On Oct. 19, Eric Williamson of Virginia was brewing coffee at home in the early morning hours. Though seemingly harmless, this act would lead to his arrest and make national news because he was doing so in the nude.
The 29-year-old man was in his kitchen when an anonymous 45-year-old woman walking her 7-year-old son to school at about 8:30 a.m. spotted him through his windows. The woman filed a complaint with the Fairfax County Police, and Williamson was arrested for indecent exposure.
“I wasn’t wearing any clothes, but I was alone in my own home and just got out of bed. It was dark and I had no idea anyone was outside looking in at me,” Williamson said to FOX-5 of Washington, D.C.
If convicted, Williamson, who has a 5-year-old daughter, faces up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. The woman claims she saw Williamson nude twice as she walked past his house that morning.
The complaining woman could have turned away if she was sincerely concerned about indecent exposure. People should also have a reasonable expectation of privacy within their own property. Williamson should not have been arrested or charged, and he should not be convicted.
According to the Virginia state statute for indecent exposure, his nudity would have to not only be intentional but also occur in a public place. There is no proof that he obscenely intended for people to see him. Also, his house is not a public place. While the sidewalk is a public place, expecting privacy in one’s home is a reasonable exercise of personal freedom.
FOX-5 reports even indicate that the woman and her son took a route that cut through Williamson’s yard, which would possibly mean the woman was trespassing.
The situation probably would have turned out differently if the genders were reversed. If a woman had been in the house and a man had been outside in her yard, there should theoretically be no difference.
However, the man outside would have probably been seen as the pervert and been arrested, much like the recent case of a contractor who was charged with peeping into a women’s bathroom at Virginia Tech. The notion that the woman in Williamson’s case could be immune from such accusations suggests a double standard.
The woman, the wife of a Fairfax County Police officer, had her complaint promptly addressed by five Taser-wielding officers hurrying to the emergency at Williamson’s house. Her law enforcement connection may have helped her misuse the legal system with her complaint. She was not forced to see the nudity, and she wasted taxpayers’ money.
“If there was something offensive, would not a knock on the door and heads-up suffice?” Williamson said to the Washington Post.
The conflict is thereby two-fold: prudishness versus civil liberties and frivolous complaints against responsible conflict resolution. Hopefully the Virginia courts will side with liberties and responsibility, or they may set a horrible precedent. They should let the man go free.
Neil Manimala is junior majoring in biomedical sciences.