It is a common myth, especially among feminists, that some people with paraphilias such as voyeurs and exhibitionists (peepers and flashers) commonly escalate to more serious offenses such as burglary, sexual assault, rape or homicide.
As with so many things in life, this is a half-truth.
Some or a certain number of flashers, peepers, etc. do escalate more or less as described above, yes. I am not sure I would call it shifting of boundaries, although that’s what is going on. Instead of shifting it is more like an escalation of boundary violations to more extreme violations. I also don’t know if it’s about respecting boundaries. I’ve read a lot about these paraphilias because I do work in this area as part of one of my jobs, and I’ve never heard people describe paraphilic escalation as a shifting of boundaries, even if that’s what it is.
To the flasher or peeper, their problem is more of a compulsion or an addiction than anything else. They feel a build-up of pressure in the period before the act which builds to a very uncomfortable level, and they feel that the only way to reduce the pressure is to do the act. They commit the act in a rush of fear and excitement, and the act is very sexually stimulating to them. After they do the act, there is a catharsis, and the pressure is relieved. Sometimes they feel guilty afterwards.
In therapy with these people, many of them are actually decent men with good jobs, good fathers and husbands. They simply have a paraphilia – a sexual disorder – that takes the form of an addictive-like behavior or a compulsion. It is common in therapy for these men for them to break down and cry, saying that they can’t control themselves. The behavior can go on for decades if it is not checked. The paraphilia is apparently learned. I believe it is hard to treat.
But yes, some voyeurs and exhibitionists do escalate, and these are the boundary pushers. You get away with flashing or peeping, and now you realize that you can get away with serious violations of people’s boundaries.
Although I believe Ted Bundy killed first at age 14 (a 9 year old girl neighbor), he would never confess to that crime, and they could never formally pin it on him. I also think he killed some women back East
when he stayed at a family home there over the summer. The record says he started killing in college. Anyway, the record is clear that in his teens, Ted used to roam neighborhoods at night, peeping on women. He also started breaking into homes around this time, often the homes of the women he was peeping on. Later on he went on some serious murder sprees.
How Criminal Escalation Works
In crime, when you get away with a crime for a while, there is tendency to think “If I got away with X, I can get away with X+1.” The people who think this way are not necessarily bad people per se. If they had never gotten away with X crime, they might have lived perfectly decent lives. But they got away with X crime, with caused them to escalate beyond X further and further, and at some point, they might commit homicide. And it is typically a male criminal who escalates like this.