Be honorable; the world is watching
Wednesday’s arrest of Tanveer Hussain of India for alleged sexual abuse of a 12-year-old girl sent shock waves around the globe. In Saranac Lake, it felt like a full-on earthquake.
Especially when we read the public comments many of our readers posted on Facebook.
Not only did people plunge into speculation about the alleged crime, but they immediately started debates over whether to blame it on President Obama, President Trump, Mayor Rabideau or Senators Schumer and Gillibrand; about whether India has a “rape culture” and/or allows men to marry young girls; about the character of the alleged victim and her parents; and about which village had more perverts, Saranac Lake or Tupper Lake. Also, several people misidentified the crime as rape, a different and more serious crime.
These people sounded like 12-year-olds themselves, and while we’ve seen enough online ugliness to expect that kind of thing, we were nevertheless ashamed at how they reflected Saranac Lake. We hope the real 12-year-olds of this community, as they gossiped about this at the middle school Thursday, behaved better. We know, however, that they often take their cues from adults about what kind of speech is acceptable. They need good examples.
Sgt. Casey Reardon of the Saranac Lake Police Department, who arrested Hussain, told us he was equally disgusted by the Facebook comments. He said he couldn’t believe how ignorant people of this community could be.
So, after a rough start, let’s get it together, folks. We urge our friends, neighbors and other readers to return to holding their heads high and setting a good example for their children, as Saranac Lakers did with the kindness and generosity they showed to Hussain and countryman Abid Khan in getting them here and then hosting them for the World Snowshoe Championships. Surely this situation feels like a betrayal of trust, but when times get tough, decency, dignity and rationality are needed more than ever.
This is an international incident, and the world is watching Saranac Lake right now. Let’s show some honor — a quality highly valued in India, where news media are all over this story.
We want them to see that both our criminal system and our people are just.
Focus on the facts — and remember you don’t have all of them. Village police have given enough details to deflate many false rumors, which is critical, but they haven’t tipped their hands fully. They said Hussain allegedly kissed the girl passionately and touched her over her clothes in an intimate area of her body. They are not saying which intimate area, but they acknowledged that, according to legal statute, it must be either her breasts, her buttocks or between her legs.
Khan, speaking for Hussain whose English isn’t as good, says there was no such contact. He says the girl had followed them around town and showed up at the inn where they were staying Monday evening. Khan said she made advances at Hussain, but he pushed her away and told her to go home.
Police say witnesses and social media posts indicate otherwise.
It’s important to presume Hussain innocent until/unless he is proven guilty. It’s also important not to blame the alleged victim. He’s the responsible adult in their interactions, and whatever amorous advances the girl may have made do not prove his innocence. Even if she threw herself at him, if he reciprocated so much as to touch her butt for one second, he’s guilty of a felony. It wouldn’t be criminal if she was 17 or older, but she’s 12 — too young to consent legally.
The sentence for this crime can range from probation to seven years in prison. As for a foreigner visiting on a short-term visa, Hussain could also face other penalties, such as travel limitations.
Our sex crime laws is worth debating, but keep in mind something any first-year psychology textbook will show: Adolescents’ brains are still developing. They can’t be expected to assess risk and make decisions as an adult would, and thus can’t be held to the same standard of responsibility for their actions.
Yet those actions can have tremendous impact. A 12-year-old girl may see affection and accusation as plot twists in the great middle school drama, yet such things can spark an international incident.
Reardon emphasized how cooperative and respectful Hussain and Khan were, and also how embarrassed. He said honor is a huge deal in their country, and they felt dishonored by this situation.
Let us, the people of Saranac Lake and the Adirondacks, also hold onto a sense of honor, fairness and compassion as the truth and consequences of this painful situation emerge.