Walking to work from the train station last week, I was well and truly inside my own head and not paying a huge amount of attention to people around me. It was very early but, being Sydney, there were a few people around.
They were clutching take away coffees against the cold and the hour, people were beginning their work days. I came to a pedestrian crossing and lifted my eyes long enough to scan the traffic. In Sydney, those stripes on the road don’t guarantee that cars will stop and give way. As I scanned, I saw a man coming towards me, also crossing the road. His eyes were firmly fixed on my face. I don’t know about you but before 6 am and pre-coffee, I’m not prepared for intense eye contact. Out of reflex, I lowered my eyes. Looking down, I was treated to a sight I didn’t need. Have I mentioned this was a- before 6 am and b- before coffee?
His fly was down and his package was out and swaying in the breeze. A real-life dick-pic. My eyes flew back up to his face. He had slowed and was staring intently into my eyes, waiting for a reaction. The way he was staring and had slowed told me I was probably looking at someone who would get off on my reaction. I didn’t have time to think of a brilliant one-line response, though I’ve heard a few since, with “That looks just like a penis, only smaller!” being one of my favourites. It actually didn’t enter my head to say anything to him.
Not a telling off, not a witty put down- nothing. In hindsight, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Any reaction may have been what he was after. Instead of a withering remark, I whipped out my phone and called the police. I knew there was very little chance of him getting caught. He sped up when I started describing him after giving his location and direction of travel. If nothing else, though, it would let the local police know they might have a new offender in the area to keep an eye out for.
A passing businessman had seen the whole thing but just put his head down and shuffled off in a hurry. Maybe he hadn’t had a coffee yet either and just couldn’t deal with a man who decided to inflict his penis on the unsuspecting pedestrians of Sydney. Who knows? He sure didn’t want to get involved.
How I Felt.
This might be the most innocuous of sexual offences; he didn’t touch me, threaten me or even speak to me. But he still tried to exert some level of control. He still tried to make me fearful and uncomfortable at the very least.
I didn’t feel terribly scared at the time. There was no room for more than a thin thread of fear in the moment; more came later, on reflection. I was mainly just angry. Angry and shocked. This guy was dressed like he was off to his day job on a building site, right down to his dusty work boots. He wasn’t far off my Dad’s age. Going off appearances alone, he was just some tradie- a regular bloke- who decided to kick start his Friday morning by committing a sexual offence against a stranger.
It occurred to me, later, that he could have actually been quite dangerous. That thin thread of fear I’d felt was something I didn’t question for a short while. A random dick in the street doesn’t inspire fear on it’s own. It’s the idea that the man who owns it might attack us. He’s already demonstrated that he has little regard for consent. He doesn’t seem fazed by breaking the law for his own gratification. Looking at it like that, it is frightening. I can’t imagine how it would feel for someone who’d experienced a serious sexual offence in the past.
Obscene exposure isn’t limited to male offenders but they are certainly more common than female offenders. The reasons they decide to expose themselves might vary but it’s generally because the “flasher” finds it arousing. Clinical psychologist Dr Georgina O’Donnell says that the act is motivated by “gratification from a stranger who does not consent”. It may also be the first in a string of sexual offences that might escalate and become more serious. Obscene exposure is one of the most common types of sexual offence; a fact that came as no surprise to me. I remember being flashed on the way to school as a young teen and well as on a train going out one night when I was around 20.
This particular offence can land the perpetrator in prison for up to 6 months. A conviction for a sexual offence like this can mean certain careers (e.g. teaching, child care, some government jobs) are no longer an option. I am amazed that anyone is willing to take those risks just to wave their wangs at strangers in the street.
#IBOT @ Kylie Purtell.
Images vis Giphy.