Monday, October 13, 2008

Trust Your Instincts: Don't Get Close to Unknown Cars

Lubbock cops are telling parents to teach their daughters to avoid approaching unknown cars. Apparently there have been several reports of a man exposing himself after calling girls over to his car.

It's good advice, and goes for boys as well as girls. Personally, I never approach a car when I don't know the people in it, even when someone sounds absolutely lost and is seeking directions. You don't have to be rude; you can give good directions from 10 feet away.

This might sound silly, unless it's ever happened to you. It happened to me. I wasn't a young girl, either -- I was about 21 at the time. I was walking alone along South First Street in Austin and a man called me over to ask directions. I didn't get close enough at first, so he waved me over closer. I looked into the car and his penis was hanging out. I yelled at him and took off running. He didn't follow me.

Nothing bad happened. I wasn't harmed physically and it didn't leave me traumatized. In terms of sexual misconduct, it's pretty minor. But it must have had some kind of effect, because I still remember it very vividly after all these years. In fact, I remember it every time some stranger calls to me from a car. It's why I always keep my distance.

It wasn't seeing a man's penis. I'd been in a serious relationship or two by then, and I used to frequent Hippie Hollow out on Lake Travis west of Austin, where everyone, male and female, skinnydipped except for the occasional creepy guy with binoculars up in the bushes.

There's just something very disturbing about a complete stranger who apparently gets his sexual jollies by showing his private parts to young women. The abstract of a study published in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology suggests indecent exposure affects women's "social freedom" -- I assume the author means women's comfort level in going places alone -- and raises their fear levels about crime.

I haven't read the full article -- it's behind a paywall -- but according to the abstract the researcher, Shannon Riordan, interviewed 72 women, of whom 35 -- almost 50 percent -- had experienced a flasher.

Someone is bound to write in and talk about women exposing themselves to men, so I'll just observe that a grown woman exposing herself to boys is also doing harm to them. I don't think it's as big a problem when women expose themselves to grown men, though. While I imagine that some men find this amusing and others -- perhaps most -- find it sad or disgusting, I suspect it's not as frightening to men as male flashing is to women.

If it were a man exposing himself to another man -- something I'm sure happens, though I haven't seen any materials on it -- I imagine most men would be as creeped out or even frightened as most women. After all, while the idea that someone is using you for their sexual fantasies is disturbing, the really frightening part of the experience is that they might intend to do something else. And most of us still find men more threatening in that sense than we do women.

Personally, I suspect the reason I still remember what happened to me is because I was immediately afraid the man intended to rape me. It felt like one of those near misses from a really bad experience.

So take the advice of the Lubbock police. Keep your distance from strangers in cars and teach your children to do the same. It's an easy thing to do, and most of the time can be done without being rude. After all, someone who really just wants directions isn't going to mind if you keep your distance.

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