Shocked and disgusted over flashers

Shocked and disgusted over flashers
Bukit Aman Sexual, Women and Child Investigation Division assistant principle director Asst Comm Ong Chin Lan showing a print out of an alleged flasher at the LRT station during an interview at her office in the Bukit Aman police headquarters, Kuala Lumpur.

Already down with a fever and cough, Marie also became sick to her stomach when a man flashed his private parts at her on her way to see the doctor.

"I parked my car quite a distance from the clinic and had to walk past a few shoplots. It was about 2pm at that time.

"I saw a man standing at the corner of a shoplot. He was facing me and holding his testicles," the 29-year-old pharmacist, who only wishes to be known as Marie, recalls the incident when she was on her way to a private clinic in Seremban last month.

She thought he was dusting his pants at first but when she got closer, she realised that his pants were unzipped.

"When I looked at his face, he immediately started urinating in front of me. I felt so disgusted and walked away in the opposite direction," Marie recounts.

Feeling scared, she walked as fast as she could to her car and made a big turn around the area before finding a parking space closer to the clinic.

"The place was not lonely. He just did what he did without any shame," she says, adding that she warned her friends about the flasher after the incident.

Marie says she had two other incidents a year ago, when she received a phone call from an unknown caller who flashed his penis at her using the video call function.

"When I picked up the call from the unknown number, I didn't realise it was a video call.

"When I answered, it sounded like the phone was on loud speaker. When I looked at the screen, I saw this naked stranger flashing his private part at me," Marie says.

Worse, when she answered the video call, her front camera was activated and he could see her as well.

Marie later blocked the number.

In another case, copywriter Celeste Song, 24, was also having a bad day when she was "attacked" by a flasher last March. She had just discovered two of her car tyres stolen outside her condominium in Setapak when a man, who was eyeing her and her friend from across the road, came closer and masturbated in front of them.

"At first, I thought he was the culprit behind my missing tyres because every time I looked at him, he looked away or pretended to talk on the phone. But when we ­weren't noticing, he crossed to our side of the road and acted very suspiciously," she says, adding that he kept staring at them while masturbating.

Song says whenever other people walked past, he would cover up his act with his shirt.

"Scared, my friend and I decided to wait inside the condominium area," she says.

Marketer Ann, 30, shares how she encountered a flasher when she was only 14 on her way to school for a dance practice with a friend.

In the incident that occurred in 1999, they were walking from her house in SS2 to her school when her friend suddenly realised she had left something in her house.

"While walking back to my house, I noticed an older guy running on a field nearby. He ran ahead of us and disappeared from our sight.

"Suddenly, I heard someone making a kissing sound. I turned to look and saw the same guy standing behind a tree in the field and shaking his penis," she says.

Ann, who was walking ahead of her friend, quickly turned around to warn her friend but it was too late as the man was making the same sound to get her friend's attention and she had turned to look just as Ann was warning her.

Both girls quickly rushed away and luckily for them, the man did not chase after them.

"But the encounter had taught me the lesson that my mother was always trying to ingrain in me - to be alert at all times," she says.

Exposing the dark side of flashers

She was on holiday with friends in Gunung Ledang when a man suddenly appeared and flashed his genitals at her.

Shocked, she screamed, causing him to run away and disappear into thin air.

Relating the incident that occurred to her as a teenager, Asst Comm Ong Chin Lan says encounters with flashers are not unheard of and even happen to a policewoman like herself.

But over the past five years, only 21 cases of flashing were reported to the police, says the Bukit Aman Sexual, Women and Child Investigation Division assistant principle director.

"This number is just the tip of the iceberg.

"There are higher dark figures or unreported cases out there because victims do not come forward to report them," says ACP Ong.

She says a reason for the low number of reported cases is because many victims do not feel that it is necessary to make a report.

And as it happens in just a brief moment, the victims, who are mostly women, soon get over the shock and move on.

Another general perception is that when a flasher flashes, the victim can turn the tables on the flasher by laughing or making fun of him so that he will slink away in shame.

However, flashing is no laughing matter as it can cause emotional distress and, in some cases, lead to sexual assault.

Adds ACP Ong, flashers are normally repeat offenders because they derive pleasure from exposing themselves.

She notes that it is also difficult to flesh out the perpetrator because many victims are caught off guard and do not remember details in such unexpected incidents.

It is partly due to this reason that only three suspects were hauled to court to face charges out of the total 21 reported cases.

