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Showing skin can cost you 

Streaking may not label you a sex offender but it potentially could

Writer's note: Before this article starts, let's get this out of the way: This story about streakers has been fleshed out. Police might crack down or try real hard to get to the bottom of things. The consequences are laid bare in the, heh heh, penal code. Critics call the laws backward.

There. That's better. Now that I got that out of my system, let's begin.

It could, honestly and truly, really happen. Let your flesh flag fly during a boundary-busting streak through the quad and you could get arrested. And prosecuted. And convicted. Of a sex crime. And have to register as a sex criminal. Forever.

Yes, all of that could happen. California's Megan's Law lists indecent exposure right there along with rape and child pornography as among the offenses that can get one included on the state's sexual offender database.

But it probably won't happen. Although the prospect of mooners, streakers, and public urinaters ending up with a lifelong scarlet "Perv" on their records is one that's routinely brought up by those who question the efficacy of sex offender registration laws, it's actually hard to find any evidence that such pranks are bursting the ranks of the registry. It's even hard to find evidence of any streakers on the databases. There is this one guy. We'll get to him later.

Indecent exposure, the state statute reads, applies to someone who "willfully and lewdly exposes his person, or the private parts thereof, in any public place, or in any place where there are present other persons to be offended or annoyed thereby ."

The "lewdly" part is where things really get hung up. Police say a report about a streaker isn't likely to be pursued unless the caller is offended or feels threatened.

The streaker's state of mind, rather than their state of undress, is key.

"You have to have a sexual intent for it to be a law violation," said Steve Brown, San Luis Obispo County Chief Deputy District Attorney. "The person has to have an intent toward their own sexual gratification."

Even if a streaker were charged with indecent exposure, he added, a judge would have the final say as to say whether the offense requires registering under Megan's Law.

Brown and his fellow county prosecutors would generally make such a legal determination, but not during Mardi Gras in San Luis Obispo. Following riots in 2004, the city passed an ordinance specifically banning nudity in the city during the event.

As streaking is largely a campus and sports-stadium phenomenon, there's also the point to make that Cal Poly isn't exactly a vortex for streakers. UCLA and UC San Diego have their Undie Runs where undies are often optional.

In Orange County, thousands of people now line up for an annual moon of the Amtrak trains. Although streaking exists at Cal Poly hundreds gathered to witness an off-campus event advertised on the web site Facebook for Feb. 8 it isn't the sort of mass event that it is at other colleges.

Here and elsewhere, most streakers who get arrested end up charged for crimes only peripheral to the actual nudity.

After Mark Roberts, a Brit who has streaked hundreds of public events, bared all during the 2004 Super Bowl (only minutes after Janet Jackson showed her breast with an assist from Justin Timberlake), he ended up with a $1,000 fine, according to the New York Times. A jury reportedly turned down a prosecutor's request for jail time. Other sports-game streakers have ended up with charges ranging from resisting arrest to disorderly conduct to criminal trespass. But as a rule they don't end up listed as sex offenders.

Bill Watton, Cal Poly's chief of police, said city and campus officers were on hand to "watch and monitor" the early-February off-campus streaking because it had been advertised, but that streaking complaint calls are so rare he can't recall one in five years.

All fun aside, the prospect of streakers ending up on sex offender databases isn't a frivolous one. Numerous legal challenges to state and federal laws have been founded on that exact basis. They argue that the lifelong stigma attached to sex offender registration, when applied to people who pose no real threat to public safety, amounts to an insult to justice and because the lists generally go with an offender to the grave they're counter to the principle of due process.

But if streakers aren't likely to have to register as sex criminals, that doesn't mean there aren't consequences. A quick search of news stories found at least three cases in the last month in which streakers ended up being brought down with Tasers. The Washington Post carried a story about a high school senior in Ohio who covered himself in grapeseed oil before streaking the cafeteria. After apparently refusing an order to stop, the "lunch period monitor" sent him to the ground with a Taser blast. And then the kid got up.

And they zapped him again.

Okay. So the notion of a streaker ending up on a sex crime database isn't entirely urban legend. There is at least one case. It's from West Virginia. According to the Charleston Gazette, an employee at Concord University did end up listed on Pennsylvania's state sex offender registry for nothing more than streaking.

He'd reportedly been arrested for indecent exposure in another state when he was much younger, but when he moved to Pennsylvania, the closest thing the state's registry had to match the crime was the much harsher "indecent assault." Though he argued the point, the story says, he lost and ended up in the database.

After learning the truth of the story, the university didn't fire him. Apparently he wasn't even forgive me rebuffed. ?

Send comments to Managing Editor Patrick Coleman Howe at phowe@newtimesslo.com.

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