On Nov. 7, the day after a man exposed himself at two South County outlet stores, a suspect with a similar description--a 6-foot-tall white male, between 20 and 30, with short hair--performed a trio of indecent exposures in San Luis Obispo, according to police.
Sexual assault experts say the lewd acts, besides disturbing victims, are concerning because they could become stepping stones to more violent crimes.
Police reported that the first incident occurred at the SLO High School parking lot at 12:40 p.m., when the suspect approached a pair of students and exposed himself after making an obscene comment. The victims fled the area and contacted school officials. The suspect was last seen running toward the railroad tracks.
Nearly a half hour later, at the Gottschalks department store, police believe the same man went inside and exposed himself to a female employee.
The third incident occurred at about 6:20 p.m. at Tiamo's clothing store on Higuera. Police report that the suspect exposed himself to an employee inside the business after making an obscene comment.
Officers have said that they're unsure whether these are the only crimes the suspect has committed.
"A lot of times these crimes go unreported, but it's very important that we catch him," said SLOPD Lt. Steve Tolley. "We don't want him to elevate to the next level of assaulting people."
Some criminal psychiatrists support a theory that after repeated exposures, exhibitionists can become desensitized to revealing themselves and become more aggressive.
"Ted Bundy started out exposing himself," Gabrielle Paladino, an Atascadero State Hospital staff psychiatrist, said in reference to one of America's most infamous serial murders and rapists. "They start out exposing themselves, and the victim's offensive look and shock is enough to satisfy their deviant sexual interest. For a vast majority, that's as far as they go. But there's the group that graduates to contact sexual crimes and more serious serial sex crimes."
According to Paladino, exhibition is the most common sex offense in the United States. People who commit such acts are often seeking a shocked reaction from their victims, so if confronted by someone revealing himself, Paladino suggests not showing any emotional response and immediately retreating to a safe place where police can be contacted.
Jennifer Adams, executive director of the Sexual Assault Recovery and Prevention Center of SLO County, said that being a victim of indecent exposure can be frightening.
"As women, we are raised with an awareness of rape, and we make choices to keep ourselves safe," Adams said. "Being exposed to a flasher might bring up those fears. But what's really important is anyone that does experience this crime is aware that they do have the right to be protected, and there are resources available to them."
The center has a 24-hour crisis line, will accompany people to law-enforcement interviews, and offers related information.
"This can be a traumatizing event," Adams said. "If you are a victim, or someone you care about is a victim, validate their feelings and encourage them to get help from someone they trust or our agency."
For more information about the center, call 545-8888.
Lt. Tolley is unsure if there is a connection between the man who is exposing himself and a man who raped a woman last week. He encourages anyone with information about either case to call Crime Stoppers at 549-STOP.