This week's Ethicist column contains, in Ask Gothamist's opinion, one glaring mistake. Vicki Pope from Tennessee writes in with this question:
I am a 50-year-old woman who lives in the suburbs of a medium-size town. Several times a week, a neighbor (whom I've never met) stands at his front door naked and watches me leave for work. At first I was shocked; now I just ignore him. I'm reluctant to call the police for the furor it would cause and the trouble I'd get this fellow into. But am I endangering some woman or child whom this flasher might molest?
Randy Cohen offers some wise advise, suggesting that she might call the local sex-crimes police unit (which Ask hopes involves a conversation with Mariska Hargitay) and ask for advice without identifying the offending flasher. It's a good start and is likely to keep Vicki and her possibly impressionable neighbors out of harm.
But Randy takes a wrong turn, writing:
If his flashing becomes disturbing, you have every right to insist he stop. You might begin by slipping a note under his door saying that you've seen his seasonal display and that if he doesn't cut it out, you will call the cops.
From what Ask remembers from our human sexuality class in college (a popular way to fulfill the science requirement), engaging the flasher in any way is precisely what he wants. Flashers like to know they are affecting someone and, in many cases, are excited by any sort of reaction.
Since such a note might embolden the man and only lead to the involvement of the cops somewhere down the line, we don't understand why Randy didn't advise the woman to call the cops immediately. She could explain the situation and her concern for the neighborhood's children, ask that she remain anonymous and have a couple of uniformed officers pay a visit to the man's house. After a polite warning from the police - "If we catch you doing this we will have to arrest you" - he might stop his flashing ways. Vicki might be concerned with ethics, but her neighbor should be concerned with the law.