Once deemed the unthinkable, children and teens are executing horrific attacks ultimately leading to murder. These baby-faced defendants are presumed innocent and highly unlikely perpetrators until proven guilty.
But why do kids kill?
What could possibly push children over the edge to a place where their actions are totally unrecognisable, even by those who know them best?
Some psychologists place the blame squarely on or with, amongst other culprits – single parent families, mental illness, poverty, genetic make-up or even rap lyrics. These may well be the first ports of call but from time to time the unthinkable happens – despite a child’s seemingly ‘normal’ upbringing.
However, most do so because their upbringing was far from normal, often suffering beatings and abuse themselves.
Then there are those kids who, from the sheer desire to kill, go on murder sprees which end the lives of purely innocent victims.
The media would like us to believe that the answer lies in horror videos and computer games – but the statistics show otherwise. It is a rarely acknowledged fact that children are as adept at crimes as those committed by adults.
There is a rise in gratuitous and senseless homophobic violence, a disturbing addition to our community landscape
Lawrence King, 15, from Oxnard in California publicly announced that he was gay. Classmates confirmed he had suffered homophobic abuse as a result. Days later fellow student Brandon McInerney, 14, shot him dead.
Despite inroads that the LGBT community have made, there is still much work to do. Persecution is rampant in the educational system and beyond, with a frightening price being paid by the LGBT youth of today.
The consequence of this cycle of hatred is a suicide rate on average seven times higher than that of heterosexual youth and attacks by minors on lesbians and gays are on the increase. What starts with offensive gestures, jokes and innuendo can end in catastrophy.
Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi, jumped to his death after room mate Dharun Ravi, then 18, set up a webcam in their dorm. This was to expose a sexual encounter between Clementi and a male friend. While Ravi may not have ‘pulled the trigger’ he certainly loaded the ‘smoking gun’.
Bigotry has no place in modern society where every life counts, irrespective of the person’s self – identification or where the crime took place. If we dare to dig deeper beneath the surface, it emerges that victimisation begins in the classroom.
Stonewall published a report which revealed a ‘deeply alarming’ amount of homophobia in schools. The Teachers Report showed that 150,000 pupils are affected by anti – gay bullying. Nine out of ten secondary school teachers and two out of five primary teachers said pupils experience homophobic bullying even if they are not gay.
Is there a direct link between homophobic intimidation in schools and adolescents who attack and kill? Should teachers be trained to pick up on the warning signs, not just from the victims but from the tormentors themselves?
There are many questions left unanswered. Homophobic hate crime inflicted by kids is an understudied and often misrepresented aspect of criminology, one which many adults find difficult to accept. There are no statistics to tell us how many killings have been averted by prompt and compassionate action by teachers and welfare agencies.
Ian Baynham was battered to death by a group of teens in London simply for being gay. It is uncomfortably clear that such cases are not isolated.
Society may think that the young are incapable of such brutality. But similar to adults they are just as capable of shocking and barbaric behaviour to the extent that they are willing to kill, and are also masters of manipulation. Children are assumed to be innocent and pure – without malice, contempt and menacing anger.
It challenges the idea that children who harm should be treated as victims and not killers?
The incident serves as a stark reminder that in the field of child violence, we have to address the causes of such extreme behaviour. Necessary action must be taken – educational, environmental, legal, religious and remedial – to end the destruction of lives. All of us have to take responsibility. How many times must history repeat itself before we sit up and take notice of our decaying community, of what is happening in front of our very eyes – do we choose to see or look the other way?
Writing for the media I am all in favour of personal viewpoint and free speech, but oratory that supports physical assault, verbal abuse or murder should be met with severe opposition and those who participate in such severely disciplined.
Education is key: each one of us needs to take responsibility too for teaching, informing and educating the young about tolerance.
As a writer I felt compelled to highlight this subject. We can’t bring back Ian, Tyler, Lawrence or the many others… but I also want to include their families and friends as victims and survivors too. By doing so only then can we finally begin to understand the magnitude of the problem taking place in our own back yards.
We may utter the words that nobody really wants to hear, but homophobic hate crime and murder committed by kids is happening right here, right now!