In Oregon, you can go to jail for holding hands

Oregon prosecutors love to charge people with crimes involving the touching of sexual or intimate body parts.  ORS 163.415, for example, defines the crime of “sexual abuse in the third degree” as subjecting another person to “sexual contact” without their consent (and if they’re under 18, Oregon prosecutors say this automatically means they didn’t consent).  OK, but what does “sexual contact” mean?

ORS 163.305 says “sexual contact” means “any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person or causing such person to touch the sexual or other intimate parts of the actor for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of either party.”  Everybody can understand what “sexual body parts” are, but what about “intimate parts” ?  For the ludicrous answer to that, we must turn to Oregon case law.

In State v. Woodley, 760 P. 2d 884 (1988), a case that has been consistently upheld by other Oregon courts for the last 22  years, the Oregon Supreme Court created a two-part test:

  1. The government must prove that the person being touched felt that the body part touched was “intimate.”
  2. The government must also prove that the person doing the touching should have known that the body part was an “intimate part.”

This test is arguably better than the earlier test, which allowed different areas of the state to come up with their own decisions solely based on the standards of each particular community.  But, the test still allows for silly results.  Various Oregon cases since the Woodley decision have named a wide variety of body parts as being potential “intimate parts,” including obvious candidates like butts and breasts, but also more-questionable body parts such as thighs, hips, and even necks!

So, watch out – the argument can be made that the hands and fingers are some of the most-intimate parts of the body, and holding hands with someone under 18 could land you in jail!

(photo by Een Ar)