Faced with a child who clearly didn’t want her ears pierced, Raylene Marks began to wonder if she’d lose her job for respecting the child’s wishes.
As Business Insider reports, Marks was an employee at a Claire’s store in Edmonton, Alberta. The accessories chain is geared toward young girls and tweens and has more than 2,500 stores in North America and Europe.
In addition to selling jewelry and accessories, Claire’s is well-known for offering ear piercing services. Their website boasts of having “100 million ears pierced and counting,” and labels Claire’s “the world’s leading ear piercing specialists.”
But it was the company’s policy on ear piercing that left Marks feeling a bit queasy.
As Marks wrote in an open letter to the company on Facebook, she had no problem piercing the ears of children who were eager, but nervous about it. In those situations, she’d try to ease the child’s fears.
Then there were the cases she called, “gray area,” where the child was resistant to a piercing, was pressured into submitting to it by a parent, but was still obviously unhappy even when it was over and he or she had earrings and a lollipop.
“I didn’t feel good about those, and I started to wonder at what point the piercer and the parent are actually violating a child’s personal boundaries,” Marks wrote. “Last week was a breaking point.”
As Marks explained, she was called to assist in a double piercing for a 7-year-old girl who had come in with her mother. A double piercing is when they pierce both ears simultaneously. It’s intended to help a nervous child get through the piercing quickly — especially if the child might want to stop halfway through.
From the beginning, it was clear that the girl didn’t want her ears pierced. Marks says that the girl, “pleaded and sobbed for thirty minutes not to be pierced.” And while the girl’s mother said that they could go home if the girl wanted, it was clear that she wasn’t going to leave. Marks wrote:
She was putting a great deal of pressure on her daughter to go through with the piercing. This child was articulate, smart, and well aware of herself and her body. She expressed that she didn’t want us touching her, that we were standing too close, that she was feeling uncomfortable. She made it clear she no longer wanted to get her ears pierced. She begged, over and over again, for Mom to please, just take her home.
It was more than Marks’ conscience could bear.
“That child’s message was loud and clear to me: Do not touch my body, do not pierce my ears, I do not want to be here,” she wrote. “I’m inclined to respect a child’s right to say, ‘NO,’ to any adult forcing any kind of non-medical contact on them, so I told the other piercer I wouldn’t be part of the ear piercing for this girl.”
Eventually, the mom gave in to her daughter’s pleas and they left the store without going through with the piercing. However, the incident left Marks wondering what would have happened if the mom had insisted.
Speaking to her manager the next day, Marks described what had happened:
I told my manager that I would not have been able to pierce that little girl’s ears if Mom had insisted on it. I was firmly told, “You would have had no choice but to do it.”
Concerned that store policy seemed to require her to pierce children’s ears without their consent, Marks wanted to know whether there were any limits to its scope. So she asked about the most extreme scenario she could envision:
I wanted to know how far we were supposed to take this policy of piercing non-consenting children. “So if a mother is physically restraining her daughter, holding her down and saying, ‘DO IT,’ while that little girl cries and asks me not to, do I do the piercing?” My manager did not hesitate to respond, “Yes, you do the piercing.”
Faced with the possibility of being disciplined for refusing to pierce the ears of a non-consenting child, Marks chose to hand in her notice. Meanwhile, Marks’ manager insisted that her policy was followed by other store managers and backed up by the District Sales Manager:
Children can be held down and pierced. Children do not have a voice in the piercing process. The associate doing the piercing has no right to refuse to shoot metal through the ears of a child who begs not to be touched.
Marks did her own research into the company’s procedures, but the only mention of the right to refuse a piercing states, “We reserve to the right to refuse an ear piercing if a successful one cannot be done.” As Marks’ manager had indicated, absent a question of safety, employees have to go ahead with the piercing. Consent is not an issue.
Believing that this policy facilitates traumatic situations for children, not to mention “intimidation and abuse in-store,” Marks asked Claire’s to review their policy. She pointed out that there should be protections for both the children and employees who refuse to pierce a child without that child’s consent. She wrote:
I implore you to consider changing this policy that blatantly ignores every child who vocally protests, cries, shows obvious signs of distress or is physically restrained by their alleged guardian while they sob and beg to be released. There needs to be something in place that protects both the rights of the child to protect his or her own body, and the right for the employee to refuse to pierce a heavily distressed child that adamantly refuses to have his or her ears pierced.
Marks’ revelations about Claire’s ear piercing policy were met with anger and disbelief. Several former employees confirmed that Marks was accurately describing the store’s piercing practices.
Others were aghast that children could be pierced despite clear resistance and lack of consent.
Marks concluded by urging people to shop elsewhere until Claire’s revises their policy. She later posted an update saying that Claire’s had reached out to her and indicated that they are reviewing their piercing policy. The company told Insider that Marks acted correctly in refusing to do the piercing and added:
“We are investigating the specific store instances she mentions, and will take appropriate corrective action. We will also be reviewing the policy to ensure that the intent is clear.”