The Sexist

Indecent Exposure Case Hinges on Naked Eye Contact

Last fall, Fairfax resident Erick Williamson was accused of indecent exposure after a woman and her young child walked past Williamson's house and saw him hanging out naked inside through an open door. Williamson's case hinged on the Virginia definition of indecent exposure, which requires three elements: exposure, intent, and obscenity. Williamson, now forever known as "Fairfax Naked Guy," admitted to the "exposure" part, but he claimed that he never intended for anyone to see him walking around his house naked—and certainly didn't bolster his nudity with any obscene gestures.

In a jury trial yesterday, Fairfax prosecutors attempted to prove Williamson's intent through his gaze: The offended woman, Yvette Dean, claimed that Williamson had looked her directly in the eyes as he stood there naked.

Dean, who was walking her 7-year-old son to work when she spied the naked Williamson, testified that "Williamson was holding his storm door open with one hand, and making eye contact with her." Williamson's lawyers attempted to cast doubt on the accusation by arguing that Williamson's storm door and the footpath Dean used to walk her son to school were so far apart that Dean couldn't possibly have ascertained exactly where Williamson was looking. According to the Washington Post:

Williamson's lawyers hired a private investigator to measure the distance from where Dean was standing to the carport door. Investigator John Hickey said it was 83 feet. A photo taken by the police, of the view from the path that Dean was on looking toward the house on Arley Drive, made it seem like quite a distance, and Dean said the photo was "closer than I was." Defense lawyer Dickson Young presented another photo taken from the path, and the carport door seemed very distant.

But in Young's closing argument, Williamson's defense took another tactic, arguing that Dean would never have looked him in the eye:

Young ridiculed the notion that Dean made eye contact with the naked man.

If a woman is "walking along and sees someone naked," Young told the jury in his closing argument, "the last thing they're going to be looking at is his eyes."

According to the seven-person jury, which found Williamson not guilty in all of 20 minutes, a single witness's claim of eye contact is insufficient evidence to convict a man of intentionally and obscenely exposing himself to his neighbors. And on a personal note, I'm opposed to any legal system that attempts to present all exposure as obscene. But how does that closing argument make any sense? To me, Young's bizarre assumption about how women ought to react to the sight of a naked man reads both as (a) an unnecessary accusation against Dean, implying that a truly offended woman would have immediately averted her eyes, and (b) a weird joke about how no woman could keep her eyes off his client's wiener.

Photo via Tambako the Jaguar, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

  • http://rickmangus@aol.com Rick Mangus

    That is one creepy photo!

  • Charlie

    Among the comments on the Post site was this:

    "He's a peeping Tom/flasher who knows how to play the system but he'll find a way to carry on with his addiction. "

    This might be true in some sense but the evidence of this so far is quite skant. And I want to point out Peeping Tom's are usually the one's looking IN the window. It wouldn't surprise me if people checking out his windows as they walk by has become a problem for him.

  • SMH

    It is good news that the jury had more sense than the legal system that brought this case. Hopefully this man will recover his life and if possible damages for the time and expense he has been put through.

    The whole premise of eye contact being the determinant is ridiculous. The gender bias is proof that it is not a reliable determinant of intent. That is probably why the jury decided that they could not convict beyond a reasonable doubt because they recognized that there was room for doubt. The checks and balances are working.

  • Keith B

    Wow, you can make everything a womyn issue, Amanda. I'd think that if you actually read most of the comments on your own posts about street harassment or objectification of women (and there's plenty of posts about those), you'd find many women talking about feelings of shame and disgust, and not being able/wanting to make eye contact with the harassers.

    And yeah, there's people who will assert themselves, look the person in the eye and tell them they are an asshole. But it's not a stretch to assume that they're in the minority (compared to the don't-make-eye-contact-just-keep-walking group).

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/sexist Amanda Hess

    Keith B, I don't think it's a womyn's issue, I think it's a sex issue, and I think it was ridiculous that this guy was prosecuted for this. But now that you mention it, yes, it's fucked up to attempt to "prove" that someone is not a victim by asserting that they did not act like a victim is "supposed to act."

  • GS

    Please. Of course women can't keep their eyes off my bulging manhood. My penis would invite the envy of David himself. It is mesmerizing, like a cobra swaying hypnotically which conceals not deadly venom but the nectar of life.

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