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Wendy Bumgardner

How to React to a Flasher?

By July 4, 2009

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A registered sex offender was caught committing indecent exposure on a popular bike/walk trail in my city last month. I've been "flashed" perhaps once in my 25 years of fitness walking. In that case, I didn't look at him to give him any reaction and continued on a determined pace with my walking buddies. I've long wondered what the correct reaction would be for safety. The local incident prompted me to consult experts from across the country, including a forensic psychologist, a psychiatric social worker, and self defense experts. How to React to a Flasher

The good news is that I probably played it right - the flasher wasn't being aggressive, so not giving him the reaction he sought, and quickly getting out of the vicinity, is a good reaction. But it would have been even better if I had taken a photo of him and called in a police report. Because I was studiously not looking to see if he was truly flashing, I didn't do that. Next time, I will be more responsible. While most flashers are not immediately dangerous, some do progress to accosting, groping, and even rape. Calling the police with a good description and photo when possible is the right thing to do to protect others.
July 4, 2009 at 4:23 pm
(1) Stephanie says:

The best thing to do to a flasher is point and laugh. He will walk away in shame.

July 9, 2009 at 9:05 am
(2) Jessica says:

While pointing and laughing will likely hurt the flasher’s ego, it will probably also make them angry and aggressive and could provoke them to come after you. Not a good idea…

July 9, 2009 at 9:10 am
(3) Roseanne says:

Taking a picture is good. If nothing else, you can sell it on eBay.

July 9, 2009 at 9:12 am
(4) AlleyKat says:

The best advice I ever heard, is just to say ruefully, “No thanks, I have that at home.”

July 9, 2009 at 9:16 am
(5) Charles Cohn says:

Masybe you could just say “What a cute little weewee!” I bet that would deflate him pretty fast!

July 9, 2009 at 9:27 am
(6) Roberta says:

I was the victim of flashers a lot when I was a pre-teen and a teenager. Every time my response to the flasher was just laughter. That was a long time ago – over twenty years. That being said, I am still an attractive female, I just think that the primary target for flashers is young girls. That is very scary. They are certainly more dangerous than I imagined back then.
If I were flashed today, I think the best response would be to act as Wendy did. Taking a picture doesn’t seem like a realistic thing that you could do in an instance like that – without risking your own safety. I do think that if you can take a picture to give to police it would be great. It’s just not a likely option even if you have your camera phone ready. Not giving the flasher the attention “reaction” is the best idea – I think.

July 9, 2009 at 9:38 am
(7) Gretchdaddy says:

I can’t in a million years imagine doing a point and shoot photo. What stupid move.

July 9, 2009 at 10:13 am
(8) IansNana says:

My cell phone is always in my hand. I’ll take a picture and use the same phone to call police.

For heaven’s sake, people! We are all adults but some people using that path are children! As citizens we also have a responsibility to participate in keeping a safe society!

July 9, 2009 at 10:40 am
(9) BB says:

Years ago when I was a college student a man (wearing a raincoat no less!) flashed me as I was walking close to the campus. I went to our live in dorm administrator immediately, and she really discouraged me from calling the police. She seemed to think I was making too much of nothing. I did call anyway, and gave what description I could. The policeman was nice, understanding….did not seem optimistic about doing much but did not seem to think I was silly for calling either. I came from a larger urban area than this college was in, and think they didn’t take things as seriously as we did in the more urban area. Sadly, we know that can be a big mistake.

July 9, 2009 at 12:54 pm
(10) Michael says:

The fact that a man showing his penis to a woman is the subject of your newsletter tells much about our sick society. I am still amazed at the outrage that was expressed over Janet Jackson’s boob in the Super bowl. The woman who ignored it and kept on walking has the right idea. But, there is a deeper element involved(on both sides) that if one is inclined, could be investigated.Why do men act this way? Of course, women showing everything is OK.

