Written by Helen Nguyen
Palo Alto has experienced 22 cases of indecent exposure in the last year, the most in 10 years. The most recent incident occurred on Sept. 4, when a man exposed himself to two 10-year-old girls walking in a Palo Alto neighborhood.
According to Thomas Plante, a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University and an adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University, flashing is an impulse control disorder, a psychiatric condition, where one is sexually aroused by exposing themselves to others. Flashers typically also have comorbidity, the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases
or conditions in a patient, or another psychiatric condition, including anxiety, depression, personality disorder or substance problems, which may contribute to their behavior.
The reaction a flasher expects depends on the person but typically, they are aroused and excited by the reaction of the victim. Plante says that it’s important to get away from them and report the incident to law enforcement; if feeling threatened, scream or call for help to scare them away. “Typically, these folks are harmless,” Plante said, “but since you never know, it is best to be safe than sorry and to let law enforcement know about it too.”
Principal Dr. Denise Herrmann acknowledges that having an open campus makes the idea of having a
safe boundary challenging. Some general safety practices at Gunn include ensuring that campus supervisors and administrators are out and about before school, at lunch and after school, where students enter and exit the campus. “I think we try to have a presence,” Herrmann said. Titan 101 counselors educate freshmen on Internet and other kinds of safety. Physical education teachers also teach a self-defense unit. “I think some of the proactive things we could teach students we try to insert in an appropriate way, and then some of the more proactive ways are having adults present,” Herrmann said.
Herrmann also pointed out that behavior has a role in the chances of becoming a victim. “Flashers look for timid, withdrawn kinds of people, and that’s an easier victim,” she said. “Even if you are scared, pretend like you’re confident.”
Plante has various theories about the recent increase in indecent incidents. “The local area has more people living and working around here than in the past and with an increase in population you’ll have an increase of all sorts of behavor,” Plante said. “All it takes is one pretty obsessed person to have multiple incidents to make it appear that it is more common now.” Plante said the public is also now much more aware that they should report incidents to law enforcement than in the past as well, which may also give off the impression of increasing incidents.
Plante explained that victims’ reactions vary; people can experience the exact same event and have very different responses. “People who are vulnerable for various reasons [such as previ- ous trauma victims, premorbid anxiety or depression] may have a much harder time coping,” Plante said.
To avoid this situation, one should be aware of surroundings, walk with friends or in pairs and stay on main roads. “It is ideally best for students to walk or bike in groups or pairs and stay on main streets to minimize the odds that this might happen to them,” Plante said. “Yet there are no way to avoid these situations completely when people are just going about their daily lives in public places.”