You may want to think twice the next time you touch a pregnant woman’s growing belly. The act may seem innocent, but if the expectant mom doesn’t like it, you could end up in some big legal trouble — especially in Pennsylvania.
According to Yahoo! Shine, 30-year-old Michelle Troutman of Frankfort, Pa., filed harassment charges against her neighbor Richard J. Beishline, 57, after he visited her earlier this month. Beishline allegedly hugged Troutman, and then rubbed her stomach while saying “I just want to be friends.” Alarmed by the gesture, Troutman pushed him away and Beishline left. Now, depending on whether Beishline pleads guilty to the charge, the case could go forward to trial. The offense carries with it a fine, the amount of which is to be determined by a judge.
To be clear: it is not a crime to merely touch a pregnant woman’s belly. Under the right circumstances, pregnant women may welcome an affectionate belly rub. However, if the touching becomes threatening or uncomfortable in any way, it could be considered harassment.
“Essentially, someone had touched a pregnant woman’s belly. That’s very common that pregnant women have to go through that. The only problem is when you harass, annoy, alarm in the act of touching, then it’s a violation, a harassment charge,” said Phil DiLucente, a Pennsylvania attorney.
But harassment isn’t just a criminal offense in Pennsylvania. And harassment as a criminal offense isn’t a new area of the law. In fact, every state has a harassment statute that makes it illegal to intentionally harass, annoy or alarm another person — whether they’re pregnant or not.
In New York, for instance, Beishline would have been charged with harassment in the second degree. The law states as follows:
“A person is guilty of harassment in the second degree when, with intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person: 1. He or she strikes, shoves, kicks or otherwise subjects such other person to physical contact, or attempts or threatens to do the same; or 2. He or she follows a person in or about a public place or places; or 3. He or she engages in a course of conduct or repeatedly commits acts which alarm or seriously annoy such other person and which serve no legitimate purpose.”
Troutman’s case in Pennsylvania garnered national attention because, according to DiLucente, it’s the first time the statute has been used to bring charges for touching a pregnant woman’s belly. She will likely have a hard time getting a guilty verdict because, under the Pennsylvania version of the statute, Beishline would have to have harassed her on more than one occasion in order to be found guilty.
No matter the outcome, though, Troutman’s decision to press charges has brought attention to a question that many expectant moms have probably had: pregnant or not, doesn’t every woman have the right to ask not to be touched?
“This case will make a dent in people’s awareness of a woman’s personal boundaries,” said DiLucente.