Tribune-Courier News Editor
BENTON – One local woman is urging lawmakers to adopt stricter punishments for unwanted sexual contact. Mary Burgess said she was the victim of such an incident last year and was “appalled” to find out such an act was only a Class “B” misdemeanor, which does not require registering as a sex offender.
“October of last year I went to the West Kentucky Rural Electric company’s Benton office,” Burgess said. “I went there to pay my electric bill. I had a baby that was asleep in the car.”
Burgess said she spoke briefly to a man inside and in the parking lot. The man, Max Carney, asked Burgess for a hug after offering to watch her sleeping infant.
“He took both of his arms and spins me around towards him,” Burgess said. “We were between two vehicles. He wouldn’t let go. The next thing I know, his left hand is in the small of my back and his right hand is on my behind.”
Burgess said she tried to pull away, but was locked in place as Carney continued the unwanted touching.
“I don’t remember if I opened the car door or he did, but when my door was open, I was literally in the corner between where the side of my van and the door was,” Burgess said. “He tried to keep his hand on me, but he continued to say ‘That pat doesn’t mean anything, I’m a 76-year-old man with grandchildren.’”
Burgess said she was able to get into her vehicle.
“Your first thought is, ok I’ll blow this off,” Burgess said. “That didn’t work very long. I got home and told my husband what happened. We got the man’s name, called the police department and told the officer what happened. Come to find out, the Benton Police Department knows who he is.”
Many sex-related crimes go unreported as victims are unwilling to press charges.Burgess said she was willing to downplay the incident until speaking with officers and discovering other complaints had been made over the years, leading her to make the decision to press charges.
Carney was arrested in December and convicted this month on third degree sexual abuse.
“I found, what he did to me– sexual abuse– was a Class “A” misdemeanor,” Burgess said. “First of all, it shouldn’t be a misdemeanor. That should be a felony. If you touch someone in a sexual manner, there’s no reason for that to be a misdemeanor. I’m blown away at all the things we call felonies, but touching someone’s body is not.”
But Burgess said she was further surprised when she got to court and learned the legislature had changed the law so that sexual misconduct and sexual abuse were both Class “B” misdemeanors. Burgess said she contacted Sen. Bob Leeper’s office but, as of presstime, had not heard from the lawmaker.
“I spoke to his aide, who said they do not come into session until January, and that laws cannot be changed until that time,” Burgess said. “Men are supposed to protect women. That’s part of what makes a man a man. Our legislature, which is mostly male, is making sexual crimes against women a misdemeanor. I just wonder if any of our legislators would still think this was a Class “B” misdemeanor if they saw him do this to their wife or daughter. This law needs to change. The value of a human being should always be higher than that of a dog.”
Burgess said the penalties would have been more severe if her assailant had broken into her vehicle and stolen something. The difference, she notes, is that what was taken was far more valuable than anything in a purse.
“What he did to me was worse than having someone steal money from me,” Burgess said. “He took something that is more personal than I could ever own. Our laws make a felony out of something you own. But how do you place a value on someone’s body?”
Attempts to reach local state legislators were not successful as of presstime.