Fairfax County police Monday released a surveillance video of a man possibly connected to a series of groping assaults in Springfield.
Taken from a security camera at a Home Goods store, the grainy black and white video is 12 seconds long and shows a man in a dark winter coat and hat walking through the automatic doors of the discount store in Kingstowne.
Police said the unidentified man is a suspect in an assault that took place at about 3 p.m. Thursday in the store, when a woman was groped from behind and her attacker quickly fled. The circumstances fit the pattern of groping assaults that left nerves frayed throughout the Virginia suburb late last year.
"Based on the information we have, it may be connected to a series of assaults," police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said. "The suspect comes up from behind a woman, grabs them, touches them, and then flees."
If the man in the video is the serial groper, it means he's responsible for more than two-dozen attacks since September in the Springfield area.Ms. Caldwell said since the rash of assaults, the community has rallied at community meetings, and recently hosted a self-defense course for women. She said assaults have all been against women, and typically have taken place when the victim has been alone, going about her daily business. Previously the only help in identifying the man were sketches released by police, showing a Hispanic man in his 30s with trimmed facial hair.
"They're not listening to their iPods, or under the influence of any substance," Ms. Caldwell said of the victims, adding that the attacker has targeted women of all ethnicities.
"There's no particular trend or commonalities as far as victims, other than they're typically alone," she said. "It happens very, very quickly."
If the man in the video is the groper, it would be the first time he's committed an assault in a store, and on camera, a misstep that Michele Galietta, a professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said has likely put him closer to being caught.
"He's going to get caught eventually," she said. "It will be an interesting thing to see what happens as the case progresses, whether this person turns themselves in if the risk gets too great."
Ms. Galietta's expertise is in sex offender policy and treatment, and while she admitted that at this point it was too early to profile the exact kind of sex offender the serial groper is, she said it was interesting that the groper has attacked a variety of women in a wide range of places, meaning that perhaps his assaults aren't so much targeted as crimes of opportunity.
"We don't know what causes abhorrent sexual urges," she said. "Some people will have them, but this is a pretty serious compulsion. It's out in public and they're probably very strong urges the person is acting on."
Ms. Galietta said the man may look relatively well-dressed and clean cut — which may be why he hasn't raised suspicion prior to an attack — and could even have a job and family unaware of his behavior.
It might also be difficult for victims of his attacks to scream or attempt to defend themselves, she said, because they could be too stunned or embarrassed to act.
"Always be alert, look at who's standing in your personal space," Ms. Galietta said. "Say something when it happens. It's a crime where he doesn't get caught right away. He doesn't get punished, it's easy, reinforced. Whatever gratification he's getting out of it, he's getting it."
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