On Maine’s “Visual Sexual Aggression” Bill

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Update (5/10/11): Apparently, I dropped the ball, neglected to do the legwork, failed to RTFM on this story. This story was passed along to me by a friend late yesterday afternoon, and in my hurry to get a post up and get out of the office, I didn’t notice that the article was 3 years old. The friend who sent it along pulled the link from a post at BoingBoing, which has also been removed as of this writing. A thousand apologies for this oversight. #LessonLearned

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Readers in Maine, look out: peering at a child could land you on the wrong side of a anti-child predator law. Rep. Dawn Hill is championing a bill that would make “visual sexual aggression” (whatever the hell that means) an offense for viewing children in a public place.

The bill was prompted by the admittedly-creepy story of a guy watching children enter and exit a public restroom.

Her involvement started when Ogunquit Police Lt. David Alexander was called to a local beach to deal with a man who appeared to be observing children entering the community bathrooms. Because the state statute prevents arrests for visual sexual aggression of a child in a public place, Alexander said he and his fellow officer could only ask the man to move along.
“There was no violation of law that we could enforce. There was nothing we could charge him with,” Alexander said.

He attended a talk with Hill a week later and brought the case to her attention. Hill pledged to do what she could, Alexander said, and the result was a change through the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee in the House, which made the law applicable in both private and public places.

Hill said she believes the move was necessary to correct what she called a “loophole” in the state’s criminal law statutes.

Is visual sexual aggression really a thing? Like, a thing that police can arrest you for? How do they define it? Is it a gaze lasting more than 3.2 seconds?  Or is it one of those “you know it when you see it” kind of laws that’s left entirely up to the officers to define and enforce?

Listen: being a creeper is not illegal as long as you aren’t actually harming anyone. I don’t like what may be playing out in that guy’s head, and if he ever made even the slightest gesture that indicated harm to a child or anyone else, I’d be the first person to punch him in the windpipe (figuratively speaking). Protecting children from actual harm should be the police’s job, not harassing Boo Radley because he makes the locals uncomfortable. I get that it sucks when the presence of creepers makes going to the beach or the pool less fun. But the answer to dealing with the few creeps out there is not to pass another vague law that could apply to anyone and for which the definition is determined by the arresting officer. This could easily turn into a law against irritating a cop while in close proximity to a public restroom.

Sheesh.

[Libby]


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19 Responses to “On Maine’s “Visual Sexual Aggression” Bill”

  1. #1 |  Bruce H | 

    Date line on that article: April 06, 2008 2:00 AM.

    I don’t know what happened with the bill, but I think we’d have heard more about it by now if it had passed.

  2. #2 |  Davis | 

    This just screams “void-for-vagueness.”

  3. #3 |  ClubMedSux | 

    I don’t know what happened with the bill, but I think we’d have heard more about it by now if it had passed.

    Looks like there’s indeed a law on the books, but based on its content I think Rep. Hill wanted to beef it up:
    http://www.legislature.maine.gov/legis/statutes/17-A/title17-Asec256.html

    As it is, I don’t have too much of a problem with it (you can’t expose yourself to a kid and you can’t peep at them when they’re naked and they have a reasonable expectation of privacy–e.g. bathroom stall, changing room, etc.). But the proposal indeed would be unconstitutionally vague in my opinion, and just a horrible idea in general.

  4. #4 |  Andrew S. | 

    Story of father watching child play at park arrested for visual sexual aggression in 5…4..3..2…1.

  5. #5 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Hill pledged to do what she could

    There’s the problem right there. Politicians can’t resist doing something…anything.

    BTW, we already have the laws against “irritating a cop”.

  6. #6 |  maybelogics | 

    #5- Yeah, but I’m inclined to believe the more problematic problem is with the individual who didn’t have the balls to go up to Mr. Creepy him/herself and ask him what’s up. Best way to disarm a creeper is to critique his aesthetic of creepiness, not call the damn cops. Hill’s only doing something b/c the Ogunquitan beachgoers were too lazy or scared.

  7. #7 |  PersonFromPorlock | 

    Well, Rep. (now Senator) Hill is from York, which is Hobbit country. All those cheerful, cooperative folk down there eat ‘beneficial-to-good-order’ laws like that right up.

  8. #8 |  Jesse | 

    I think an old episode of Seinfeld will be used in defining exactly what “visual sexual aggression” consists of. IIRC, for instance, when an underage woman’s cleavage comes into your “field of vision”, it is appropriate to steal a glance but then you must look away, sort of like looking at the sun. You don’t stare directly at it.

  9. #9 |  B | 

    My wife and I once called the cops on a guy who we recognized as having made a habit of parking his car with a sight line to our neighborhood playground. One time my wife was pretty sure he was masturbating, though she was (understandably) reluctant to get close enough to confirm this, and she didn’t have her phone on her at the time. We saw him again a few days later and called the police. They sent someone by to check him out and found him with his pants undone, packing a bowl. I don’t think that they ultimately charged him with anything but the weed, but we didn’t see him in our neighborhood again.

