SEBRING, Fla. (WFLA) — Is it a teachable moment or a case of child abuse? That’s the question the State Attorney’s Office in Highlands County is asking after a disturbing video of a Sebring mother and her 1-year-old daughter went viral.
In the video, recorded by the mother, Chartelle St. Laurent, the child is seen being bitten by a small rat snake. The toddler begins to cry and the mother starts laughing.
Brenda St. Laurent, the child’s grandmother, tells News Channel 8 she stands by her daughter’s actions. Brenda says the family lives in a rural area and considers the incident a learning moment—a simple way to teach the baby not to touch snakes.
“It’s not like she knew it wasn’t going to strike, but if it did it wasn’t going to hurt her. You know what I’m saying,” said Brenda from her home’s front porch. “The baby was startled by the jump. Not the bite. The bite did nothing. It didn’t break the skin.”
Detectives with the Highland County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation into the video and pointed to child abuse in an affidavit stating that “it is due to the evidence collected during this investigation, which shows Chartelle St. Laurent purposely exposing her 1-year-old child to the snake, sufficient probable cause can be shown (that there has been a violation) of Florida Statute 827.03.1b Child Abuse.”
Scott Dressel, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office believes there wouldn’t have been as much outrage had the child been older.
“You would want to pick moments to teach your child, maybe when the child is a little older and can actually grasp what you’re trying to teach,” said Dressel. “A 1-year-old is not going to remember that. Maybe wait till the child is a little older and teach the child how to recognize dangerous snakes.”
But Dressel agrees with the critics that posting the video wasn’t the wisest idea. “Nothing you post online is going to be private,” said Dressel. “If you post something online, you’re putting it out there for the whole world no matter what you think.”
“I think people just enjoy misery…making other people miserable,” said Brenda, regarding the amount of social media attention the video received. “They jump on the wagon even though they don’t know the whole story.”
The state’s attorney’s office responded to a News Channel 8 inquiry about this case and issued the following statement:
“The Highlands County Sheriff’s Office submitted a complaint affidavit on the case and it is under review by our office. We cannot comment further at this time.”
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