Six tips for ensuring your safety against indecent exposures

Adele Bloch, Author

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In light of indecent exposures in Palo Alto within the last few months, the Palo Alto Police Department is advising the public to take precautionary methods to avoid lewd conduct encounters and help the police in its search.

California’s Penal Code 314 prohibits the sex crime of “indecent exposure,” which is defined as willfully exposing your genitals to someone else, motivated by a desire to sexually gratify yourself or offend the other person.

According to the Palo Alto Police Department, a 14-year-old girl, a 10-year-old girl and a 20-year-old woman experienced an indecent exposure on Oct. 6, 7 and 9, respectively. In the first incident, a girl was walking home from school on Bryant Street when a man masturbating in his truck stopped beside her, according to the City of Palo Alto’s press release. In the second incident, a girl was walking her dog on Byron Street and Seale Avenue when a man in a vehicle pulled up beside her and asked if she wanted to touch his exposed penis, according to the City of Palo Alto’s press release. In the third incident, a woman was biking on Miller Avenue when a masturbating driver called out to her, according to the City of Palo Alto’s press release.

It is evident that a lewd conduct encounter can occur in the most unexpected of times and places to both pedestrians and bikers of all ages. According to Elizabeth, the 14-year-old victim whose name has been changed to protect her identity, the perpetrator looked like an ordinary man that she would find on the street.

“There was nothing really suspicious [about him],” Elizabeth told the Paly Voice.

Although the PAPD has begun to increase marked and unmarked patrol in student commute areas after the incidents, the public should increase its precautionary steps to avoid such circumstances, as it is impossible to tell when an incident could strike, according to the PAPD.

While on the next walk or bike ride, police suggest students to follow the steps below to ensure a safe trip:

1. Be aware of your surroundings.

“The most important one is being aware of your surroundings at all times, and simply paying attention to what’s going on around you,”  PAPD officer Lt. Zachary Perron said. 

The City of Palo Alto has many positive connotations attached to its name, due to its continuous growth in the technology and business worlds. However, the public may often forget that crime can still be found within our beloved city. Individuals must always be on the lookout for said crimes by constantly scanning their environment and looking for anything out of the ordinary. Although biking may feel safer than walking as it is quicker to remove oneself from a situation, one of the recent incidents involved a biker. Therefore bikers are not exempt from those that must constantly be aware of their surroundings.

“We’re all busy people and have a lot of things on our minds, but it’s important not to get lost in all of those things, and to always be cognizant of what’s going on around you,” Perron said.

One way students can increase their awareness is by removing headphones from their ears while walking or biking home from a long day of school. Webmd writes that pedestrians with headphones often pay little attention to their surroundings, an effect called environmental isolation, which has leads to large pedestrian risk. In the most recent local cases, there has been a repeated pattern of cars trailing behind the victim before exposure.

“Too often, for example, students (and adults alike) will walk with headphones in both ears,” Perron said. “We recommend just one earbud so that you can hear if anything is happening around you.”

After the incident, Elizabeth has implemented these tactics in her daily routine.

“Just being extremely aware of your surroundings,” Elizabeth said. “I don’t listen to music when I walk home because you never know who’s creeping up to you.”

2. Keep updated on the recent crimes.

Being knowledgable about where and when the most recent crimes have taken place in Palo Alto is essential to being vigilant and aware of current events that directly apply to our society. Reading the news will allow you to know who to look out for, too. For example, the PAPD recently released sketches of the perpetrator in the hopes that individuals will recognize the person and call the police.

“Connect with PAPD on social media, that’s a great way to stay informed,” Perron said.

The public can receive criminal updates from the PAPD from its TwitterFacebook, Nextdoor or Nixle or the public can continually check Palo Alto Online. See here for links to all of the PAPD social media channels.

Three different sketches drawn by the Palo Alto Police Department as told by three different victims. "By releasing sketches of the suspect, we hope that someone will recognize the person and give us a call with a tip," Lt. Zach Perron said. Screenshots of PAPD sketches by Amy Leung.

Three different sketches drawn by the Palo Alto Police Department as told by three different victims. “By releasing sketches of the suspect, we hope that someone will recognize the person and give us a call with a tip,” Lt. Zach Perron of the PAPD said. Screenshots of PAPD sketches by Amy Leung.

3. Walk down the left side of the street.

“The cops recommend that when you’re walking down, walk down the left side so at least you can see the cars coming up to you,” Elizabeth said.

When possible, walking down the left side of the street is much safer than the right as there is a full lane between the pedestrian and the cars on the right. This makes it much harder for the cars to sneak up on the pedestrian, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School.  The cars coming towards the pedestrian on the left side are visible by the pedestrian, giving them more reaction time in case of an emergency. Although bikers must follow the same rules of the road as the cars to stay on the right side of the street, it is vital that bikers stay aware of their surroundings.

4. Stay calm and get out of the situation quickly.

In a lewd conduct scenario, it is very easy for individuals to freeze up in shock. However, it is imperative to stay calm and logical. The faster one can get out of the situation and call the cops, the safer they will be and the more likely the culprit will get caught, according to Just Yell Fire, a program dedicated to combating violence against young women. If possible and safe, the public should do their best to remember the culprit’s facial features, car or license plate number to report to the police quickly afterwards.

According to Just Yell Fire, body language expert Patti Woods recommends, “They are seeking attention and want a strong reaction. Keep your full body, feet, torso and head turned away and try not to give any strong emotional response to his behavior. Then move away and call the authorities with a description so the flasher is caught.”

5. Run in the opposite direction of the perpetrator’s car.

“People see action movies where people are chasing you or attempting to kidnap you and you start running forward,” Elizabeth said. “That’s pretty idiotic. … If you are running backwards [in the opposite direction], it’s way harder [for a car] to back up. I think one method [of safety] is to go the other direction versus still going forward.”

One of the best ways to get out of a scary situation that involves a car is to run in the direction that they are not going in. It is much harder for a car to turn around and catch someone if they are running in the opposite direction that the car itself is going.

6. Report an indecent exposure immediately.

“This is important stuff that the police should know, because they’re trying to keep the community safe,” Elizabeth said. “The more people aware of that [the exposures], the better.”

It is easy to feel embarrassed about the situation at hand, and therefore stay quiet about it. For example, a similar scenario occurred with a 13-year-old who recently came out about a lewd conduct encounter that happened over the summer, according to the PAPD. It is essential to report the case immediately. The PAPD is already on heightened patrol, and it is waiting to respond to any new reports that come in.

“While some people may think it’s a relatively ‘minor’ crime, it certainly is not, and the crime can actually be a precursor to substantially more serious crimes,” Perron said. “It’s not uncommon for indecent exposure suspects to escalate their behavior over time, so if we can catch them early, that may prevent a more serious crime down the road.”

If you are the victim or witness of an incident, the PAPD asks you to report it to them immediately.

“We ask that if people see anything that seems out of the ordinary, that they give us a call right away on 9-1-1,” Perron said. “It’s better to call right away and let us determine if the suspicious behavior is innocent or criminal, than to justify suspicious activity and not call.”

Anyone with information regarding suspicious behavior is asked to call the PAPD 24-hour dispatch center at (650) 329-2413. Anonymous tips can be e-mailed here or sent via text message or voice mail to (650) 383-8984. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through the PAPD free mobile app, downloadable at the AppStore or GooglePlay. The PAPD asks that if people see anything that seems out of the ordinary, they should give the PAPD or 9-1-1 a call immediately.