on CNN makes it clear that the young girl did not want to be touched by this boy and that he has done it before. What are we telling her about her right to bodily integrity?