It’s been nearly three weeks since the last incident in a six-month spree of lewd behavior on the Western Washington University campus and surrounding neighborhoods.
Bellingham Police have linked nearly two dozen cases of indecent exposure or voyeurism to one white man in his 20s who has been exposing himself or peering into windows of homes and dormitories since late July. He’s always gone before police arrive.
But police are unsure if that means the man has stopped, or if there are other reasons for the hiatus, said family crimes Sgt. Claudia Murphy.
“The suspect could be in jail, have left for the holidays, or even read the news. There are countless other reasons, none of which we may ever know,” Murphy said. “It is an unknown to us, and really not wise for (us) to speculate.”
After 21 connected cases that have occurred over holiday weekends, like Halloween – and predominantly near Western and in the Columbia, York and Sehome neighborhoods – police have yet to develop a suspect or catch the man in the act.
Police initially released a composite sketch of the man they thought was the voyeur, but later admitted that the sketch wasn’t the “prolific voyeur.” A second sketch has now been released.
There were other incidents, such as the indecent exposure at JJ’s convenience store in Happy Valley in early December and a man who grabbed a woman’s breasts near Wilson Library in mid-November that have been ruled out or discounted as being connected.
Still, Murphy says the police department is still actively investigating all the cases.
Police have asked anyone who sees something suspicious to call 911 immediately.
Meanwhile, James Graham, a WWU professor of psychology, said most such voyeurs rarely quit unless they are caught, which is usually by law enforcement. For those that aren’t caught, Graham said most people don’t seek treatment for their tendencies, so it’s hard to say whether they stop on their own.
Graham said voyeurism is classified as a paraphilic disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the handbook for health care professionals for diagnosing mental disorders. Paraphilic disorders are characterized as “having intense, recurrent fantasies around their object of sexual interest,” Graham said.
“People with voyeuristic disorder sometimes describe imagining having sex with the person they are watching, though this is not always the case,” Graham added. “Oftentimes, there is a thrill from being unobserved.”
Graham said exhibitionist disorder is also usually associated with voyeuristic disorder. With exhibitionist disorder, “the fantasies often involve the reactions of shock they obtain from the people to whom they expose themselves,” Graham said.
Graham said paraphilic disorders are more common in men than in women. The statistics, while incomplete, indicate the highest possible prevalence for voyeuristic disorder in males is 12 percent, compared to 4 percent in females, according to the DSM 5. For exhibitionist disorder, it’s 2-4 percent for males and “unknown” for females.
Graham said there aren’t hard statistics on how those with voyeuristic or exhibitionist tendencies escalate. He said many don’t commit sexual assault, but acknowledged that other disorders, such as substance abuse, antisocial personality disorder or bipolar disorder, are often associated with or influence the sexual behavior.