Indecent exposure is often predatory behavior, particularly when the target is a child, and a crime that warrants increased punishment when a juvenile is the one to witness the act, say backers of a bill to up the penalties for exposing yourself to a minor.

The bill, HB 0212, has bipartisan support, making sponsors Del. Brian Crosby, D-St. Mary’s, and Del. Jesse Pippy, R-Frederick, optimistic that it will pass this time around, after it failed in the Senate last year. The bill, titled Indecent Exposure Within the Sight of a Minor, was cross-filed in the Senate as SB 0208, where it is sponsored by Sen. Jack Bailey, R- St. Mary’s and Calvert.

Under current law, the penalties for indecent exposure are the same regardless of who witnesses the crime, and include imprisonment of up to three years and a fine not exceeding $1,000. The individual may also be forced to register as a sex offender. This legislation would increase sanctions for those who intentionally expose themselves to a minor, including imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of up to $10,000 or both.

Crosby initially drafted this bill to address indecent exposure cases involving minors after repeated incidents in his county.

“This bill is in direct response to an incident that happened in St. Mary’s County in front of young girls, and all the bill simply does is increase the penalties for those who commit the offense of indecent exposure in the sight of a minor,” Crosby told lawmakers at the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill Tuesday.

Crosby said there is an added reason to increase the penalty where minors are concerned: The new penalties will revoke a security clearance from individuals convicted of this crime. Under current Maryland law, the penalties are not significant enough to trigger an investigation by the Department of Defense.

“In that incident in St. Mary’s, the individual had a security clearance, and the judge gave them the max, but the max wasn’t enough to trigger an investigation to remove that individual’s security clearance,” said Crosby in the hearing. “If the penalties were what this bill makes it, there would have been an internal investigation, and that individual would have had their security clearance stripped.”

In St. Mary’s County, there have been 189 reported indecent exposures with 28 juvenile victims since 2013, according to the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s office.

Indecent exposure has also been a repeated problem in College Park among students at The University of Maryland. Reports nearly doubled in College Park between 2021 and 2022, rising from six reported incidents to 11, according to the University of Maryland Police Department. The data does not specify whether the incidents involved minors.

In October 2022, Jimena Moreno and Hailey Closson, both UMD sophomores, were riding a campus bus when they were victims of indecent exposure just trying to go to the new Trader Joe’s in College Park. A man followed them off the bus and lingered nearby. On the way back, they switched buses to try to avoid the man, but he followed and lowered his pants and began touching himself inside the bus.

Moreno said she felt “disgusted” and “disrespected.”

“It didn’t make me safe at all, especially the fact that it was, like, on a campus bus,” said Moreno. “I honestly think, especially in the world that we live in today, where young people are being sexualized so easily, their safety at this point is, like, at risk,” said Moreno. “I think laws should have been made a while ago because it’s been an ongoing thing.”

In Pasadena on Jan. 28, officers responded to a report of indecent exposure involving a mother and her daughter.

The mother reported that she and her daughter were walking outside when a man, who had spoken briefly to them earlier, drove by with his pants down and his “genitals exposed,” according to The Anne Arundel County Police Department Eastern District press release. The victim “grabbed her daughter and ran to a nearby residence” for safety.

Witnesses at the Judiciary Committee hearing said behaviors such as exposing oneself in public often lead to other more egregious sexual offenses against minors.

“We absolutely acknowledge there are minor incidents of indecent exposure; there are also intentional incidents of indecent exposure that are specifically directed towards children,” said Lisae Jordan of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “Indecent exposure really is often a gateway crime to other types of sex offenses.”

“There are over 15 states that really distinguish this type of exposure versus a general urinating in the public or flashing; there is a viciousness, a predatory nature with regards to this type of crime,” said Joyce King with the Maryland State’s Attorney Association in her testimony.

The Public Defender’s office opposed the bill, saying there is no need for legislation at this time.

“This is not something that we would say there is an additional harm because of the age of the child,” said Vanita Taylor, chief attorney at the Office of The Public Defender.

The public defender’s office also said that the bill would further harm the homeless, who are often arrested for indecent exposure.

“Indecent exposure that we see for clients, a lot of times, are for people who are homeless, people who are rushing, not people who are doing it with a prurient intent,” said Taylor.

The cross-filed version of HB0212, also known as bill SB0208, is scheduled to be heard on Feb. 14 at 1 p.m.

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