Laws Aren’t Enough: Compassion, Prudence, Proportion And The Golden Rule Must Also Be In The Equation

Here is a cautionary tale out of Great Britain,  whose ethics comprehension appears to have gone into a tailspin.

In Manchester, England about a year ago, Jamie Griffiths , then a 19-year-old male student, reached out and  touched a 17-year-old female classmate’s arm while they were both walking along a city street during the day. Jamie explained to police, which the young woman contacted because of the incident, that he had just wanted to get her attention, introduce himself, and maybe “make a friend.”

Instead, the woman claims, the spontaneous encounter quickly spiraled out of control. As she told the court, according to The Manchester Evening News,

“I was just set on getting home and [reviewing] for my mock exams, but as I was coming over the bridge I saw him facing a hedge and I thought it was really weird. He wasn’t doing anything. He was just facing the hedge, staring at it. As I walked towards him, I was watching him and he suddenly swung round so he was facing me. I remember it happening fast. As soon as he moved, I moved, and I said: ‘stop’ and he touched me on my arm. I sort of jolted out of the way and I went into the road to avoid him and he very quickly walked away…I forgot about it for a while because I had my exams. I just thought it was weird behavior.” She went to the police and reported the episode. Then there was a second. This time, the 17-year-old was was walking to school when Griffiths walked in front of her and touched her side, staying in contact, she said, for about three seconds. “He smirked at me, he didn’t stop, he just touched me and walked off and I broke down crying in the street—it was quite traumatic.”

She and her mother filed a crime report. The student was traumatized by the encounters, she says. “Every time I started working I would cry because I would think of it. I felt very unsafe, even in my own home.”

A magistrate convicted Jamie Griffiths of two charges of sexual assault, accepting the young woman’s assessment that there was “no doubt” that had she not moved away from him that first time he touched her arm, he would have gone on to touch her breast. “The complainant’s evidence was very clear, logical and without embellishment,” the magistrate told the defendant. “We can think of no motivation for you to touch the victim other than sexual. Had she not taken evasive action the assault was likely to have been even more serious.”

Jamie faces  possible imprisonment for up to ten years,  and might be placed on the sex offense registry. He steadfastly maintains his innocence.

He told the magistrate that he had been studying for standardized tests, and  was lonely and anxious. Hewas do desperate that he googled “how to make a friend”—that’s pretty desperate—and was advised to break the ice with a joke.  He decided to give it a try with the young woman. “I went to touch her arm to start a conversation and she just walked off,” he said. “I just wanted to speak to someone,” but “the words just didn’t come out.”

Then he tried again. The  smirk was only a friendly smile that the girl misinterpreted, Jamie says.

My assessment is that a society where this can happen is in serious trouble.

Let’s stipulate that Jamie Griffiths behavior was inept, misguided and creepy. Nevertheless, it could not fairly, even by the most unsympathetic interpretation, be called a criminal act. If someone reaches out and touches me on the arm when I am minding my own business and walking on the sidewalk in public, the stranger better say something appropriate quick (as one did a couple of months ago, informing me that I had dropped my wallet) or I will say, “What? Why did you touch me? Stay away from me!” Any woman as old as 17 should be able to do the same. Reporting such a touch to police is a waste of police time and an irresponsible over-reaction. The second encounter, the alleged hand on the waist, requires a direct rebuke. Still, absent anything else more serious than an ambiguous smile, there is no crime. There is certainly no justification to seek to punish the young man by bringing  the power of the state down upon him.  Reporting him to the school administrators should be the absolute maximum response, and even that shows serious life competence deficits.

As I’ve stated here many times, I was raised in Boston, and learned that you never touch anyone, anywhere, with anything, without permission. If you absolutely have to, and a vocal alert isn’t sufficient, you lightly tap a person on the shoulder. However, many, I would venture most, people are not raised this way, and a competent, compassionate member of society must always allow for different habits and practices.

We do not automatically assume the worst of people. We presume good will, rather than bad. We do not seek to turn every misunderstanding into a fight, or seek to hurt those who may have made an honest mistake. We treat people, including strangers, this way because we know that mutual care and understanding based on how we would want to be treated—the Golden Rules–create an essential bond of common sense and tolerance that make a civil society possible.

Post Script: I was watching an episode of “Mr. Mercedes” last night before I read about poor Jamie. In what was supposed to be  a funny exchange, a young woman reacted indignantly to a casual comment by her male employer—hardly a harassing one, but politically incorrect from the #MeToo perspective—by sharply reprimanding him, staing  that he wasn’t even supposed to notice that she was female, and any hint that he did was treading on thin ice.

I decided that the scene wasn’t so funny.


Facts: Reason


21 thoughts on “Laws Aren’t Enough: Compassion, Prudence, Proportion And The Golden Rule Must Also Be In The Equation

  1. That scene you describe is actually rather frightening. How, exactly, am I supposed to not notice a girl is female? Take my glasses off?

  2. Jack,

    Many moons ago you wrote about a similar incident involving (then campaign manager) Corey Lewan(I don’t care how it’s spelled)sky and reporter Michelle Fields. At the time you (I think, correctly) wrote:

    “The charge can be justified on utilitarian grounds. Today I saw a cable TV news exchange regarding Fields’ complaint on CNN, where a lawyer explained that any unconsented touching is battery, and the interviewer was shocked. “What?” she said. Yes, I remember a lot of classmates in first year of law school being surprised at that too.

