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Thursday, October 21, 2021
METRO  |  CRIME

Public masturbation and lack of communication leaves tenants of Gainesville Place worried for their safety

There have been multiple reports of burglary, assault, battery, theft and more at the complex in the last two years.

Gainesville Place Apartments, a student housing center, sits on Southwest 35th Place on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.
Gainesville Place Apartments, a student housing center, sits on Southwest 35th Place on Wednesday, July 14, 2021.

Alicia Wagner, a 20-year-old UF history major, has lived at Gainesville Place for two years but isn’t renewing her lease. After witnessing a public masturbator in her stairwell and seeing no action from management, she feels the complex doesn’t care. 

There have been more than 60 reports of crimes ranging from suspicious incidents to burglary and assault at the Gainesville Place apartments at 2800 SW 35th Pl. in the last two years, according to Gainesville Police Department records. 

Burglary is the most common crime reported at the complex, and a crime is reported about once every two weeks according to GPD records. Indecent exposure and flashing comprised three reported crimes, although sexual assault crimes often go unreported

Gainesville Place and its parent company, the Collier Company, did not return requests to comment after two phone calls on different days. 

Wagner’s exposure to public masturbation occured in the 1300 building while she helped her older sister carry luggage from her car to her upstairs apartment for a visit in August. 

On their second trip up from the car, a man was sprawled out on the stairs waiting for them and masturbating.

“I freaked out. I was just like ‘what the f----?’” Wagner said. “I was really scared.”

She said she turned around and calmly went up the other set of stairs and the man finished and walked off. 

The police told her there was nothing they could do because there was no proof, Wagner said. She complained to Gainesville Place management about the need for cameras, but they weren’t installed.

“There's people coming here without their parents for the first time, especially young girls, and they’re living by themselves for the first time,” Wagner said.

Wagner said she does not feel safe and knows of at least five other people who have had run-ins with public masturbation at the complex. 

“They neglect their tenants and their wants and needs, especially their basic safety,” Wagner said. “There’s young girls coming here, and it's their duty to keep us safe and at least have evidence if anything happens.”

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Witnesses of public masturbation can feel violated even if they were not touched or seen by the flasher, Matt Pearce, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist, said. Many witnesses feel shame.

“Whether you were in a bathing suit, whether you were at a party, whatever you were doing, it does not matter. [If] consent was not gained, then it is not your fault,” Pearce said.

Anywhere from 30 to 60% of people fantasize about having some form of sex in a public place, he said, and that’s completely normal. It becomes unsafe when nonconsenting parties are forced to be involved. Kink and fetish communities can meet these needs in a consensual way, he said. 

About a month ago, Gainesville Place management sent Arielle Cortina, a 21-year-old UF history major, a message warning of a man exposing himself in the stairwells. The message went out after a Reddit post about safety at Gainesville Place gained over 60 comments and 450 upvotes last month.

Sometimes Cortina goes to the gym at night and runs back to her car after her workout.

“I don't like going out at night, because it gets kind of dark around here,” Cortina said. 

Greyson Graham, a 20-year-old UF environmental science major who lives next to the stairwell where the alleged masturbation took place, sees public masturbation as a serial problem around the building.

“He’s been here for months,” Graham said. “I got pepper spray because of [him].” 

Samantha Moron lives at Gainesville Place and is a 21-year-old UF psychology and women’s studies major. On St. Patrick’s Day her first year at the complex, she and one of her roommates were home alone settling in to watch a movie when there was a loud knock on the door at about 11 p.m., she said.

Moron looked through the peephole and saw a man running toward the door before slamming into it. She and her roommate locked themselves in Moron’s bathroom and called the police. 

The man didn’t go away for almost a half hour, but police did not arrive in time to catch him, she said. 

She described another incident where she heard another knock late at night in Summer 2019. This time, she saw a man through the peephole taking tools out of a DoorDash bag. She said the man then began working on the door, presumably trying to get it open. The man left when he heard her run to tell her roommate what was happening, she said. 

Last November, she and three friends were at the pool near the 1300 building at night. A man entered the pool deck and sat down across the pool from them, she said. He went into the pool bathroom and masturbated while staring at her group.

Moron was scared to leave because the man was near the exit. They flagged down a group  walking to the parking lot to chase the man away. The person who helped them had heard of the man masturbating before. 

Moron and her friends reported the incident to GPD, but because they did not pick the same picture in a lineup of possible suspects that night, the responding officer was unable to charge anyone with a crime, according to a GPD report. 

Though Moron spoke to the complex about the incident, she said Gainesville Place told her there wasn’t much much they could do and they can’t pick their neighbors.

Contact Sam Schaffer at sschaffer@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @samschaf_.

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