Pregnant Woman Files Charges Over Belly Rubbing

ThinkStockThere are plenty of not-so-fun aspects of pregnancy: Morning sickness, swollen feet, weight gain. And then there's the dreaded "tummy rub," a common gesture from a well-meaning friend, family member, or co-worker who just can’t resist rubbing the woman's stomach. One expectant mother in Pennsylvania is standing up to unwanted rubs by charging a man with harassment after he touched her stomach without consent.

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A representative from the Pennsylvania State Police tells Yahoo Shine that earlier this month, 57-year-old Richard J. Beishline visited his neighbor, a 30-year-old pregnant woman named Michelle Troutman in Frankfort, Pennsylvania. According to the police report, after giving Troutman a hug, Beishline said, “I just want to be friends” and rubbed her stomach. Troutman pushed him away, and he quickly left. She has since filed harassment charges against Beishline, and if he pleads guilty, he’ll pay a fine determined by a judge. If he pleads not guilty, both parties will have to testify in court.

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Yahoo Shine could not reach either Troutman or Beishline for comment; however, according to Pennsylvania-based attorney Phil DiLucente (who is not involved in the case), this kind of case will most likely be difficult for the plaintiff to win.

“Pennsylvania law defines harassment as engaging in conduct that harasses, annoys, or alarms a person,” DiLucente tells Yahoo Shine. “That’s always been the law, whether someone is pregnant or not, but this is the first time to my knowledge it’s been used in such a way.” In order for the Troutman to win, says DiLucente, she would have to prove a "course of conduct," meaning the incident happened multiple times. If it happened just once, Beishline would likely receive a simple criminal citation, which bears the seriousness of a traffic ticket. “However, this case will make a dent in people’s awareness of a woman’s personal boundaries,” he says. 

Whether it's people offering unsolicited advice, asking too-personal questions, or rubbing someone's stomach without consent, a pregnant woman's personal boundaries have always been up for debate. And the Troutman case has triggered a fiery reaction online, triggering debate on the blog Mommyish and disbelief on Twitter. When Yahoo Shine asked Facebook users how they felt about strangers touching their pregnant stomachs, the response was overwhelming. “I hated it,” wrote Billie Jo Ratliff. “I would always tell them that I’m not a dog. Please don’t rub my belly.” Amie Bean wrote, “I didn't like it. Just how I don't want strangers touching me while I'm not pregnant.” And Yvonne Bermudez: “When we were vacationing in Hawaii and a bus driver asked to rub my mom's pregnant belly, I thought it was weird, but at least he asked!”

“There’s nothing inherently wrong with being curious about a pregnancy — the mechanics of it are fascinating,” says Rebecca Traister, author of "Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women" and author of a forthcoming book on unmarried women. “The problem arises when we physically respond to those impulses by touching women’s stomachs, a gesture that reflects deeply ingrained cultural beliefs about women's bodies being accessible, either sexually or maternally.”

Of course, your doting aunt or perky officemate may not mean harm, but according to Traister, there’s a subconscious belief held by both men and women that pregnancy is the ultimate female endeavor, open to public opinion. “We see this with women who are pressured by their families to have kids or our fascination with celebrity baby bumps in the tabloids,” she says. “It’s led to this thinking that pregnancy is a public concern. It's all part of an ongoing conversation about the ownership of women’s bodies."

It could also be that the act of being pregnant is a universal reference point for women. And that curiosity or interest may lend itself to innocent yet unwanted touching. “When you walk down the street, you don’t know whether a man is an expectant father, but a pregnant stomach broadcasts a woman’s life decisions," says Traister. "However, people are starting to rethink how we see the female body. Hopefully this is one issue that we rethink, as well."

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