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07.04.07

To passerby, crying child’s ear-piercing rings of abuse

Posted in Piercing News at 12:18 pm by admin

Could piercing a child’s ears be child abuse?

Marilyn Johnson thought so when she heard a girl’s screams in a Wichita Wal-Mart on Sunday — and she reported it to police.

She said a child was having her ears pierced “against her will” at the store’s jewelry counter, and the girl’s cries were ignored by her mother and the store employee doing the piercing.

“This little girl was about 5 years old and was crying her eyes out,” Johnson said. “Her face was beet red, and she was screaming and coughing and saying things like, ‘I don’t want this! It hurts! Please stop!’ She was grabbing her ears so the adults couldn’t touch them.”

Johnson says she approached the girl’s mother and the store employee and said, “Is this really necessary?”

Both women said nothing but continued trying to pierce the girl’s ears, Johnson said.

So Johnson called 911 from her cell phone.

“We’re forever being told we should report any suspected child abuse,” said Johnson, 53, a Wichita landlord who founded Heart Bandits American Eskimo Dog Rescue.

“I saw a child crying and screaming and pleading for someone not to do something to her,” she said. “And if that’s not child abuse, I don’t know what is.”

When police arrived at the store at Pawnee and Broadway, they spoke with Johnson and the girl’s mother, “then informed me that I was out of line,” Johnson said. “The officers took my personal information and offered to walk with me to purchase my… items.”

Johnson said she left the store without buying anything.

Wichita police spokesman Gordon Bassham said no law was being broken by the girl’s mother or the employee doing the piercing.

At the request of a Wal-Mart official, the officers issued Johnson a warning for trespassing and escorted her from the store, Bassham said.

Store officials referred calls about the incident to corporate headquarters. Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman issued this written response:

“Ear piercing is a service that Wal-Mart offers to our customers of all ages. A parent or legal guardian’s signature is required if the person having their ears pierced is under 18 years old, which was the case in this instance,” Fogleman said.

“The child’s mother indicated more than once through the ear-piercing process that she wanted her daughter’s ears pierced.”

Asked how the store handles incidents of children who oppose piercings, Fogleman said: “Local management has discretion based on the individual circumstance.”

Ear piercing has long been the subject of controversy among parents. For some, piercing an infant or young child’s ears has deep-rooted cultural or religious meaning. Others pierce babies’ ears because of family traditions, or simply because they like the look or want to more easily identify the baby as a girl.

Several popular online parenting forums have featured lengthy discussions on the topic. A question posted to BabyCenter.com in October 2003 prompted more than 830 comments, ranging from outrage to agreement over piercing young children’s ears.

“I had my daughter’s ears done when she was 6 months old. She did cry, but just for about 10 seconds,” said a mom named Jennie. “It was much easier than getting shots. Her ears have healed perfectly and she looks absolutely beautiful.”

Other parents recalled children begging to have their ears pierced, then screaming or crying during the procedure.

Kansas law requires written and notarized consent from a parent or legal guardian before performing body piercing or tattooing on someone under 18. The law does not spell out whether piercings or tattoos can be forcibly administered.

“The parent was not, in the eyes of the officers, doing anything illegal,” said Bassham, the police spokesman. “This could have been a cultural thing for the mother, or a religious thing. There are so many factors at work.

“For us as law enforcement to try and predict the reasons and the motivations behind this is not possible, and that’s not our area.”

The mother was not identified by police or store officials.

Johnson says she’s glad she reported the incident to police, even though a Wal-Mart manager said she would no longer be allowed in the store.

She plans to talk to local legislators about the possibility of changing state law to spell out more clearly when piercings or tattoos become possible abuse.

“I can’t understand doing that to a child who’s screaming and crying and clearly didn’t want this done,” Johnson said.

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