Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Security and Personhood

Well this is just appalling.

SAFFORD, Ariz. — Savana Redding still remembers the clothes she had on — black stretch pants with butterfly patches and a pink T-shirt — the day school officials here forced her to strip six years ago. She was 13 and in eighth grade.

An assistant principal, enforcing the school’s antidrug policies, suspected her of having brought prescription-strength ibuprofen pills to school. One of the pills is as strong as two Advils.

The search by two female school employees was methodical and humiliating, Ms. Redding said. After she had stripped to her underwear, “they asked me to pull out my bra and move it from side to side,” she said. “They made me open my legs and pull out my underwear.”

Ms. Redding, an honors student, had no pills. But she had a furious mother and a lawyer, and now her case has reached the Supreme Court, which will hear arguments on April 21.
There's a lot of hyperbole from both mother and daughter in the article - the mom's lawyer calls this "the worst nightmare for any parent," Ms. Redding describes the incident as "ruin[ing] her life" but all the same, this is a clear case of a lack of respect for a kid's boundaries. And I find it worrisome.

First of all, I find it worrisome because these kids won't always be kids. They'll be adults in a very short time, more to the point, they'll be voters, and the people who grew up in this drug war zero-tolerance atmosphere in schools will someday outnumber those of us who grew up in the good old days when the Fourth Amendment applied to everybody.

Once we're out of school, most of us have limited contact with the same degree of intrusive authority that exists in the public school system, and for many people who do not have their dignity systematically threatened it is possible to believe that dignity is an earned state, not a contracted right. This is to say, unless we ourselves have had the misfortune to be the subjects of unjust intrusion into our personal effects, we tend to believe that such intrusions are generally justified and that if you aren't doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear from the State.

How much is this compounded when a person has learned to expect throughout their childhood not that an expectation of some privacy, a degree of respect by society for a boundary of the personal, is negotiable in certain specific circumstances where society has compelling reasons, but it does not exist at all. Because certainly, if society can argue that the lack of a record of prior wrongdoing by a 13 year old girl is only proof that the girl hasn't been caught doing anything wrong, then we have entered the condition of the Paranoid State. If that same society allows a 13 year old girl to be strip searched without her parent's permission or even knowledge, in the pursuit of a dose of Advil, then we must conclude either that children's persons are violable by the state, or else that the notion of a "compelling social reason" has been redefined out of meaning. Is it any surprise, when our children grow up in an environment in which they have no rights the State is bound to respect, that they themselves have no respect for the rights earlier generations considered inalienable?

I mention this here because when we talk about kids who have experienced trauma, we talk a lot about boundaries. Children whose boundaries have been violated - either emotional or physical - cease to understand where lines are properly drawn. And so they may flash their private parts because they no longer understand that there is any such thing as a "private" part of themselves. Much of the work of a fost/adopt parent is to help the child re-learn where her appropriate boundaries are. And this is a challenge - how, for instance, do you deal with a child who has experienced sexual abuse and who now refuses to submit to medical examinations? He needs to receive proper health care, but he also needs to feel secure in his own body, and these needs are, for the moment, in conflict with each other.

Medical attention is a case where the only way to administer it is to threaten a child's boundaries; schooling is not another such case. If we live in a country in which the we allow schools to neither recognize nor respect children's boundaries, perhaps our traumatized children are in the right after all. The world works the way they think it does, and we are hopelessly naive to think that a child can survive in it without taking off her clothes whenever and for whatever reason an adult tells her to.

1 comment:

  1. More about the erosion of personal rights in the name of security, from another direction (but with ultimately the same conclusion), wrapped up in a really compelling YA-novel format, free to dowload here: http://craphound.com/littlebrother/download/