Teacher Charged after Disciplining Child by Taking Her Shirt

Most people charged with sex crimes are accused of committing an act with lewd intent or for the purpose of sexual gratification. In some cases, such as rape, the motivation is about exerting power and control; in others, it is simply a means to get a sexual thrill. Occasionally, however, a person may be charged with a sex offense for something that has nothing to do with sexual gratification. A teacher in Mesa, Arizona, has been charged with child abuse and 26 counts of indecent exposure after he took the shirt off of a 6-year-old girl, leaving her topless in class for approximately 10 minutes. According to reports, kindergarten teacher Thomas Washburn, 54, became irate with his class, yelling at the students. When he began shouting, one student, who is developmentally delayed, became frightened and hid her face in her shirt. The teacher ordered the girl to take her face out of her shirt. When she did not do so, he took her shirt off, leaving her shirtless and crying. When the girl's mother picked her child up at school, the teacher explained how he had disciplined the girl. The mother became quite upset and notified the principal. Police arrested Washburn at the school on complaints of child abuse and indecent exposure--one for each person present when the child's shirt was removed, including 24 students and an adult aide. People generally think of indecent exposure as a person exhibiting his or her own genitals. However, Oklahoma law defines indecent exposure along with indecent exhibitions, obscenity, and soliciting a minor to perform in child pornography. According to the Oklahoma indecent exposure statute, it is a felony if anyone "procures, counsels, or assists any person to expose such person, or to make any other exhibition of such person to public view or to the view of any number of persons, for the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer" (21 O.S. 1021). Read more about indecent exposure in Oklahoma. Although Washburn has been charged with 26 counts of indecent exposure, if Arizona's law reads similarly to Oklahoma's law, a defense attorney may be able to negotiate reduced or amended charges or to get the indecent exposure charge dismissed by demonstrating that the act was not, in fact, perpetrated for his own sexual stimulation or that of any of the students or teachers who witnessed the act. Regardless of intent, the act of removing a child's shirt, leaving her half-naked and embarrassed before her peers, is a terrible thing to do. Washburn is on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, but many parents say that the teacher and the aide who did not intervene should be immediately terminated.

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