Media Beat

Chronic bus masturbator shuns the Internet for newsprint.

No matter how dismal the future of print media may look, what with the ascension of the all-powerful Internet, it's comforting to know that newspapers will always have at least one loyal demographic: bus masturbators.

The case of Michael Williamson proves that MacBooks can never replace a standard broadsheet when it comes to perviness on public transit. In the most recent police filing against Williamson, Seattle Detective M.S. Ditusa identifies him as a suspect in four indecent acts on Metro buses since 2004. In two of the cases, according to the detective, a slim, black man matching Williamson's description used a newspaper to shield his penis from all but his intended victim's view. During an incident last December on Route 36, police say a video camera on the bus captured the man stationed across from a 17-year-old woman, his hand in his lap and his newspaper flapping up and down.

When arrested at his home on Airport Way South last month, the 49-year-old Williamson said he's indeed a regular newspaper reader—or at least newspaper user. "He uses it to hide his pelvis when he has to scratch inside his pants, push on his hernia, or hide his marijuana," wrote Ditusa. "All of which he must do on the inside of his pants. He may at times have to unzip his pants to do so." (Full disclosure: Williams said in his statement that the Weekly was his paper of choice.) He's being held in King County Jail on a charge of felony indecent exposure.

Williamson apparently has been a reader for some time. His meticulously handwritten, 100-plus-page appeal of a 2001 King County conviction for indecent exposure on a bus shows him to be at least as erudite as the average Seattle Weekly reader. The essay, in which he gives his life story in Humbert Humbert–like prose, is rife with "ergos," "howbeits," and "remonstrations." Williamson also included a bibliography of fetish-related reading material for the judge's edification, including Patrick Carnes' Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction, The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex: What You Must Know to Be Sexually Literate, and Other Vices, Other Crimes, a scholarly article from the 1956 Iowa Law Review.

Williamson is seemingly a rare breed. Over the past 15 months, according the King County Sheriff's Office, Metro Transit police have logged only one complaint for bus exhibitionism and one for groping. In the exhibitionism incident, the man left behind the ID of Michael Williamson. If that means the man was Williamson, he's the maverick among 103 million yearly riders who prefer to masturbate off the bus, probably in the glow of computer monitors.

In a jail interview, Williamson says he is innocent of the current charge but also speaks with seeming authority about the Seattle exhibitionist underground. "Everybody that does exhibitionism goes on buses," he says. "I've had young women expose themselves to me and young men expose themselves to me."

Like many traditional lovers of newsprint, Williamson shows an unwillingness to alter lifelong habits. At age 14, he says, he picked up masturbating in the hopes of increasing his genital size—"I was trying to get this huge thing to make me a tough guy"—and has hardly had a break since. "I have this compulsive disorder," he says. "I can't stop."

He racked up his first lewd charge in 1975, when New Orleans police caught him in an abandoned building with his pants down. Over the next two decades, according to the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, Williamson was convicted seven times of public indecency or public exposure in Louisiana, Georgia, and Illinois.

During the time he was adding inches to his rap sheet, Williamson was married and living with five children. In the early '90s, he followed his wife from Chicago to Washington state on a supposedly temporary visit and then refused to leave, according to a restraining order she later filed against him. Williamson was eventually arrested for the second-degree rape of his wife, a crime that put him away in Washington until June of 2000. Four months after he got out, Williamson exposed himself to a 13-year-old girl on Route 28, which earned him his first indecent-exposure conviction in Seattle.

His lawyer's advice in that trial, as Williamson recalls it in his appeal, was to keep his hands on the stand when giving testimony. That way, the lawyer told him, "the jury would not think that I was trying to touch myself."

The following year, Williamson was convicted in Seattle Municipal Court of indecent exposure at the Northgate Transit Center. Police said he masturbated on the bus in front of two women, and then followed them, continuing his activities, after they got off.

"When the police approached me they did not see my phallus, mainly to be honest, because I saw them before they got out of the car," wrote Williamson in his opus. By his own recollection, he had a newspaper over his crotch, unzipped pants, and "a slight erection apprising a noticeable protrusion inside my briefs....One [officer] asserted that he'd seen bodily fluids emit from me from under the newspaper. I denied it, albeit it was true."

Williamson says now that being jailed for a month has killed his sex drive, and proves it by looking disinterestedly at two women sitting in the visiting room. "A couple months ago, that's all that would be on my mind," he says. Now, "I'm in jail, but I'm free."

Carol Spoor, the King County senior deputy prosecuting attorney who handles sex crimes, is of two minds about the news media's role in the Williamson affair. "You're props for people to conceal themselves," she jokes. Onthe other hand, she says she prefers concealing to revealing. "So I can't say that's bad."

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