Glassdale, Idaho -- Margaret Shipley is fighting state officials for the return of her son. She does not deny that he touched his privates in public. Indeed, she admits he was most likely masturbating. But, she points out, Rayford Shipley is only twenty-six months old. Why, she asks, did child welfare workers take the child into custody under Idaho's new "incipent sex offender" law?
Idaho law permits state officials to seize a child in immanent risk of harm. A new law that just went into effect on January 1, 2010, adds a new harm to be avoided: incipient sex offenses. The statute requires a child to be placed in a foster home if there is overwhelming evidence that the child is raised in a lewd and lascivious environment.
In Rayford's case, a worker at the local A&P market saw the toddler sitting strapped into a child restrain seat. "I thought the boy was playing with a toy," Penelope Trugood told state workers. "Imagine my shock when I saw he was playing with himself. He had such an evil little grin."
The seizure of Rayford has some activists crying foul.
"This is not what lawmakers had in mind, " Ms. Shipley protests. "My son is not a sex offender."
The head of Idaho's new task force on child sex offenses, Ronald McSweeney, is unpersuaded. "The young man was playing with himself in public. He was on the slippery slope toward pedophilia. The state has an interested in preventing deviancy no matter what the age of the deviant."
Under the new law, Rayford's school records will henceforth reflect his designation as an ISO, or incipient sex offender. School officials are encouraged to adopt a zero tolerance policy to all potential acts of deviance. If Rayford can avoid further incidents of sex crimes, he will be able to petition the court to have his name stricked from any list of sex offenders at age 18.
"I do not see the wisdom of this law," Ms. Shipley states. "Rayford is just learning to talk, and already the state has labelled him a sex offender? When did innocent curiosity become a crime?"
There will he a hearing next week to determine whether Ms. Shipley can take her son home again. To prevail, she must demonstrate a treatment plan that addresses the risk of recidivism. The state is offering her the use of a shock belt that will startled the child should his hands wander again. The device is controversial, however, and has not yet been approved by federal regulators.
"This is a nightmare," Ms. Shipley said. "I feel as though I am living in a science fiction film."
Editor's Note: If you fell for this hoax that's because you, too, believe it is only a matter of time until nonsense such as this becomes the fodder of daily news.