July 9, 2009 at 1:34 pm
(11) Wendy B says:

Michael, our Guide to Sexuality (in the linked article) explains the difference between a nudist – who just wants to be naked and has no intent on shocking or being around others not like-minded, and an exhibitionist/exposer whose intent is to shock unwilling viewers. Also, quite often the flashers are masturbating. It is not a simple “walking around naked to commune with nature” activity. They are intentionally displaying themselves to UNWILLING viewers. A naturist/nudist would not do that.

I would say Janet Jackson made us all unwilling viewers in an intent to shock, so I think that stunt crossed the line into flashing. While it’s true that many men “don’t mind” in that case, plenty of people were shocked and offended – many because of the venue rather than the actual display. You don’t expect nudity at a family-friendly event in the USA. If it wasn’t an accident, it meets a lot of the criteria of being indecent exposure because it was meant to shock unwilling viewers.

July 9, 2009 at 2:32 pm
(12) Michael says:

If you say Janet Jackson’s partial showing of her boob in the Super Bowl as “indecent exposure” to unwilling viewers, what about just the daily exposure of other people? Many people are shocked and offended at everything! Where is the line? Who draws it? But, that isn’t at the heart of my previous comment. I’m not condoning flashing, just trying to understand it. There is more there than meets the eye. Pun intended. “There are good reasons.” A marriage counselor told my then wife and I that, when we were both complaining of the others inexplicable behavior. If one can’t find affirmation in private, one seeks it in other, mostly unacceptable ways. Too bad that flashers can’t satisfy this need in private with a consensual partner. Again, I’m not condoning the act, I’m just trying to cut through the hysteria surrounding the subject to see what’s really going on. Thank you, Wendy for this great website, and for your thoughtful response.

July 9, 2009 at 2:56 pm
(13) Wendy B says:

Thanks, Michael. I also wondered what was behind indecent exposure. It appears to be a sexual/social deviation to fulfill a need to shock and get a reaction from strangers. The repeat offense rates are extremely high, even after therapy and/or arrest and conviction. It is a compulsion that doesn’t seem to have a viable treatment option. Unfortunately, some progress to physical contact with their unwilling victims including groping, assault or rape.

The first question in my mind was whether a flasher was dangerous or just an annoyance. The answer was that most do not do more than display themselves in a way meant to attract attention from unwilling viewers. Disgusting but not dangerous. But something like 10-15% progress to sexual assault.

And again, this doesn’t apply to innocent naturists who only go naked in setting where it is expected and allowed, among others who are consenting.

July 9, 2009 at 3:31 pm
(14) Mary Ann says:

My hubby had an interesting addition to this conversation. He wants to know if you think it’s just as pathologic for a woman to pass a stranger and “flash” her boobie at him?

February 27, 2013 at 10:36 am
(15) AJ says:

I know this is a very old thread, but if anyone else comes along to ready it, I want to set the record straight for them.

Flashers almost never become rapists. They are generally the most docile and least aggressive members of society, a trait that actually contributes to their compulsion to flash. Most women are offended by flashing, but why? It is, after all, just a penis. If the thought it that she will be raped, then we need to educate women better. Now, here is where the education comes in. There are two types of exhibitionism: passive and aggressive.

Passive exhibitionists are shy about their flashes, almost never engage their “victims” in conversation, and generally flash covertly or from a location that makes them feel safe. They are not dangerous and never will be.

Aggressive flashers often talk to their victims and try to get them to look. They “put it in your face,” block your entry or exit in an aggressive manner, and sometimes make threats. This very small percent of flashers are more likely to attempt further assault, but they are an extreme minority.

So, if someone is just wanking off within your eyesight, forget about it and go back to your life. Most flashers will never hurt you and when it happens on a subway, in a mall, or other crowded venue, you have nothing to worry about.

September 3, 2013 at 6:12 am
(16) JH says:

what about when its on your home turf and the offender is basically a neighbour – in an apartment building. and there are children around? how harmless is it then?
If it is unwanted sexual attention form either sex isnt it ok to say no? if that person then continues where do you go from there? Do tell AJ!!

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