Two fifth grade boys, aged 10 and 11, have been ruled competent to stand trial in juvenile court for conspiring to rape and kill their female classmate, and possibly murder other students as well. They were arrested after a classmate saw them playing with a knife on the school bus and reported it to a teacher.
Normally, state law specifies that children between the ages of 8 and 12 do not have the mental capacity to commit crimes; however, the pair exhibited an absolutely horrifying and soul-crushing awareness of both the nature and consequences of what they had planned to do. In addition to the knife, they had brought a .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol (taken from an older brother) and ammunition to school and had hand-written a seven step plan outlining the events leading up to the horrific crime. Both explained to a local police officer that they’d been plotting for two weeks. When asked if he knew that murder was wrong, one boy responded, “Yes. I wanted her dead.”
In the mental capacity hearing, a psychologist testified that one suspect planned to rape the female classmate while the other stood guard. The boy knew that rape meant “having sex with someone when they don’t want to,” and, according to the case’s prosecutor, Tim Rasmussen, he understood it as “a display of strength and power — not sex.” When asked why they wanted to brutally assault and take the life of their classmate, one of the boys explained, “She’s rude and always makes fun of me and my friends.”
There are no words to describe how abjectly depressing, terrifying, and infuriating it is that we live in a world in which a pair of fifth graders is capable of planning — and arming themselves for — a potential mass murder, in which two boys aged 10 and 11 have already learned to value girls’ lives, bodily integrity, and dignity so little that they have no qualms about violating and murdering a girl for being “rude.” While I understand that they’re too young to fully appreciate the gravity of what they had planned, that doesn’t diminish the atrocity of the fact that a 10 year old was able not only understand the gendered power dynamic inherent in rape, but also to plan to use it as a punitive measure against another child.
It should be unimaginable that someone so young could internalize such an extreme, hyper-aggressive, and violent understanding of rape culture. Tragically, it is not. Children and adolescents are constantly exposed to the insidious ubiquity of patriarchy and rape culture, in which violence is eroticized, male sexual agression is affirmed, and assumed male access to women’s bodies is normalized. Lacking the discursive tools to understand that these things are not “just the way the world works,” they can easily absorb misogynistic values, which they re-circulate and reinforce through seemingly “mild” actions such as slut-shaming, victim-blaming, homophobic remarks meant to denigrate boys who exhibit feminine qualities, body shaming, etc., as well as through committing sexual harassment and assault. All of this behavior reflects and reinforces sexual attitudes that are toxic and degrading to women and men alike. Thus, although this case may be the most sickening, severe case of an adolescent absorbing and acting upon misogynistic values in recent memory, it’s far from an isolated incident.