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Opening Arguments

Peer pressure

Remember that story some of us got so exercised over about the proposed Maine law that would make it a crime merely to peer at children? Turns out we didn't have the story quite right:

The bill that sparked the controversy would make it possible for authorities to bring charges against sexual voyeurs who target children in public places. Under existing law, such conduct must occur in a private place to be illegal.

Hill, a first-term lawmaker, said she decided to try to strengthen the law after a reported incident at the public bathrooms near the beach in Ogunquit.

Hill said that Ogunquit police told her about a case in which a man repeatedly followed boys into the restroom and peered down at them as they used the urinal. Police were frustrated because such activity was illegal under a state law banning "visual sexual aggression" only if it occurred in a "private place," and a public bathroom didn't seem to qualify.

Hill's proposal, which passed through the Legislature's criminal justice committee unanimously, removes the "private place" language from the existing law.

Other provisions of the law were left unchanged, including language stating that in order to violate the law, an adult must look at a child's "uncovered breasts, buttocks, genitals, anus or pubic area" for the purpose of "arousing or gratifying sexual desire," under circumstances where a "reasonable person" would have an expectation of privacy.

But the article that appeared in the Portsmouth newspaper gave some the impression that they would be violating the law if they merely looked at a child walking down a sidewalk. The article began, "Those who peer at children in public could find themselves on the wrong side of the law in Maine soon."

A newspaper got something wrong. The horror. If stuff like that continues to happen, why, people might stop buying newspapers.

Here's the editor, explaining, sort of: "It used to be that we put things in our newspaper, and we really controlled them. And we don't have that kind of control anymore." No kidding. But even before the Internet made it possible for our mistakes to be picked apart by the whole world nearly instantaneously, newspapers had corrections policies. I hope the editor isn't saying trhat this kind of incomplete story would have been left as is in the old days.