It took several months, but the Los Angeles Times’s redesigned and generally soporific Sunday magazine finally came up with a must-read story: staff writer Claire Hoffman’s riveting Aug. 6 profile of “Girls Gone Wild” mogul Joe Francis. Hoffman opened with a description of Francis twisting her arm behind her back and pressing her face onto the hood of a car (she wriggled free and punched him in the face, unfortunately “not too hard”); continued with a scene in which Francis deflowered an allegedly drunk and unwilling teenager; and closed with Francis pathetically tousling Hoffman’s hair while murmuring “We love our little reporter.”
Probably not any more, he doesn’t, since Hoffman never stopped taking notes. This is what’s known in the trade as the subject basically writing the story for you, but kudos to Hoffman for gamely sticking around and producing this terrific piece instead of wilting like a flower from the assault. Now she’s sitting pretty while Francis is deservedly the laughingstock of the blogosphere. (“Joe Francis’ Lawyer: My Client Is A Well-Hung, Consenusal Devirginizer,” Defamer noted last week.)
Like any woman who’s endured her share of harassers, I love stories like this, and in a post-“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” media universe the message that we can and should stand up to perverts and garden variety creeps is, I’m happy to say, finally getting out. Earlier this summer, in fact, a New York Times feature on subway gropers inspired a slew of letters to the editor on how best to embarrass these jerks.
And a couple of months before that, New York Magazine ran a long feature about “Onan the Vegetarian” – raw-foods restaurateur Dan Hoyt, who last year exposed himself to the wrong young woman on the subway. Unfortunately for Hoyt, the Daily News ran the picture that this woman – the quick-thinking Thao Nguyen – posted from her camera phone, so he was identified, arrested and this past spring convicted of public lewdness. (Although not, apparently, exactly ashamed of his behavior: “That was really screwed up,” Hoyt said about Nguyen posting his picture, adding that if only she’d gotten to know him, “She’d probably want to go out with me.”)
I was happy to learn that Nguyen’s quick thinking has inspired a website encouraging girls to post pictures of men who’ve harrassed them on the street or in the subway. Yet still there are women who feel no embarrassment at behaving, frankly, like cowards – even when children’s safety is jeopardized. And there are other women who, unfortunately, don’t give them nearly enough of a hard time about it.
I normally like the Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson, for instance, the former Time columnist who took over the syndicated Ann Landers advice column a few years ago. But her response this week [AUG 8] to an Ask Amy reader wondering what to do about “an older gentleman” exposing himself to children in their residential complex’s pool startled me with its excessive mildness.
“I considered standing up and walking over to him in the hopes of stopping it,” wrote the reader (who noted the man had always given her “the creeps”), “but at the same time I was scared because I am a young woman and didn’t want to put myself at risk.”
Oh, grow up! I thought. What “risk” was this mealy-mouthed girl really putting herself in by simply saying, for example, “Hey, old man, put your &*@*#! ding-dog away before one of these kids’ parents comes out here chops it off.”
Was she the only other adult by the pool? Would no one have backed her up? Sometimes all you need to do to nip these things in the bud is say something. But every time a flasher suffers no consequence, the further he may feel like going next time.
Ask Amy did advise her reader (who signed herself Troubled Waters in PA, although I think To Hell With Kitty Genovese might have been a more fitting moniker) to notify the police as well as building management: “This is one of those times when you might have to tolerate some discomfort (or the prospect of it) for the greater good.” But I don’t think she said so nearly forcefully enough, and lost the opportunity to get a stronger message out to readers.
As it happens, I know that even if that pool flasher was, as Amy suggested he might be, “a registered sex offender,” notifying management might not be enough to solve the problem. As I wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last year:
Did you know that in California, child molesters and rapists are a protected class? It’s true. Not only are California landlords banned from using the state’s Megan’s Law database to decline renting their properties to sex offenders, they’re not even allowed to warn other tenants that these paroled criminals are now their neighbors. If they do the first, they can be fined $25,000 for housing discrimination. But if they don’t do the second, they can be sued for failing to protect tenants against a known danger.
So it would seem especially important for all citizens to take responsibility for their neighbors’ safety – especially when those neighbors include children – rather than simply think notifying management takes care of the problem. (Although certainly the woman should do that too, even if she did worry it put her own hide “at risk.”)
A far more inspiring example of how to behave in these situations comes from my friend Linda, who now is a respectable middle-aged mother of two but spent a lot of time skipping school and hanging out on Hollywood Boulevard as a teenager. Once she was sitting at a bus stop with a friend when a man in a business suit walked up, briefly exposed himself, then strolled on.
Linda, suddenly inspired, looked at her friend – who like her, was almost six-feet tall – and said: “Let’s get him!”
So they galloped full speed after the hapless (and now presumably terrorized flasher). He got away, but I can only imagine the strain he felt, huffing and puffing down Hollywood Boulevard with two angry and extremely tall teenagers in hot pursuit. I like to think that later on he had a stroke. But in any case, I bet he thought twice before trying something like that again.
Read more from Cathy Seipp on her blog, Cathy’s World.