ACP Ong says an important part of the Malaysian criminal justice system is identifying the perpetrator and if this element is lacking, it is difficult to prove the crime.

Suspected flashers are charged in court under Section 509 of the Penal Code for uttering words or showing gestures intended to insult the modesty of a person.

A flasher can be slapped with a maximum jail term of five years or fine, or both if convicted.

ACP Ong urges victims to lodge police reports because while most flashers merely expose themselves, there have been cases where the ­flashers went on to harass their victims for ­sexual favours or molest them.

She cites a case earlier this month of a 19-year-old girl who was waiting at a bus stop in Setapak when a man on a motor­cycle stopped his vehicle and sat next to her.

He suddenly whipped out his penis and when she screamed and stood up to get away, the suspect grabbed her breasts.

Most perpetrators choose to flash strangers but in one case, a man told his wife to perform oral sex on him, just as his young daughter walked in. He then showed his private part to his daughter and asked if she wanted to perform the act as well.

While most flashers are male, there was a case of a female teacher who flashed her breasts at her young male pupil and asked him to suck her nipples.

One labourer even persistently followed a woman to flash her. Luckily, she reported it, and he was brought to court where he was sentenced to two weeks' jail.

Another case that was successfully taken to court was of a single father who was sentenced in May to two months' jail after he flashed his private parts at schoolgirls.

Contrary to ­popular belief, flashers prefer to expose themselves at open public places as opposed to isolated areas.

"Flashers can escape easily by blending in with the crowd after exposing themselves," says ACP Ong, stressing that it is important for victims to lodge reports so that the police can take action.

Police will also be able to be on alert in the areas reported and have more patrols there.

"Even if you can't remember how the perpetrator looks like, inform the police so that we can patrol the area and warn others," she says, adding that victims could also take pictures if they are able to do so.

ACP Ong urges the public to also play their part by helping the victim to identify the perpetrator if they witnessed the crime to enable a stronger case for the prosecution.

Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun advises flashing victims not to disregard flashing as a serious matter or see police reports as troublesome.

"They should disclose what happened to the police not just for their own safety but for others, who may fall victim next.

"We also need more victims to come forward as statistics will show how serious the problem is and set the tone for the authorities to take action on the matter," says Chew, adding that not only women should make reports but also the men who have witnessed such crimes.

According to Universiti Sains Malaysia criminologist and psychologist Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat, flashing or exhibitionistic crimes are largely premeditated.

She advises people who encounter ­flashers not to provoke a physical confrontation.

"Causing a victim to feel fear or anxiety is a side goal of the exhibitionist. As long as the victim produces the expected reaction, this excites the offender," she says.

Exhibitionists generally do not engage in dangerous or violent behaviour and rarely have direct physical contact with their victims but some may express abusive or ­sexually explicit language, she notes.

However, research among incarcerated sexual offenders shows that it is unlikely for flashers to one day become rapists, as they find the act of exposing themselves itself as rewarding, says Dr Geshina.

She adds that people who have exhibitionistic behaviour are generally sane but gain sexual satisfaction by shocking, ­scaring, or causing surprised reactions by exposing their genitals to victims.

"They don't have a sense of shame for showing their genitals. Such individuals have a completely normal outward life with very little signs that reflect their inner deviancy."

Dr Geshina concedes that there is no consensus on the cause of flashing while some biological theo­ries hold that abnormal testosterone levels increase the tendency of males to develop deviant sexual behaviour.

"Some research has shown that emotional abuse during childhood and family dysfunctions are significant risk factors in the development of exhibitionism," she says.

Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj agrees that while sometimes flashers may hope that their victim will be sexual­ly aroused by their act, they would rarely progress to actual sexual molestation.

"The flasher might masturbate while exposing himself but, in most cases, make no further attempt with the stranger. Nevertheless, it must not be assumed that exhibitionism is harmless or humorous," he says.

He says that among the common target places for flashers are female secondary schools, colleges, or even a factory employing largely women workers.

"There have been cases reported where flashers have targeted swimming pools although there is a greater chance of being caught there," Dr Andrew says.

He urges parents to educate their children on the possibilities of being exposed to such abnormal behaviour.

Concurring, consultant psychiatrist Dr Ting Joe Hang says most victims tend to be younger girls as they are less sexually experienced and the flashers may get a bigger degree of shock from them compared to older women.

"Flashers are different from the nudists who stripped naked on Mount Kinabalu, who are more of thrill seekers. Flashers seek sexual stimulation with their act," he says.

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