    I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being profoundly conflicted over this. The guy may or may not have been an actual threat to anyone, but he clearly had a problem with impulse control and (likely) a thing for kids. On the other hand, he got popped for breaking a law I have been known to break myself with some frequency (though not as stupidly and publicly) and don’t think should be a crime at all.

    Anyway, my point in that rambling story being that if you’re up to much of anything, the cops can find a reason to arrest you, or at least scare you off. So I don’t really see a need to invent a new crime.

  10. #10 |  EH | 

    This is just another way for cops to exercise selectivity. More laws, more ways to fuck with people. If puppy shooting and tasers get taken away, they’re going to need more weapons such as laws like this one.

  11. #11 |  Dave Krueger | 

    From the article:

    Her involvement started when Ogunquit Police Lt. David Alexander was called to a local beach to deal with a man who appeared to be observing children entering the community bathrooms. Because the state statute prevents arrests for visual sexual aggression of a child in a public place, Alexander said he and his fellow officer could only ask the man to move along.

    Does the original law specifically prohibits arrest for “visual sexual aggression” or does it just not make a crime out of something so friggin’ stupid?

    So, this guy, apparently doing nothing but watching people in a public place, was able to avoid justice and live to watch people in a public place again in the future? I mean, he’s out there walking around scott free?

    Hell, he could have been actually taking pictures of fully clothed children entering the restroom. Now that’s frightening. Next thing you know, some pervert somewhere, is secretly jerking off to them. Once that happens, the kid will be brain damaged for life.

    This seems to fit right in with that bill in Florida about not photographing farms. I mean, next thing you know, some guy somewhere will be jerking off to pictures of farm animals. Farm animals deserve to be safe, too.

    Sarcasm aside, there is now so much child sex paranoia in this country that the focus of these laws no longer has anything to do with protecting children, but is now all about whether someone somewhere is getting a thrill. The laws are attempting to criminalize fantasies. There is a difference between child molestation and taking a picture of a kid in a public place and there is a difference between a kid seeing someone naked and actually being abused.

    Nothing, and I mean nothing, turns otherwise intelligent people (including libertarians) into mindless police state advocates quite like the child predator fear mongering that has become so common in the last few decades. It’s the most potent tool politicians have and they know it. And you can be sure that when the internet is finally under total state control (assuming you think it isn’t already), the protection of children will be the excuse they will use. Most developed western countries are already traveling that road.

  12. #12 |  JS | 

    Wow! The American people are so fucking stupid. Well, a lot of them anyway. It’s like they’re just begging for a police state.

  13. #13 |  Stephen Haynes | 

    You might want to be a little bit careful about this. First, as another noted, the dateline on the article is 2008. Second, quick research discloses that the statute in question is Maine Revised Statutes Title 17-A, Section 256 (http://www.legislature.maine.gov/legis/statutes/17-A/title17-Asec256.html), which was last amended in 2007, so the proposed changes never made it into law.

    I agree that the principle here is ridiculous, but the way you present it suggests there was an actual danger that this offensive law might actually be enacted, when in fact it wasn’t.

  14. #14 |  Greg | 

    Wow! The American people are so fucking stupid. Well, a lot of them anyway. It’s like they’re just begging for a police state.

    We’re almost there, just working out the details.

  15. #15 |  Dave Krueger | 

    It’s kinda scary to me that such a law was actually proposed and received law enforcement support, regardless of whether it actually passed.

  16. #16 |  Larry Ruane | 

    This is another argument for maximizing private property. If the beach and its restrooms were privately owned, the owner could have kicked the guy out, without violating his rights.

    As it is today, the only two options are to be forced to tolerate creepers, or to move further down the road to a police state. Hans-Hermann Hoppe has made some very compelling points in this area.

  17. #17 |  John Q. Galt | 

    “Listen: being a creeper is not illegal as long as you aren’t actually harming anyone.”

    If a person isn’t actually harming someone do they really deserve the lable “creeper.”

    “I don’t like what may be playing out in that guy’s head, and if he ever made even the slightest gesture that indicated harm to a child or anyone else, I’d be the first person to punch him in the windpipe (figuratively speaking).”

    You do know this response is exactly what statists intend to elicit when they exploit protect-the-weak proxy lawfare? Right?

    And how do you figuratively punch a creeper in the windpipe?

  18. #18 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    I don’t know why we’re wasting time on this story when we could be discussing important issues like whether Hillary Clinton or Rudy Guilianni is going to win the 2008 Presidential Election.

  19. #19 |  Libby Jacobson | 

    Whoa whoa, I’m very sorry you guys – Thanks to the couple of you who pointed out the sell-by date on that article. A friend had sent it to me around 4:30 today, and in my rush to post and leave the office, I didn’t look closely. How it came across his desk three years late, I don’t know. I’ll update the post/unleash my blogging fury upon said friend tomorrow morning. ;)

    Comments are hereby closed.