A Felony Flash: a look at serial flashers in the Tri-State

It may seem that week after week, we hear about someone "flashing" or exposing him or herself to a stranger, or worse, to a child.

Doctors classify "flashing" as a mental disorder, and that means offenders often still feel the urge to violate others' privacy and sense of security even after they've been locked up-- which in most cases, is usually just for a few days.

Casey Callen and his girlfriend ran into one of those unsavory characters two years ago on the campus of the University of Cincinnati, and it wasn't the suspect's first time that night.

"We see a {University of Cincinnati Police} cruiser and we're like 'hey!'" said Callen. "There's this guy walking around flashing people.' And she and the two officers say, 'well, you're not the first guy that's seen it happen tonight.'"

It's unclear if that suspect was ever caught. Callen and his girlfriend were shaken, but okay, but they wondered what happens if the crime involves children?

Exhibitionism more commonly known as flashing is a misdemeanor. The sentence is the same regardless of the age of the victim.

"If it involves adults, okay, that's one thing," said Callen. "Maybe a misdemeanor, but if it involves kids? That seriously should be like a felony."

Police said the suspects hardly serve any time behind bars. It's a reality that Cincinnati Police Detective Iris Kelly knows too well.

"A lot of times they're out of jail right away," said Detective Kelly. "Some judges may be harder on them in some cases if they are repeat offenders."

Hamilton County Sheriffs Deputies said flashers usually serve anywhere from a few days to a few months behind bars.

Remember the so-called bus stop flasher? Anthony Burbanks exposed himself to children near the corner of Hopkins and John streets last fall. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail.

Larry Cottrell, the man who exposed himself to children selling lemonade in Montgomery, was also sentenced to 180 days in jail. Cottrell's case landed on Judge Fanon Rucker's docket last summer.

Judge Rucker said flashing is a crime that happens in a second, but can leave a lasting impression on victims-- especially young ones.

"It really creates trust issues and everything else," said Judge Rucker. "The same with a child victim or victim of any crime of this nature. It has long term effects on the individual subjected to this type of behavior."

Doctors classify exhibitionism as a mental disorder. Some say the offenders do it purely to shock their victims; others fantasize the target will become sexually aroused.

As far as the law, public indecency is the umbrella charge given to those who:

1- expose his or her private parts

2- masturbate in public

3- have sex in public

4- and urinate in public.

Judge Rucker said the cases he's heard often involve suspects with prior convictions for public indecency.

"Of course the case that received some interest about six or eight months ago, that gentleman did that in front of children, and we found out that he had a prior record for doing that," said Judge Rucker. "I'm not sure, but I believe the previous victims were adults."

Repeat offenders tend to haunt repeat locations around Cincinnati.

According to Cincinnati Police, the top three hot spots flashers tend to frequent are:

  • Mt. Airy, where 32 arrests have been made for public indecency in the last five years.
  • Over-the-Rhine, where there have been 32 arrests for the same charge in the same time frame.
  • and the Riverfront area, where there have been 40 arrests.

Bottom line, if you become a victim, police say call them immediately. It could help them catch the offender, and perhaps keep him or her behind bars long enough to keep someone else safe.

While flashing is considered a misdemeanor, remember indecent exposure is a sex crime. If you're convicted, you could be registered as a sex offender.

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