EXHIBITIONISM & VOYEURISM
Not a fun topic though important enough to talk about. I've spent a dozen years treating sexual perpetrators--helping to make communities safer. And preventing victimization through awareness is worth the temporary discomfort I have in typing it and your time spent reading.
These are difficult behaviors to understand that are chronic in nature; with some perpetrators repeating them throughout their lifetimes. It leaves victims reeling and often traumatized and seeking therapy to regain a sense of normalcy in their lives.
DEFINITIONS & PREVALENCE
Exhibitionism and Voyeurism are considered by the American Psychiatric Association as disorders in their Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR). And they're illegal and so they're also criminal behaviors. Exhibitionism manifests itself in the exposing of genitals to non-consenting individuals who are unknown to the perpetrator and is more commonly called flashing. It may go beyond just exposing and can include masturbation. For some the understandable shock and embarrassment--even humiliation--of the victim is what drives their sexual pleasure and for others it's the fantasy that the victim will become sexually aroused themselves.
Voyeurism occurs when a perpetrator views unsuspecting individuals naked, getting undressed, or engaged in sexual acts and is commonly known as peeping. Victims are also typically strangers and the perpetrator fantasizes that the victim will want to have sex with them.
Typically these are non-aggressive or "hands-off" offenses; with the victim being left untouched though not every attack can be counted on to follow textbook behavior.
These are secretive behaviors that go under-reported and undiagnosed. A range of theories and explanations can account for such behaviors and a range of therapies and medications can be used in their treatment. About 20% to 50% of men arrested for exhibitionism re-offend within two years.
HOW VULNERABLE ARE YOU?
If you can be seen by another person you can be victimized. That covers a lot of ground. But if you're aware you're in a position to prevent. Women are likely targets as well as older teens. If the individual is targeting children it's more serious and goes beyond these disorders into more serious and possibly hands-on offenses like pedophilia.
Being alone may make the perpetrator more confident, though a group of teens may be what he's interested in. Parking lots in daylight, waiting for a bus, going to school, or parks in the evening, can be places for flashers to hang out. Peeping Toms are looking for open bathroom and bedroom curtains and windows and so morning routines and bedtimes are targets.
IF IT HAPPENS TO YOU
- If you are flashed or catch someone peeping you're encouraged to tell someone. Ideally call the police though it is a difficult decision each person must make about involving the criminal justice system. Your privacy is an issue and you have the right to be thinking of yourself at this time. Of course someone prowling around your neighborhood or where you shop brings little relief. Like I said, it's a difficult decision.
- It's a sexual assault even if you've not been touched. Recognize you may experience physical shock as well as psychological denial. This may not be the time to keep things to yourself. A family member, trusted friend, clergy; whoever you feel most comfortable with can be a great support and validate what happened to you.
- You may torment yourself with guilt trying to explain it to yourself. You may tell yourself you could have prevented it or that you brought it on yourself. Your mind's need to make sense of things is so powerful that it will construct convoluted and distorted logic just so it has a reason. You didn't cause it and that's why the other person is there to make sure you are clear about that.
- You may initially be relieved you're not hurt; even laugh it off and just want to forget about it. Maybe that happens and that will be great. If it doesn't--if you have difficulty sleeping or can't get it out of your mind then you want to schedule an appointment with your physician.
- Don't wait too long. Talk about it to someone you trust if you want. Don't if you don't want to. There's no right or wrong about this. But, If you feel you're struggling don't hesitate to get support from a professional.
Do you think talking about difficult issues help keep someone from being a victim? How often does being embarrassed keep people from getting help?