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99-143 Doc

article from The Guide, August 1999

PA SEX POLICE NAB KIDS - Child felons convicted

Did the children think of them selves as victims? Newberry Township police chief Bill Myers chuckles and then pauses.

"I would say that they did, once it started it coming to light -- in other words, after the police became involved in it." By the time police and county investigators had interrogated some 24 youngsters implicated in a juvenile "sex ring" in York Haven, Pennsylvania, there were "victims" and "perpetrators" aplenty, but it wasn't easy to tell which from whom. Police say that the sex ring, which they busted last December, involved 17 children, ages seven to 16, who had sex together sporadically for two-and-a-half years in York Haven, population around 750, a down-at-the-heels hamlet on the Susquehanna River between Harrisburg and York. Pennsylvania law does not allow for prosecution of children younger than ten. But York County Assistant District Attorney Marylou Erb charged all participants ten or older -- six in all -- on counts ranging from "involuntary deviate sexual intercourse" and "indecent assault" to "[statutory] rape." One or two of the youngsters have been jailed, police chief Myers says, but details of the punishments have not been released. Juvenile court records are sealed and prosecutors won't discuss the case.

A staffer at the York County DA's office who identified herself only as "Randy" said the investigation into the sexual activity was over. But Myers told The Guide that prosecutions against some of the children are continuing.

None of the boys and girls had complained to authorities about the sex, which authorities grant was voluntary. "From what the investigators told me, the parents were shocked and surprised, while the kids were more nonchalant because they didn't understand what was wrong with it," says Caryl Clarke, a reporter with the York Daily Record, who covered the story. Participants in the sex ring were students at Northeastern Middle and York Haven Elementary Schools.

"Some of the assaults occurred in homes," noted the Daily Record. "Others happened outside, such as in wooded areas."

One of the last instances of sex play occurred at a sleepover after the 16th birthday party of one of the girls. Two boys, 11, were present, one boy 13, and another girl, 16. "Supposedly what happened was they were playing spin the bottle and things got beyond that,'' chief Myers told the Associated Press. "The story was the bottle pointed toward one of the males and he had to have intercourse with one of the girls. Well, I guess this turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg.'' After the  birthday party, according to the AP, one of the girls told to her mother that one of the 11-year-old boys had sex play with a seven-year-old neighbor, whose mother contacted the police. The tattletale girl was later convicted of rape for consensual sex with the 11-year-old boy.

Children were interrogated in their homes and in the local courthouse, according to Myers, with their parents present for the questioning. Parents faced the risk of prosecution or having their children taken away by the state or if they did not cooperate with authorities. District Attorney investigator William "Skip" Clancy, Jr. told the York Daily Record that he had to first allay the children's fears of law enforcement: "We assured them we didn't want them doing this when they are older. We told them the idea behind the juvenile justice system is to get them the treatment and counselling so they will not be in trouble as adults."

But after questioning them, Clancy's office sprung felony charges against the youngsters who were old enough to be tried. York County Assistant DA Marylou Erb and Clancy did not return numerous calls from The Guide. When told of the reason for calling, staffers at the DA's office refused to identify themselves. Did anyone in York County question whether childhood sex play should be regarded as criminal?

"I spoke to a sociologist or psychologist up at Penn State, and he said he didn't want to be quoted, but he thought that it's the most normal and natural thing in all the world," says Caryl Clarke of the York Daily Record. "He said that society these days frowns upon it, and that may be for the best, but that without education and a lot of watching, it's the normal way [for children] to be. In rural areas with all the farm animals around, it's even more common." Clarke says she has written only one article about the case, partly from concern of the effect of publicity on the children involved.

Richard C. Pillard, MD professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, told The Guide he was incredulous at the prosecution. "Freud's view of the sexual nature of children was the scandal of his day," Pillard said. "No one argues for unrestrained sexual expression or sexual coercion, but have we not learned something? Have we not learned that the repression, the criminalization, of childhood sexuality, can lead to future neurotic problems for children, their families and the communities in which they live?"


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