Dispute erupts at Wal-Mart over ear-piercing of young girl

? A woman was issued a warning for trespassing and asked to leave a Wal-Mart after she called police when she heard a young girl who was getting her ears pierced crying and screaming.

Marilyn Johnson said she was told she would no longer be allowed in the store after the incident occurred Sunday.

Johnson said she called 911 after trying to talk to the girl’s mother and the employee who was doing the ear piercing. She said the girl, who she thought was about 5 years old, was “crying her eyes out.”

“Her face was beet red, and she was screaming and coughing and saying things like, ‘I don’t want this! It hurts! Please stop!’ She was grabbing her ears so the adults couldn’t touch them,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the women did not respond to her and continued trying to pierce the girl’s ears.

“We’re forever being told we should report any suspected child abuse,” said Johnson, 53, of Wichita.

“I saw a child crying and screaming and pleading for someone not to do something to her. And if that’s not child abuse, I don’t know what is.”

However, the girl’s mother and the employee were not breaking any laws, Wichita police spokesman Gordon Bassham said.

Kansas law requires written and notarized consent from a parent or legal guardian before someone under 18 can get a body piercing or tattoo. The law does not say whether piercings or tattoos can be forcibly administered.

“The parent was not, in the eyes of the officers, doing anything illegal,” Bassham said. “This could have been a cultural thing for the mother, or a religious thing. There are so many factors at work.

“For us as law enforcement to try and predict the reasons and the motivations behind this is not possible, and that’s not our area.”

The mother was not identified by police or store officials.

At the request of a Wal-Mart official, police issued Johnson a warning for trespassing and escorted her from the store, Bassham said.

In a written statement, Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman said:

“Ear piercing is a service that Wal-Mart offers to our customers of all ages. A parent or legal guardian’s signature is required if the person having their ears pierced is under 18 years old, which was the case in this instance.

“The child’s mother indicated more than once through the ear-piercing process that she wanted her daughter’s ears pierced.”

In cases where a child opposes the piercings, Fogleman said: “Local management has discretion based on the individual circumstance.”

Johnson said she plans to talk to legislators about making state law more specific about when piercings or tattoos become possible abuse.

“I can’t understand doing that to a child who’s screaming and crying and clearly didn’t want this done,” Johnson said. “If I’m the crazy one for calling the police, then maybe I’m crazy. But I don’t think so.”