I have never been a fan of horror. The macabre has never interested me in the slightest. Frankly, I have always thought that people entertained by horror as a genre are very boring individuals who do not have much going on in their lives that they have to resort to being scared to find some thrill. You might imagine, then, that I would have zero sympathy for the two young girls who brutally stabbed a classmate last year in the name of Slenderman, the eponymous video game monster. Recently, a judge ruled that the girls may be tried as adults in criminal court. The response on Facebook is largely what one might expect from a venue where the uninformed jump to sink their teeth into anything they dislike. The majority of commenters I saw echoed variations of, “They were old enough to do the crime, so they are old enough to do the time.” The time in these girls’ cases could be as many as sixty-five years, already pretty imposing for any person but even more so for girls that just turned thirteen years old.
It’s almost overwhelming to process all of this in a logical fashion. Two girls who were not even teenagers at the time spent months plotting to stab a classmate to please Slenderman. One has to wonder what built up to that. That was clearly not something that happened spuriously. Nevertheless, the reactions are very spurious indeed, with people quite quickly condemning these girls. One of my favorite comments on Facebook about this was the implication that this all happened because liberals don’t spank their kids often enough. That aside, I don’t see how trying these girls as adults gets anything meaningful accomplished. Immediately, you might think, “How dare you defend them!” It would be folly to defend anything as execrable as what these girls did, make no mistake. Attempted murder is no light offense. I’m saying that trying two 13-year-olds as adults does not achieve anything for anyone.
“It teaches them responsibility!” you might say. “If they’re tried as juveniles, it’s just a slap on the wrist for them!” If you believe that, you probably haven’t seen the inside of modern juvenile detention facilities. They are not the juvenile hall of yesteryear. They are jails in all but name. Anyone who commits attempted murder is being thrown in the tightest cell that the juvenile justice system has to offer. As for the judicial proceeding, it is commonly true that juvenile records are sealed and are opened only on the rarest of circumstances. However, even then, it is possible for certain organizations and agencies, usually from the government, to peek at those records. I can’t count the number of young men I have seen in juvenile court who aspired to go into the military and were suddenly looking at that being out of their reach because of the possibility of a juvenile sentence. Indeed, any government job is suddenly unattainable just from that. Let’s consider the flip scenario, in which these girls are tried as adults. That is now on their public record permanently. Not only will government jobs be unavailable, but just about any but the least desirable jobs will be unavailable to them. They will not make enough money to afford their own homes. They are forced into a situation where the only housing they could get would be something through public housing schemes. Oh, but criminals are blacklisted from public housing, so they can’t live there, either. Under a bridge will have to suffice, and perish the thought of good work benefits from a place that can’t pay enough. So, no good jobs, no good wages, no medical coverage, no housing; what would people in those conditions have to lose from committing crimes again? Desperation generates bad ideas. I’ve yet to hear of a situation in which hopelessness inculcates responsibility.
“But these girls need to be punished! Lock them up and throw away the key!” goes another common refrain. Punish them with what, exactly? If these girls are so mentally unwell as to attempt to murder someone in the name of a fictional horror character, I have serious doubts that putting them in a storage bin will cure their illness. I imagine there are very few among us who can say they spent sixty-five years in prison, and very few among those people would probably say they were cured of mental ailments simply by being warehoused out of sight and out of mind from the general public. Rehabilitation may remain an imprecise science at this point, but if any of us lost our liberty for six and a half decades, I think we might come away from that a little bitter about how coldly society was toward us. It might make us hate people even more. Perfectly happy, balanced people usually don’t commit crimes. Ones who have lost so much are more prone to criminal activity.
“Oh, so do you want someone like that living in your neighborhood?” This one is always baffling. In the same way you wouldn’t ask someone if he/she wants to live near Chernobyl, you wouldn’t ask a question like, “Do you want a known criminal living next to you?” Of course the answer is, “No!” Anyone who comes up with that rhetorical question knows less than Jon Snow. It’s not a very persuasive argument, either, if much of an argument at all. The implication is that these girls should be hidden somewhere that they cannot be seen so we can all forget about them and move on with our lives. I hate to break it to anyone following this line of logic, but ignoring them does not resolve the problem. After all, they have to live somewhere. Of course, there was one person who suggested that these girls should not only be tried as adults but also concluded that the only proper punishment would be capital. First, let us all be thankful that we have courts of law to judge these things, rather than the courts of public opinion, which are all too often the staging ground of the tragically ignorant pontificating their understanding of what the world should be like. Second, the Supreme Court of the United States has already decided that executing people for crimes committed as minors is unconstitutional. I know it’s in vogue to be tough on crime (when hasn’t it?) but the people who have already cast judgment don’t know the facts. The facts have to be determined in judicial proceedings first. Everything before that is harsh condemnation of two girls who appear to have acted in one of the most heinous ways imaginable, but that’s all we know. That is not enough to start talking about the death penalty. The unhinged on the fringe thankfully don’t get to make that determination.
As long as we are talking about determinations, another refrain I noticed was dismissal of the Slenderman explanation. “I don’t believe it had anything to do with Slenderman! They are just evil!” At last, gamers can rejoice, knowing that society no longer blames violent video games for violent behavior…I think. I guess. I’m not even sure. Video games were the whipping boy for bad acts. In the late 80s/early 90s, the belief in imitating behavior surged in child psychology and everyone really took off with that after the Columbine High School massacre. Now we’ve moved onto declaring video games irrelevant, apparently. Who knows? The reason I bring this up is that if Slenderman is actually something that provided a motive in some way for these girls, why did so few bring up how they accessed Slenderman in the first place? Where were their parents on this one? The video I provided at the start of this post is almost cynical in portraying some mom who blogs as a perfect sample size for all Internet-savvy parents. Uh, sorry, but no. Parents can’t control everything their children do but they should be well aware of portents gathering like storm clouds. Did these parents not know what was happening? Did they not care?
Children are not allowed to vote, smoke, drink, gamble, or contract because they are presumed too uninformed to make rational decisions on these matters. Despite that, people are rallying to the cause of locking them away in the hopes of them never seeing daylight again. It is odd that there is all this denunciation of the children and comparative silence about their parents’ role in letting this happen. It’s not even about Slenderman. It’s about two girls finding the means, motive, and opportunity to execute this horrible deed and their parents not being involved enough to know or care. Yes, responsible parenting is tougher than sounding like Judge Dredd, but which is better?