Daily Mail

I’m STILL haunted by the men who flashed me decades ago

- Follow: @whjm

I’ve found it almost unbearable to read the testimonie­s from the latest trial of Wayne Couzens. The woman who worked at a McDonald’s drive-through in Kent reported his indecent exposures to the police, was ignored — and found only days later, in March 2021, that she recognised photos of the man who had abducted, raped and murdered Sarah everard. It was the same man who had ‘flashed’ at her.

She sobbed in court this week that she and her colleague (Couzens had also flashed at McDonald’s drive-through staff on an earlier visit) could have saved Sarah.

But, of course, they couldn’t. Neither could the cyclist who, on a separate occasion, had been terrified by the Metropolit­an Police officer leaping out in front of her, naked, in a country lane.

These women did what they could. They reported this dangerous pervert to the police. The McDonald’s pair gave details of his car — colour, make and registrati­on number — and bank card.

The victims couldn’t have saved Sarah, but the police could have. With unimpeacha­ble evidence, they could have traced the ‘flasher’. But they didn’t, and Couzens was left free, able to take his arrogant, aggressive sexual perversion to its horrific conclusion.

WHAT these women said about the impact on them of Couzens’ behaviour is testament to the fact that ‘ flashing’ is an entirely inappropri­ate term for what is sexual assault — and should be treated as such.

It is no joke, but all too often police and society treat it as such. as the cyclist pointed out in her victim impact statement, Couzens had taken her freedom to enjoy walks and cycling, and the horror of what happened would remain with her for the rest of her life.

I know exactly what she means. I was six when a friend and I took my dog for a walk in the woods near my home. We had never thought to worry about being out by ourselves. We knew those woods well and didn’t expect to encounter any danger, but we did. a man jumped out at us from behind some bushes, wearing no trousers or pants and with his overcoat held open to show his erect penis.

We didn’t know what it was, but we knew it wasn’t right. We hadn’t seen either of our fathers in a state of undress. We had no brothers. But we knew to run. We never told our parents about it, but we never went to the woods alone again.

When it happened to me a second time, I was 26 and better informed about the male anatomy.

I’d had a long day as a presenter at BBC South Today. a walk on Southampto­n Common in the warm early evening sun seemed like a good idea.

There were very few people about apart from a group of lads playing a noisy game of football, so I walked into a quiet, pretty wooded area. From behind a thick tree trunk, a tall, heavily-built man emerged. his trousers were undone and he was masturbati­ng.

I suppressed the urge to make a smart remark about a chipolata.

The 26-year-old me figured out I was facing a serious threat, just as sixyear-old me had done in the past, and running was the only option.

When I got back to my car, I was shaken, outraged, scared. I went back to the office and called the police (no mobiles in those days).

I gave the police a perfect descriptio­n of the man — height, age, hair colour, clothing — but the response was not encouragin­g. ‘Not much we can do about it, darlin’, he’ll be long gone by now. It’s just a flasher anyway.’

No amount of insistence on my part that this was a sex crime and they should investigat­e the area immediatel­y had any impact. I got the impression the officer thought I was making a silly fuss about nothing and should just laugh it away. I never have. Just thinking about it and where it could have led makes me shiver to this day.

There is nothing funny about indecent exposure. as we’ve seen in the Couzens case, it’s a dangerous practice which mentally scars the victim and can lead to the worst possible outcome.

I’ve often wondered why men do it. It’s not going to attract or seduce the woman, but that clearly is not the intention. The penis is used to threaten, and such men find pleasure in seeing a woman look afraid or uncomforta­ble.

how else do you explain the number of unsolicite­d ‘d**k pics’ sent to women in what’s known as cyberflash­ing. Studies show that around half of 18-25 year olds in england and Wales have received them; among under- 18s, the incidence is even higher.

Maybe the men are exhibition­ists who get their thrills from pleasuring themselves without physical contact with their victim. What seems most likely to me, when we hear of similar acts from powerful men such as harvey Weinstein, is that the men involved are misogynist­s who get their kicks from power, attention and control.

Indecent exposure is a supremely narcissist­ic act. It is also illegal. Found guilty of exposing himself to those women, Couzens had 19 months added to the life sentence he is serving for murdering Sarah everard. and rightly so.

The police must never again laugh it off as ‘just flashing’.

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