Let’s say your son turns 18. He gets a job at the local carnival, running the ride where the kids lie face down and spin around till they shriek with delight (or puke). Before each ride he has to buckle the kids in so they don’t fly out. But then — tragedy strikes.
Oh, don’t worry. Nobody goes flying. They’re buckled just fine. But one girl does tell her mother, “He touched my bottom!”
The mom alerts the police.
The police come over and ask, “Is that true?” Your son replies, “Maybe. I have to lock the bar around their waists and between their legs. They squirm. It could have happened.”
The next day the police take him in for questioning. They ask him the same thing, this time with the videotape running. He gives them the same answer.
It is considered his confession. He is convicted of “Indecent Assault and Battery on a Child.” He goes to jail for nine months. He is put on the Sex Offender Registry — for life.
Meantime, a few years later, your younger son is now 18. He’s at the urinal in the school bathroom during a weekend service project. A girl too young to read bursts in and he yells, “Out out out! Get out!” She starts crying and leaves. Her mom is concerned. The police are called. Was he in the men’s room with a girl?
Well, yes. Since everyone agrees the girl was not touched, he is convicted of “Visual Sexual Aggression Against a Child” — the crime of having a child see his genitals. He does six months in jail. He’s placed on the Sex Offender Registry for the next 10 years.
Let us remember this when we look up our local sex offender maps and see two convicts: One who ostensibly exposes himself to children and one who ostensibly assaults them.
We consult those maps because, as parents, we are hardwired to worry about our children. We worry about them getting hurt by strangers. But few of us worry about them getting hurt by strange laws that can put a young man behind bars for touching a child, even accidentally, on the bottom, in public, with everyone’s clothes on. Or for having a child, even accidentally, glimpse his private parts.
I spoke to the actual mom of these two young men. She’s a fishing net-maker in Maine and she put it pretty succinctly: “We’re all just one accusation away from the sex offender registry.”