Orlando Boy Jailed for Protecting Three-Year-Old Girl

Edwin is only 14 and, like all kids his age, he’s got a lot to learn. But my guess is that he knows a lot more now than he did before his arrest. In short, it’s probably been a valuable learning experience. Read about it here (Orlando Sentinel, 7/15/10).

Edwin lives in the Orlando, Florida area. He and his mother were shopping at a mall last week when Edwin spotted a little girl wandering loose. She’s three years old and, since she was clearly not with any adult, Edwin took the matter in hand. He also took the little girl in hand. He ascertained that she didn’t know where her mother was and reassured her that they would find her together. He’d seen a group of ladies walk outside, and thought he’d find out if one of them was the child’s mom. So he led the girl outside, but none of the women proved to be the mother. He and the girl were headed back into the mall to continue their search when the child’s mother appeared and re-took possession of her daughter. Edwin went to the shoe department and continued shopping. The girl’s mother instructed a store employee to call 911 and soon the police arrived. Edwin was placed in handcuffs, arrested, jailed and charged with false imprisonment.

I don’t know if he’s out of jail and I don’t know what the disposition of the charges will be. (I know what the dispostion should be, just not what it will be.) But face it, Edwin is growing up, he’ll soon be a man, and a man needs to know certain things. It’s a cinch that Edwin knows more now than he did.

For example, he knows that traditional norms of masculine behavior are now outmoded. In fact, they’re more than outmoded, they’re criminal. I refer of course to the type of selfless, protective behavior that men have engaged in since time immemorial. Edwin did the protective thing; he did the sensible thing; he did the responsible thing. He saw a little girl who was far too young to be safe by herself, so he took control of the situation.

He committed a crime. And, whatever the outcome of his criminal case, you can bet he’ll never, never make that mistake again.

Consider the possibilities. What if Edwin had done, not the caring thing but the selfish thing? That is, what if he’d known what he knows now, spotted the child and let her go, knowing full well that any involvement on his part would be considered criminal? What if she’d wandered outside and been hit and killed by a car? Aside from the obvious tragedy of her death, how would Edwin feel? What would he think of himself for having ignored the danger to the child and acted only for himself?

Well, he could ask the British man who did exactly that a couple of years ago. He spotted a toddler without a parent and, knowing what Edwin did not – that as a man, any effort to care for a child not his own would be interpreted as abuse – went about his business. The child fell into a pond and drowned.

It turns out that there are consequences to our creation over the past four decades of the horrific mythological beast, man. One of those consequences is the gradual loss of that most masculine of virtues, the protection of the young and weak. In times past, that was considered a fine thing and men were honored for doing it. Now, unless they have a clear relationship with the person they’re helping, they likely wind up behind bars.

Last year, it happened in Iowa too. A man saw a young girl wandering obliviously near a busy street. He stopped his car, took her by the arm, lectured her about her carelessness and went to jail for his trouble. Gilding the lily, the State of Iowa deemed what he did to be not merely a crime, but a sex crime. Edwin, consider yourself lucky.

Or maybe men are starting to learn the lesson that Edwin doubtless has, and those they would normally be protecting die or are injured. That’s a consequence too.

And here’s another: the sick distortion of the masculine impulse to protect, into something evil. What the psychological ramifications of that are, I can’t begin to guess. But I wish someone would ask Edwin his opinion. After all, right now, he’s learning how to blunt his finer instincts, to understand them, not as virtues but as vices. He’s learning that most precious of 21st-century lessons for men – let her die, let her be hurt, let her be kidnapped; I’m part of the problem, not part of the solution.

If a 14-year-old girl had done what Edwin did, would she have been jailed or thanked? My guess is the latter. That’s because the same four decades that we’ve spent demonizing men, we’ve also spent lionizing women and girls. So it’s no matter that women do far more child abuse and neglect than men every year, year in and year out. If a woman or girl had done what Edwin did, we’d never have heard about it. But they didn’t. Numerous women walked past a small child with no parent nearby and paid her no heed. Only Edwin saw and cared.

And what about the child’s mother. She’s the one who took a three-year-old to the mall and then let her out of her sight long enough for the child to get lost. It’s hard not to see her having Edwin jailed as passing the buck for her own negligence. Maybe she saw the situation as “him or me.” “Either he’s arrested or I’m reported to CPS” – an easy choice.

So why is she given a pass for doing something that, while not uncommon, is certainly dangerous? It reminds me of the movie Crazy Heart in which Jeff Bridges’ character takes his girlfriend’s little son to the mall, loses track of him and the child gets lost. Mall security recover the boy unharmed, but his mother is outraged and forever breaks off their relationship because of the man’s carelessness.

Yes, that’s a movie and Edwin’s is an actual situation. But it still highlights the question that’s ever-present in our culture, “when it comes to childcare, why the double standard?”

It’s one Edwin may want to ponder, and if he comes up with an answer, I hope he lets us know. In the last few days, he’s learned a lot about trying to be a man in today’s world, so it may be a while before he can give us the answer we need. But he’s young; he’s got all the time in the world.

Thanks to a reader for the heads-up.

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