Rude Boy

The Making of a Schoolyard Sex Offender

 [J.J.] is a very angry and violent child. He daily has fights with other children. He is very, very disrespectful to other people—children and adults. He curses constantly and does not listen to counseling. . . .

The child about whom Thomasine Holloway complained was only eight years old, a pint-sized bully who became the terror of her second-grade class at P.S. 207 in Harlem. Holloway felt she had done all she could for the young incorrigible. Six months before he went on a sex rampage in 1998, Holloway threw up her hands in frustration. She recommended that the student who imagined himself as "007"—but who could not identify a picture of Donald Duck and was more than a year behind in reading and math—be placed in the custody of the Committee on Special Education.

illustration by Limbert Fabian

Between March 23 and May 20 of 1998, a Voice investigation reveals, J.J. was written up 28 times and either reprimanded or "taken to the office" for offenses such as: hitting a boy "for touching his coat"; scratching a girl's face; striking a teacher; asserting that his teacher "sucks"; using the "F-word" while talking to a teacher; breaking his pencil eight times; crawling around on the floor; walking in the school barefoot; "screaming at the top of his lungs"; and instigating a fight between two boys and shouting, "Who the hell she thinks she is?" at a teacher who tried to intervene. J.J., who was described as "emotionally disturbed" in one evaluation, also once slapped a classmate so hard that "the noise carried down the hall."

Today J.J., now 11, remains under the watchful eyes of disciplinarians at Abbott House, a group home and foster-care agency in upstate New York where he was banished after his conviction on two counts of first-degree sodomy and two counts of first-degree sexual abuse. No one at P.S. 207 had foreseen that the erratic behavior of the schoolyard bully might someday produce one of the youngest sexual predators in the city's school system. J.J.'s mother has challenged this violent portrayal of her son, insisting to school officials that his "behavior is manageable." She showed the Voice a letter she received from a teacher who described J.J. as "focused, calm, and involved and well-behaved" during a music class. "This is the first time," the teacher noted. "I couldn't be more proud of him and more delighted!"

J.J.'s "inappropriate physical contact" with two girls younger than him is not an aberration. Last week, in the wake of a New York Times report that sex-related incidents in city-run schools are occurring at a rate of 10 per week—up 13 percent this year—Schools Chancellor Harold Levy and Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik have agreed to look for ways to reduce sex attacks among students, including possibly installing more security cameras in the most troubled schools.

The Times reported the rate of sex attacks on students by other students or by adults is more than twice the rate of other urban schools. The newspaper reviewed local and national statistics. New York City's rate of 37 sex attacks per 100,000 students is more than double the rate for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the country's second largest, according to the newspaper. Los Angeles reported 109 sexual incidents last year, a rate of 15 per 100,000 students. Sexual groping, rape, and sodomy are all covered in the category of sexual incidents.

The crackdown by police and school officials comes more than three years too late in the case of J.J., who wanted to, in his words, "grow up to be a hero, lawyer, protector, karate trainer." Instead, he is seen as a classic example of a sex offender in the making.

"From early morning in the schoolyard, [J.J.] picks fights with other children," Holloway wrote in her report to the special education committee. "He tells students' parents to 'shut up' and 'get out of my face!' " J.J. had "a distaste" for schoolwork, but was fascinated with the life and death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. "The only academic area [J.J.] exhibited any interest in was . . . King," Holloway noted. "He listened and wanted to participate in those lessons." The little ruffneck may have embraced King's lesson of nonviolence, but he clearly didn't practice it.

In the four months J.J. had been in Holloway's class, she watched him orchestrate several "confrontational situations"—all to his advantage. "He has a lot of street smarts," Holloway observed. "If he feels he is in control of a situation, he will assist children with life skills, such as tying shoelaces, zipping coats, etc."

According to Holloway, J.J. was P.S. 207's bully of all bullies, who "sometimes acts as the defender of weaker children," enforcing his own code of discipline on other strong-arming kids. "He will sometime hit children when he hears they have bullied or hurt others," she charged. But the bully, who suffers from asthma, did not have a conscience. He picked on younger, weaker children and teachers who were fearful of him. During a fire drill, Holloway recalled, a teacher warned J.J. "not to touch his kindergarten children." On May 8, 1998, J.J. walked out of his art class and commandeered the entrance to the boy's bathroom. There, he and a student, Bobby, got into a dispute.

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