Is Dallas Being Prowled by a Serial Exhibitionist?

At 8 a.m., it's a common sight to see elementary and middle school students walking to school in Dallas. For one man, it's also an opportunity. On Nov. 7, a Chevy Malibu pulled up next to a schoolgirl and the man behind the wheel asked for directions. When he had the student's attention, the driver exposed his genitals and drove away.

This story "jogged my memory," says Dallas police Detective Philip Lawler, who recalled a similar incident this year in the neighborhood. He asked other police for reports of similar incidents in the area and found similar cases, starting last year. Each case featured a man cruising the streets under the guise of a lost motorist and asking for directions before exposing himself.  Two of the incidents this year occurred nearly at the same location and, in one of those, the man also groped his victim. "They had the same description," Lawler says. "I saw it was possible that the same guy was doing this."

Based on Lawler's investigation, the police issued a bulletin warning the public that "the Child Exploitation Unit has received multiple reports of a Latin male exposing himself to younger aged children in the area surrounding the apartments around Medrano Middle School ... and Burnet Elementary School." It stated "the suspect is described as dark skinned, short, standing at approximately 5’8, weighs 150 pounds and is believed to be in his late 20s." The police reports also cite two different vehicles, a gold pickup and the silver Malibu, in their bulletin but surmise the same man was behind the wheel.  

Once made public, those incidents seemed familiar to some residents of Oak Cliff, a 30-minute drive from where the school children were accosted, who had run-ins with a similar flasher this year.

In early November, one victim (who asked she not be named) was jogging by the new golf course on the Coombs Creek trail at around 8:30 a.m. when a young dark-skinned man hailed her from behind the wheel of a light-colored, two-door car. "I didn't want to be rude or racist," she says. "I thought, maybe he is just lost and needs directions." But the man kept asking her for the same directions to a DART station, and when she looked away from his face she saw a motion in his lap.

"He was basically just sitting there jacking off," she says. "I turned away and he peeled out. It just caught me totally off-guard. It obviously freaked me out. I went home as quickly as possible, and I kept an eye out because I didn't want him to see where I lived."

She says she wasn't even inclined to report the incident to police until she spoke with her husband about it later. "What are the cops going to do about it?" she asked him. When she realized he might strike again, on a stretch of park where there are plenty of children, she filed a police report.

She also posted the encounter on a private Oak Cliff internet group. Friends and strangers posted that they encountered similar run-ins with a young Hispanic-looking man around Oak Cliff. They cited
the same "lost driver" approach and some cited a similar vehicle.  

Lawler encourages people to come forward, since information from possible previous victims is key to catching the offender. "In these serial flasher deals, you just keep compiling lists and making notes and eventually you can catch them," he says.

This incident is not included in Lawler's police bulletin, but the Observer sent the information his way. The similarities to the incidents in northeast Dallas — the description, age, time and approach — could mean it's the same man. However, the victim thinks the car could have been a hatchback, which doesn't fit the description of a 2-door Malibu.

If this is not the same exhibitionist, then there is not one flasher but several at work with similar MOs. The report of physical contact with a young victim either shows there is another predator out there or that the flasher is escalating his behavior to a new, dangerous level. Adding to the uncertainty clouding these events is the fact that flashers, as common as they are in the modern world, remain one of the most poorly understood sexual predators.

Psychologists have not studied the motivations of exhibitionists too closely. The public didn't seem too concerned about flashers and researchers just weren't that interested. "Historically, exhibitionism and voyeurism were often viewed as nuisance crimes which had little impact on the victim and occurred in isolation," according to a 2016 study on those pathologies for the journal Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity. (See below for the full article.) "The reality, however, is far less optimistic."

The study cites estimates that flashing is widespread, with 30 percent to 40 percent of women reporting they had been the nonconsensual target of an exhibitionist. Alex Yufik, a board-certified forensic psychologist with extensive work with high-risk sexual offenders, says the motive of a flasher intentionally comes at the expense of these unwilling people. "It's not a victimless crime," he says. "Often the victims need treatment themselves and experience symptoms of anxiety and depression."

Most flashers are men, and many times a flasher is lashing out at figures that threaten or make him feel humiliated, Yufik says. The shock of the encounter empowers the flasher, who often uses the memory as masturbation fodder later. It's by definition compulsive behavior. "Something like you described, he's very likely to do this again," Yufik says.

The police believe the flasher has repeatedly approached children, something that is all too common. Studies from the early 2000s estimate that an average of 1.6 million children are victims of indecent exposure each year. Still, exhibitionism aimed at kids is not something that abnormal psychologists know much about. "It's not a highly researched area, in particular," Yufik says. "As a subgroup, there's not a lot of study that has been done on them."

One of the few recent studies out there exploring this issue appeared in 2008, published in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology. (Article included below.) The researchers studied 202 incidents on indecent exposure by 106 identified — i.e. arrested — individuals. They found that a flasher who exposed himself to a child is not more likely to engage in more aggressive behavior.

However, this result does not jibe with earlier studies. One study in 1988 stated that 46 percent of flashers in their study had sexually assaulted children outside the family and 25 percent committed rape on an adult. Later studies from the 1990s came up with similar results. "Recent research has suggested that those with a record of exhibitionism have also engaged in hands-on offenses," the 2008 study concedes, while saying their data "does not replicate" those earlier findings.

Part of the problem with these disparate results is the examples researchers have to pull from — exhibitionists who have been arrested. So when a study shows that 84 percent of all exhibitionists have non-sexual related police records, it's not clear if that's true of flashers in general or just the ones who were nabbed. "It's hard to find subjects or even figure out how to measure them," says Yufik.

One thing every professional seems to agree with is that flashers who touch victims are more dangerous than a garden-variety exhibitionist. "Once that threshold is crossed, and the fantasy is actualized, they enter into another risk category," Yufik says. "The shock and fear on the [victim] isn't sufficient to gratify these urges."
That makes the police's suspicion that the Dallas flasher groped a student extremely troubling. But even if this is not the same person — even if he was a predator who just by coincidence used the same approach at nearly the same location as the exhibitionist — it's indisputable that someone has crossed that line with school children and is likely to again give into that compulsion.

Likewise, if victims in Oak Cliff encounter the same man, he may be seeking dangerous opportunities across the city. If it's someone else, it doesn't matter: They want him off the streets of their neighborhood.

"I always look out for that car," says the jogger who ran into the flasher in Oak Cliff. "I can handle seeing a penis. But I worry about kids in the park who are coming back from school. I'm not sure how they could even process something like this."

Studies Cited in the Article

Police say the following incidents may be related.

November 17, 2015, approximately 8:30 a.m.: The victim was approached during a walk to school by the suspect at 3100 Valley Meadow. The man asked for directions and then exposed himself. The suspect then fled in a silver Chevy Malibu.

March 4, 2016, approximately 4 p.m.: The victim was walking after school ended and spotted the suspect, driving a gold pickup, passing by three times. The man then approached the victim at the 3200 block of Park Lane, exposing himself and driving off.

October 3, 2016, approximately 7 p.m.: The victim was playing outside at the Spanish Creek Apartments located at 3109 Chapel Creek when the suspect approached the victim and rubbed the victim's breast and genitals over the clothing before fleeing on foot.

November 7, 2016, approximately 8:30 a.m.: The victim was approached by the suspect at the Spanish Pueblo Apartments at 9701 Dale Crest Drive, while the victim was walking to school. The man yelled at the victim to get her attention and then exposed himself.

If anyone has information regarding the whereabouts of this suspect and/or comes in contact with the suspect please contact 911 or  214-671-4453.

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Joe Pappalardo is the former editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Joe Pappalardo