Child advocates call for reform after Brasher Falls 7-year-old is charged with rape

Updated: Apr. 1, 2021 at 12:00 PM EDT
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BRASHER FALLS, N.Y. (WWNY) - Child advocates are calling for reform after a Brasher Falls 7-year-old was charged with a serious felony. They want the age raised for bringing criminal charges against children.

The story has hit newspapers and TV across the U.S., and overseas. Headlines and broadcasts are focusing on the age of the boy.

Some are asking: How could anyone this young be charged with this crime, or any crime at all?

Child advocates in New York have asked the same question. A bill that got left behind during the “raise the age” debate for juvenile offenders is again getting attention.

“The issue of arresting and prosecuting very young children, elementary age children, is becoming more visible I think in New York and across the country,” said Julia Davis, the Director of Youth Justice and Child Welfare at the Children’s Defense Fund of New York.

There are few facts known about the alleged offense. According to the State Police blotter, the boy was charged with third-degree rape.

Child advocates said no matter the crime, the criminal justice system is not the place to handle it for someone that young.

“A seven-year-old, he does not have an understanding of what they’re doing period,” said Hasan Stephens, the founder and CEO of Good Life Foundation.

The bill in the legislature would raise the age to be charged as a juvenile delinquent from 7-years-old to twelve. Advocates are hopeful it can pass this year.

When contacted on Thursday, State Senator Patty Ritchie’s office said she is reviewing the bill.

“Contact with the criminal justice system, it could really be harmful: biologically, psychologically and in terms of their social development,” Davis said.

As it is now, children charged as juvenile delinquents have to appear in family court and can in some cases be sent to detention facilities. The bill substitutes that with social services.

A tragic event involving a 7-year-old took place somewhere here in St. Lawrence County. But now, because of all the attention being shined on it, important criminal justice reform may take place in New York State.

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