    It’s the Common Law: nobody has a right to touch anybody else. I love that principle, myself: I don’t touch people unless I have permission, and they better not touch me. It’s per se battery, and while we usually don’t press it, we might if the batterer is enough of a jerk, or does more harm than he intended. If charging Lewandowsky makes people think twice before laying their hands on me or anyone else, good. Sending a message to discourage others from wrongful acts is always a valid reason to charge someone.”

    Now, you did clarify in a later post that the whole situation could have easily gone away with a
    quick, sincere apology at the time. Still, you nevertheless seemed to support the charge in principle. I realize the boy in this case wasn’t a political actor, his intentions were friendly, and the incident involves young adults, but the same principle would seem to apply.

    I don’t bring this up as a “gotcha;” I’m just trying to understand the differences. Please don’t make fun of me. Thank you.

  3. This is one, maybe two, steps away from criminalizing people looking at others and convicting them of the crime of stare rape. I also doubt that anything would have come of this if this was a woman trying to make friends with a man.

  4. Here’s my understanding of the incident. There were two times they interacted, as Jack notes. There were ONLY two times, I choose to note. Here’s the article:

    I don’t see anywhere where she went to the police after the first encounter. Matter of fact she claims she forgot it. Or went to the police right after the second. It seems she waited a few months, which calls her motives into question. Perhaps she needs an excuse for failing her exams.

    Regardless this guy doesn’t strike me as having ill-intent. A bully would have continued the behavior, not just met with her twice. Also, he easily could have lied and denied all this. What proof does she even have? I bet you could find his google searches from the timeframe in question.

    Sounds like a socially awkward, shy young man being made an example of for ulterior motives and to warn ‘creepers’ away. He’s basically being told his mere touch is toxic and the very worst is to be assumed about his intentions, no proof needed. Even if they don’t put him in jail for a decade (maybe a month, hopefully he doesn’t get hurt inside the prison) if they put him on their version of the SO registry, his life is basically over, that is, at least, until he can be removed from it.

    This is horrible and comes from making the violation of subjective feelings and mild touches (of a non-aggressive nature) to areas that everyone would agree aren’t sexual out to be crimes. Sexual Harassment law in general needs to be tightened up in my opinion, and the ‘mens rea’ of the male involved (by far the vast majority of defendents) needs to be taken into account as some kind of defense. As it functions now it empowers false accusers, the mentally ill, and the very most sexually repressed at the expense of all other women and men.

    • If he’d been a good looking champion athlete he’d be fine, because she wouldn’t say boo. it’s just another example of the top 80% of women competing only for the top 20% of men. This guy fell outside the top 20% so he was treated like he was toxic. Tough luck son, should have been born with better genes.

  5. I think it’s way overkill, and even with a mild touch phobia, you cannot go completely without occasional random touches by other men and women. If she was that offended, she could slap the cad with her purse or backpack. Maybe he was creepy, but that should be a shame penalty, not ten years. Making friends is hard if you’re light enough in skill to ask youtube.

  6. This sort of thing comes in part from women playing the role of helpless victim. Ladies should take self defense classes and learn to be very aware of their surroundings to avoid such situations.

    It’s best to have grace…but carry mace. Would be weirdos like this guy would be more mindful if women were more proactive in protecting themselves.

    • Eh, I don’t think teenagers or college students should carry mace. It’s just giving them another way to abuse one another. When we were in high school we would pretend to fall against each other, or otherwise accidentally hurt each other, I think it’s too easy for a girl who disliked somebody for no real reason to say he did something creepy and justify macing him.

      • I disagree. Perhaps this is one of those “walk a mile in my moccasins” moments because the first thing I think reading that reaction is that you have a different idea about what it’s like to be a woman in this scenario than I do.

        Not everyone experiences being pawed at at all moments in life. But many women out there would potentially agree that from roughly 13 years old on, your body becomes a totem pole for wayward “accidental” touching. This does NOT mean women don’t do this. There’s men who experience this too, with a potential higher ratio for gay men.

        Regardless of sex or gender for that matter, people need to be mindful and respectful of other peoples bodies. I’m not advocating for women or anyone to spray at people for nothing.

        Carrying mace is a responsibility. Carrying a gun is a responsibility. Being trained in self defense is a responsibility.
        Being aware is a responsibility.

        Anyone who wishes to protect themselves in whatever manner has a responsibility to be wise and seek to achieve mature and judicious use of self defense tactics. We tell this to rural kids first learning how to shoot a .22. We tell this to city teen and adult women.

        We practice protection because walking around letting people touch you can lead to rape or worse. No, life isn’t like a Dateline episode. That doesn’t mean we act like fools thinking someone else (like the government, or a spouse, or friend, or stranger) can protect us. This is why I have over the years come to support the 2nd amendment.

        Jews, blacks, Native Americans, etc. were disarmed and we know what happened. #Metoo has done a grave disservice to women by not encouraging them to be more self protective. I believe a story came out about a woman who was raped by a guy she met at a #metoo rally. How many women die because they passively let one “accidental” touch lead to three, the ten and so on, all so they don’t seem “uptight.”

        Have grace and carry mace means be kind and responsible but don’t be anyone’s fool. This is powerful.

        • Bingo. As I’ve related here before, my sister, as a pre-teen, decisively dealt with a handsy dirty old uncle who was always patting and hugging the girls in our extended family by loudly telling him at a family function where he tried to pull her onto his lap, “Do NOT touch me!” He never came near her again. My father had to leave the room, so he could laugh in private. Immortal Marshall family story.

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