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Pantless Encounters: Harmless Nuisance or Gateway Crime?

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Chesterfield Police got a complaint earlier this month about a man who dropped his pants in the Office Max, presumably, to get a reaction from shoppers. Police are still investigating.

Last year, Richmond City Council President G. Manoli Loupassi, an attorney, defended a man caught masturbating in his car in June on Grove Avenue, a few blocks from the all-girls St. Catherine's School.

Richmonder Kristi Smith, who was walking along the sidewalk pushing her 1-year-old in a jogger stroller, recounted the incident to Style a year ago. "We were talking about the flowers blooming and the different architecture," she said. "This boy was masturbating in his car with his pants down around his knees."

A 13-year-old girl saw the man, who was convicted of taking indecent liberties with a minor and pleaded guilty to indecent exposure, the Times-Dispatch reported, and in February he was given probation and ordered to continue therapy.

There were 37 incidents of indecent exposure in the city last year, according to Richmond Police, who say it's the kind of crime that doesn't always get reported. Victims are often embarrassed or just don't take it seriously.

But experts say it's better to report the incidents to police.

"Police departments take it seriously because it's just not normal behavior," says Tina Buck, a former captain with Virginia Commonwealth University Police. At college campuses, she says, indecent exposure incidents are commonplace. While at VCU, Buck chased offenders, pulled them from their cars while in the act — once, an offender even tried to drive off with Buck in his window.

Buck, who has 25 years of law enforcement experience, consults for crime victims with her new business, Guardian Angel Protection Inc. One man that she caught masturbating in public claimed he had a urinary infection and was urinating into a bottle. Further investigation revealed he had molested a young member of his family.

"The issue is that where there's one deviant sexual interest there is often another one," says Dr. Evan Nelson, a Chesterfield psychologist who specializes in criminal behavior. "It's very much like an addict giving in to a drug or a dieter giving in to that candy bar."

Compared to other low-level sexual offenders, indecent exposers are relatively less dangerous because they get a kick out of being seen. Exposing oneself to children is much more common in private among people who know the victims, like family members or babysitters. Voyeurs, or "peeping Toms," are discreet, but likelier to move on to assault or even rape experts say.

One avenue of treatment, Nelson says, is through drugs like Paxil and Prozac, often administered to curb compulsive behaviors. They have the handy side effect of interfering with the ability to sustain an erection.

So what to do if you catch someone with his pants down? Call the cops. Offer a description if you can. Try to get a license-plate number if they're in a car.

And try to stay composed. "The exposure piece is not what's arousing, it's the shock," says Robyn Lacks a criminal justice professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. "The best thing is keep walking or not give them that reaction."

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