Victims of flashing 'perceive threat of rape or murder'

Sexual myth: A commonplace offence, often the subject of jokes, can prove traumatic

The image of "flashers" as seedy old men in macks is a myth and some women are not averse to "flashing" themselves, a study has concluded. The victims can suffer the trauma for years and men are regularly exposed to by both sexes, the study found.

The scale of the problem and victims' psychological effects is hugely under-estimated, according to the report's author. No national figures have been collected in the UK, but small surveys have found that from 50 to 60 per cent of women have been exposed to. One estimate is that 40 million women a year are victims of flashing in the United States.

Rosalind Beck, of the University of Wales, College of Cardiff, said in her draft report Rape From Afar: Men Exposing to Women and Children, many victims feel their experiences have been trivialised. Many, including the police, joked about the crime, which some women compare to being sexually assaulted.

Twenty-five victims, aged from 23 to 57, including four men, were interviewed in the study. The ages at which they had been exposed to ranged from five to 55. The women had been flashed at on 68 occasions, some had been exposed to as many as eight times. The men had experienced eight incidents. Flashers were aged between early teens and early nineties, and few fulfilled the "dirty old man in a raincoat" stereotype.

Some of the findings were presented at last week's British Criminology Conference at Loughborough University. During the discussion, a conference- goer recalled that a student at Cambridge University masturbated on his meal in front of a female student during a football dinner.

Only one-quarter of the women victims reported the flashers to the police. One response from the police was to say: "Don't worry, they are harmless." None of the men contacted the police.

Among the incidents they encountered were men exposing themselves in public toilets. Ms Beck said it was easy to find male victims - some of whom expressed fear at being flashed at - and concluded it was, therefore, a fairly common occurance.

Of the two reported cases of women "flashing" at men, in one a woman bared her breasts at a residential home and the other was a full frontal exposure while the male victim was on holiday. There was one case of a woman exposing herself to another woman.

The women victims believed the flashers exposed themselves for a variety of reasons, including an attempt to humiliate, gain power, frighten, threaten and get attention. Few believed mental illness was the cause.

The study concludes: "The women in this study have shown how being a victim of this form of sexual attack can have a significant impact on their lives and can be interpreted by them as a message from the man that, if he chose to, he could also rape or murder them.

"Facts about exposing are hidden behind a mythology of the stereotypical harmless 'flasher' who will do 'nothing else' to the victim, and who provides a suitable topic for jokes. This is compounded by an unhelpful police response to the victims.

"Women's reality of this form of sexual violence is very different from the public image."

'I thought he did it because

of the way I looked at him'

Among cases highlighted in the study was that of a woman, aged 27, who was exposed to when she was 10. A man took his penis out while the girl was cycling with her cousin on a country lane. He grabbed her cousin and she ran for help.

She said: "I blame myself because I thought he did it because of the way I was looking at him. Only in the past few years have I been able to talk about it. I can still see it so clearly and vividly. It messed me up. I don't have eye contact with men on the street now. I think they are less likely to attack me."

In another case a woman was on the lavatory in a pub when the door, which did not have a lock, was opened by a man who masturbated in front of her. The woman now refuses to use pub lavatories on her own.

In a third incident a 34-year-old woman saw a man masturbate at a window in front of her. She said: "I was totally chilled, I went cold. I got a feeling in the pit of my stomach, like when I found out I was pregnant, like witnessing a car crash."

Other women in the study said they had regularly been exposed to on public transport, such as London Underground trains, but other passengers often considered it a "joke". On one occasion a man exposed himself to a woman while sitting in a car with his friend.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas