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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Slender Man Stabbings and the Mind of a 12-Year-Old

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"Slender Man"
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Horrific details of the alleged attempted murder of a classmate by two Waukesha middle school girls were bound to make the story an instant media sensation.

That the girls were said to have planned the murder for months to become disciples of a fictional Internet horror story character named Slender Man living in a secret mansion in a northern Wisconsin forest.

That they could have taken turns stabbing a friend 19 times after a birthday sleepover and left her to die in a Waukesha woods.

That the two were arrested as they apparently were starting to walk nearly 200 miles into the Nicolet National Forest to join Slender Man, an imaginary creature with the power to grow snake-like tendrils out of his fingers and back.

But one particular fact is perhaps the most horrific of all: The two girls were 12 years old.

And that is what makes the response of the local criminal justice system, the media and much of the public so appalling.

Waukesha County District Attorney Brad Schimel, a Republican running for state attorney general, immediately charged the two girls as adults with attempted first-degree intentional homicide even though they clearly are not adults. They are 12-year-olds.

Political opportunists hoping to ride headline cases into higher office are almost as common as villainous fictional clichés such as supernatural dark lords of gothic mansions.

But politicians weren’t the only ones salivating over a sensational story. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has long had a strict ethical policy against publishing the names of juveniles involved in crimes.

But when a really juicy story comes along, it turns out the newspaper’s policy can best be described as: We won’t publish the names of juveniles involved in crimes unless we really want to.

Not only that, for a real humdinger of a sensational story, the newspaper will even publish enormous front-page photographs of two 12-year-old girls being led into court in handcuffs and chains.

 

Children Can’t Make Adult Decisions

Curiously, the newspaper still protects the identity of the 12-year-old victim in the case even though she clearly did nothing wrong.

Presumably, the reason for the newspaper’s previous policy of not identifying juveniles was to protect children from being permanently and publicly scarred as a result of their actions before they are responsible adults.

Who do you suppose is more in need of such protection right now, the accused perpetrators or the victim?

We’ve seen a major public outpouring of sympathy and concern for the victim and her family. Totally missing has been any real public sympathy or compassion for the other devastated victims in the case, the families of the two children accused of the crime.

In fact, talk radio, which can turn any serious public discussion into a vicious assault, has spent a great deal of time beating up on those families without knowing anything at all about those families’ love for their children.

Anyone who claims adults can understand what kind of crazy thoughts and schemes may be going through the minds of young children doesn’t really know any children, including their own.

There’s a reason why children shouldn’t be held legally responsible for making adult decisions. They aren’t capable of it. Their brains haven’t even been fully formed yet.

I once went to a local bookstore to meet a highly successful, accomplished woman who, it had just been revealed, had as a young teenager conspired with her best friend to murder her friend’s mother.

Anne Perry, a British writer, had published an enormous number of best-selling murder mysteries when a popular 1994 movie, Heavenly Creatures, revived interest in the sensational murder case for which she was incarcerated five years as a young girl growing up in New Zealand.

She was a very nice woman.

It does nothing to diminish the horror of the crimes the girls are accused of committing to say not one of us is who we were when we were 12 years old.

Schimel claims he had to bring adult charges against 12-year-olds because if they were tried in juvenile court they could only be incarcerated until they were 25 years old. Now they can each be sentenced to up to 65 years in prison.

When those two heartbreaking children are 25, they are not going to have the minds of 12-year-olds who try to murder a friend so they can be accepted by a fantastic imaginary creature living in the northwoods.

What both young girls need more than anything else right now is a whole lot of care and support to grow into rational, thoughtful adults with an appreciation for human life and all of its wonderful possibilities.

Long, harsh adult prison sentences for 12-year-olds do nothing to provide loving care and support or improve anyone’s life. They completely destroy children’s lives before they’ve even really begun.