It was November 12, 2019 when Flavia Peréa received a phone call from her 6-year-old son’s school saying a girl in his first-grade class had accused him of touching her inappropriately.

The phone call was from the dean of students, who, according to the Boston Globe, indicated that her son’s alleged behavior was a form of sexual harassment, something the boy wouldn’t even be able to understand at that age. The dean vaguely explained the situation to Peréa before adding as what the Globe characterized as “an afterthought,” that the school had to report the incident.

Peréa said the dean didn’t say anything about reporting her son’s actions to the police, but later that day, she found a voicemail from a Somerville, Massachusetts detective. As the Globe reported, Peréa wondered how her son, who had just lost his first tooth, could be under investigation by the police.

Even more perplexing was the fact that her son came home that day with a green mark on his behavior chart, indicating he had done well that day.

Peréa still doesn’t know exactly what her son was accused of on that day, or why school officials notified police when Massachusetts law prohibits children under the age of 12 from being charged with a. crime. More insidious, Peréa wonders if race played a role, since her son is Black and Latino while the accuser is white.

“They don’t see a little boy. They see a criminal,” Peréa told the outlet. “The first thing they did was call the police.”

Peréa, a sociology lecturer at Harvard University who also directs the Mindich Program in Engaged Scholarship, has been fighting for her son ever since he was accused, continuously butting heads with school officials who steadfastly defend their actions.

No action was ever taken against Peréa’s son by the school or law enforcement, but he now has a paper trail at the local police department, the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, and the state Department of Children and Families, the Globe reported. This paper trail describes the allegations against Peréa’s son as “sexual assault,” calling the 6-year-old an “alleged perpetrator.”

Peréa can’t even get the police report of the incident because state laws limit what can be shared and with whom when the allegation is sexual assault.

Peréa still doesn’t even know what, exactly, her son is alleged to have done, according to the Globe:

The dean of students said her son touched the girl’s “private parts.” A school employee told DCF he touched the girl’s crotch, according to an intake report. But the classroom teacher told Peréa the girl reported that he had touched her “bum” and pointed to her rear end.

The Globe characterized the situation in racial terms, suggesting this is an example of racial injustice and schools rushing to condemn Black and Latino students by involving police. It is more likely that this is an example of America’s moral panic surrounding sexual assault, which began on college campuses but has been spreading to the legal system and K-12 schools. Other young children have also been accused of sexual assault, like the 6-year-old Wisconsin boy who was charged with a crime for playing “doctor” with a 5-year-old girl, or the 5-year-old autistic boy labeled a “sexual predator” for kissing a classmate on the cheek and hugging another.

The definition of sexual assault has expanded in the past decades due to political pressure, and the emphasis has been on finding more people responsible without ever suggesting that an accusation may be exaggerated. Race does appear to be a factor in many of the allegations, however, with numerous minority men accused by white women.

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