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Saturday, October 21, 2006

More Adventures In Crime - The Tender Gender

The signs of a decaying civilization may be subtle. Like temblors that merely rattle glassware for an instant, they foreshadow a cataclysm to follow. Case in point: an article buried on page B-5 of the L.A. Times of Saturday, October 21, 2006.

A Riverside County judge dismissed an “indecent exposure” charge against a woman. The controversy that made it news in the eyes of the Times editor was the judge’s reverse sexism, holding that the statute only prohibited conduct by males.

Whether the judge is right about that is of less interest to me than the underlying (no pun intended) facts, which the article didn’t get to until the 8th paragraph. A lady (age 40) complained that a neighbor boy (no age given) was making too much noise playing basketball in his yard. When he ignored her demands, she went onto her sundeck and “’He looked up at her, she looked down at him, and she disrobed.’”

What happened next is the scary part. “The boy ran inside and told his parents, who complained to [the woman]. When she threatened to do it every time he played basketball, his parents called police…. The family has since moved out of the neighborhood.” The “D.A. spokeswoman” commented, “’The whole incident is strange.”

Uh, yeah. Sure, the lady should have complained to the parents instead of taking such drastic action, but the misdemeanor the DA filed (P.C. §314.1) would require the lady to register as a sex offender for life.

Yet, even that is not what I worry about. My concern is for the boy’s well-being. It reminded me of a case I ran across as a public defender years ago in Pasadena. An 18 year old “woman” working as a playground counselor was charged with child molestation for fondling a 12 year old boy on a swing.

I place these stories in the same file as scandals about middle and high school teachers having affairs with students.

I try to imagine myself as a boy faced with these situations. Things were certainly different way back then. Sexism was not even a word. No one’s consciousness was raised above a leer. Sex was a mystery shrouded in an enigma, barely discernible through innuendo and snickers.

If I had been exposed to any of the situations set forth above, I believe we would have told my pals about it. Indeed, I dimly remember whispered hyperbole about such subjects. Someone would claim – to the awed, but skeptical listeners – that he had seen a naked lady, or been groped by “an older” woman. There were teachers whose endowments inspired soaring fantasies, sometimes related as facts.

But try as I might, I cannot conceive of any such event which would have impelled me to rush home after school or play and tell my parents. I can’t imagine a dialogue like this:

“Morty, how was your day? What did you learn?”

“Well, mom, it was a great day. Miss Smith, the substitute, er, taught me a lot, and then at the park, a girl gave me a, whatchacallit, a hand job, and – you know, Mrs. Anderson, she, er, complained about the noise we were making, and she took off all her clothes.”

Now that I think about it, I don’t think my mother would have rushed me to the local shrink – I doubt if she even knew of one – or the principal – and definitely not the police. My mother was - well I guess the word would have been - “earthy.” She delighted in telling a story about how my brother finally beat up the neighborhood bully in front of the kid’s mother who hit her son every time my brother did.

She might have giggled, been a bit shocked, but then might have bragged about it to her friends.

I’m not saying that it was a better world back then. Consciousness raising, over all, is probably a good thing. Adam and Eve had theirs raised – the old “knowledge of good and evil” idea. We were sexist – and racist – and a lot of other evil assumptions.

But I wonder sometimes about lost innocence.

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