2008-03-12 / Front Page

Indecent exposure victims get more than an eyeful

By Julia Torres Barden

Lisa Billings/Chesterfield Observer Lisa Billings/Chesterfield Observer They bare all in the most ordinary places - department stores, outdoor cafes, parking lots - getting a rush off exposing themselves in public and breaking the societal rules of keeping their privates private.

Police reports show crimes of indecent exposure and public masturbation regularly occur throughout Chesterfield County. Just last month, a suspect was seen masturbating in his vehicle at the Happy Hills Shopping Center. Another incident occurred when a perpetrator was arrested for exposing himself within a private home. Last year, still another victim reported having lunch with her friend at a Polo Place restaurant when a man began masturbating at an adjacent table.

In 2007, there were 31 incidents of indecent exposure reported to county police with five of those involving masturbation. Many more were probably never reported, either because of embarrassment or in the belief that police don't take such crimes seriously. But that's not the case.

"We encourage the community to report all incidents of indecent exposure," said Ann Reid, spokesperson for the Chesterfield County Police Department. "We hope the community will immediately report these crimes by calling 911 or 748- 1251."

Why they do it

According to Dr. James Shield, a psychiatrist with Tucker Psychiatric Clinic at CJW Medical Center, most perpetrators are male. Known clinically as exhibitionism, the condition is a recognized mental illness described as an "abnormal way for an individual to deal with his inadequacies in the way the man views himself," explained Shield. "Exhibitionism is the end result of a long and complex process in which one fails to develop a good and positive sense of one's manhood. This person is going to expose himself to females in seeking to illicit the reaction of shock and horror as a way of confirming the fact that he is a male."

It's unknown how common exhibitionism is or if it's linked to other sexual disorders. "No one has good statistics on the frequency of this abnormal behavior because exhibitionists typically do not seek treatment and, even if they did, it wouldn't be disclosed," explained Shield.

Who they target

While most victims are women, sometimes children are also targeted. "We would hope that parents are having these proactive conversations with their kids about what to do if ever in this situation," said Reid.

County parent, Frannie Suggs, knows full well how important it is to talk to children about this issue. She was the victim of indecent exposure as a teenager. "I was playing tennis with a girlfriend when this man in his raincoat flashed us. I ran home and told my dad, who explained that we had to call the police right way to report the incident."

"I learned that there were dangerous elements out there in society, and so I reared my children to know that if something [like this] happens to them, they should seek the support of law enforcement. It's a mother's job to protect her child through sharing and knowledge. It's our job to keep them safe," said Suggs. "Years later, my daughter came home one night and said, 'You won't believe this but…' while describing that the same thing had just happened to her."

If it happens to you

So, what should someone do if they are a victim of indecent exposure? Shield recommends the following actions:

• Do not confront the perpetrator, as this person is demonstrating a psychiatric abnormality which could potentially lead to a psychotic episode.

• Exit the situation and area immediately.

• Put yourself with other people as quickly as you can.

• Report the incident to the authorities and don't try to handle it yourself.

"If this happens to a person, it is unpleasant and unexpected," acknowledged Shield, "but again you shouldn't ever try to deal with the person doing this but rather report it to the authorities."

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