THE MAN: In jail, it is the worst thing you can be. Men will lie and say that they killed or stole or maimed rather than admit to what they really did.

They don't want the other men to know, because to be charged with a sex crime, especially this kind of sex crime, is considered dirty and cheap and unmanly.

We call it child molesting. In court they call it indecent liberties with a child or contributing to the sexual delinquency of a child, and there are long detailed descriptions.

You can get away with it a lot of times before you get caught. And if you get caught, you may never go to jail or prison. That is because your victims are children and children make bad witnesses. Who is going be believe a 6-year-old? Or a 4-year-old? Or younger?

If it were a crime of profit, you could get rich at it. Instead, you just get sick at it.

He is in his 30s, single, a blue-collar worker living in Chicago's suburbs. He has been in trouble before, for the same thing, and is on probation.

He had known the family for a long time, known the father of the little girl for about 20 years, so it was quite normal when he offered to babysit.

The family wasn't worried. They didn't know about his past troubles, and, after all, he was like an uncle. Good old Uncle Joe. And the 6-year-old -- call her Louise -- liked her Uncle Joe.

So when "Battlestar Galactica" was over, and Uncle Joe took her to the bedroom and did those things to her, she was confused and frightened, but he said it was okay.

And he said not to tell. And she only cried a little.

And when her parents came back, she was very quiet and so was Uncle Joe. But not so quiet that he didn't offer to babysit again.

And when she finally told, she felt sick inside.

And so did Uncle Joe.

THE MOTHER: "It wasn't until three weeks later that she finally told us," the mother said. "She told us what he did. She is only 6 and could not possibly know such things.

"She said that Joe had touched her and some other things. We went to his house, and he denied it. And then he said he needed help. He needed a psychiatrist.

"We took her to a doctor, and he said that Louise had an infection. She is only 6.

"The police arrested him, and we signed a complaint. They told us he had a record of this kind of thing. record of this kind of thing.

"I never had worried about this -- we have known him for years -- even though, well, even though it happened to me when I was a child.

"It was my father. He did it to me two weeks after my 4th birthday. I never knew it was wrong at first. It continued until I was 13 or 14. He was caught. He went to prison for a while.

"My mother knew what he was doing to me. 'Don't worry' she would tell me. 'Your daddy loves you. He won't hurt you.'

"They finally got divorced and he remarried. He has a 6-year-old girl, now. And I worry about her. I worry about her a lot."

THE LAW: The law says that what Uncle Joe did is a crime. The law also says that the state must prove he did it beyond any reasonable doubt.

There are only two witnesses to the crime. Joe is one, and he cannot be made to testify. His past record of such crimes cannot be used against him, unless he takes the stand. He almost certainly will not.

The other witness to the crime is the victim, Louise. She is 6. Anyone under the age of 13 must be specially qualified to testify in this state.

The child must know the difference between truth and falsity and must understand the concept of punishment.

The child also must be willing and able to face his or her attacker in court and relive those terrible moments.

Not many parents want to put their child through it.

Not many prosecutors want to risk a trial on the word of a child.

The assistant state's attorney handling Louise's case is not sure what is going to happen. Louise's parents went to court last week, and Louise was questioned by him. Then he asked for a continuance.

"She was a little bit scared," her mother said. "He asked her what happened if she told a lie, and she said that she got a spanking or her mouth got washed out with soap.

"I told the prosecutor that we wanted her to testify. It is important. I said that if she did not testify, that Joe would go free. He said: 'That's life. That's the way things go.'

"Well, I won't accept that," the mother said. "What if Joe really hurts a little girl next time? That is why I want something done. I want to know that I did all I could. For the next little girl."

THE GIRL: She likes school, hates reading but loves math. She is good at coloring and made a toy soldier out of a tin can.

She loves bowling and waddles up to the line and drops the ball out of both hands and watches it wobble toward the pins. Her high game is 29.

She has terrible nightmares. She wakes up crying. She sometimes cannot remember why.

And then she remembers Uncle Joe and what happened.

"Why did Uncle Joe do something bad to me?" she asks her mommy and daddy. They explain the best they can.

They explain that she may go into court and tell the judge what happened and that she mustn't lie.

She doesn't understand all of this. She doesn't understand justice and the law and all the rest.

She is only 6. A bad age to be a witness. A good age to be a victim.