Public displays of affection can pose risks
BY MADELINE LOSHAW
OU News Bureau
How far would you go in public?
Would you let your significant other hold your hand walking down the street? Is a peck on the cheek acceptable? How about making out?
For many, the line that distinguishes acceptable from unacceptable public displays of affection (PDA) isn’t clear. When a couple participates in such displays, they risk everything from making others feel uncomfortable to facing legal charges.
There are differing opinions on public displays of affection, though many people can agree that there are both acceptable and unacceptable forms.
Oakland University junior Anna Heinrich said “Just holding hands or a kiss is fine, but if they are making out it can be awkward.”
Junior Chris Lauritsen agreed.
“If it is nothing over the top, I don’t have a problem with it, but I don’t want to watch someone make out in public,” he said. “I think there is a line when it comes to public affection. … If a couple is really all over each other, I think it can get to be a bit gross. Making out, to me, is the obvious thing that crosses the line.”
Freshman Candice Novinski doesn’t mind couples being affectionate in public, as long as it does not affect her.
“I’m not bothered by couples holding hands in public unless they are slowing me down or in my way,” she said. “As long as they are not getting hot and heavy, little displays of affection are fine.”
For junior Tony Carlini, couples on campus is a good thing.
“It makes me feel a bit jealous and simultaneously happy some dude found a girl that makes him happy,” he said. “Everyone who sees couples necking or getting cuddly in or out of class may think ‘Wow, keep it in the bedroom,’ you know?
“But, I figure, if you have someone who you care about and you both aren’t shy about expressing yourselves, go for it.”
Showing affection at school
In recent years, there has been a national movement aimed at limiting PDA at the elementary, middle and high school levels. The most extreme cases have seen the banning of high-fiving and hugging. The Dearborn Public Schools district implemented the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support program to curb this behavior.
Public universities have much more lax restrictions regarding student interaction.
In fact, OU doesn’t have a policy on it.
“People should be free to behave how they want,” Novinski said. “If we start policing PDA, who knows what other forms of expression will be stifled next.”
Such issues would fall within the disruptive behavior section of the Student Code of Conduct, though there are no specific references to it, said Glenn McIntosh, dean of students and assistant vice president for student affairs.
“If the behavior is disruptive to the campus environment, we could have the option of handling it as a breach of the student code of conduct,” McIntosh said.
If a professor were to complain about students being excessively affectionate to one another in class, the dean’s office would intervene by coaching the professor on ways to address the behavior from an educational perspective. The office also would attempt to help students understand why their behavior might offend others.
“While any extreme case could warrant a suspension or expulsion, it would be highly unlikely,” McIntosh said. “Most PDA incident(s) would be teachable moment(s) to help students learn and grow.”
Handholding and handcuffs
According to Lt. Mel Gilroy of the OU Police Department, a public display of affection does not become a legal issue until there is indecent exposure or actual sexual intercourse involved — though both of these are rare occasions at OU. Both typically would be considered misdemeanors.
What is more common, Gilroy said, are “parkers.”
“You get people mashing in cars,” he said. “People park, and 99 times out of 100, there’s no enforcement action that’s going to flow from an officer checking a car at 2 a.m. and people are having sex in it.”
Though OUPD doesn’t typically write tickets when officers find couples having sex in cars, there are a few steps they go through. First officers check to make sure that the female is safe and consenting.
“(We’re) going to check and make sure the girl is safe, because that’s how rapes happen,” Gilroy said. “We’ve interdicted rapes checking on parkers.”
The officer also checks to make sure that neither person is a minor by checking driver’s licenses.
“And then we say, ‘You’ve got two minutes to get dressed and get the hell out of here’ —that’s a typical enforcement action for parkers,” Gilroy said. “We call it warn and release.”
Gilroy said OUPD doesn’t pursue legal enforcement of parkers because there is no danger involved and because parkers aren’t really offending anyone.
“Officers have a tremendous amount of discretion on enforcing the law,” Gilroy said, explaining that if students having sex aren’t doing it in a crowd, aren’t offending people and there are no children around, “then your enforcement decision may get modified to be more lenient than it would be if two people were having sex in the middle of the mall on Saturday morning when all the moms are there with the kids.”
Although a public displays of affection isn’t a crime, there are some actions that OUPD would take if it got to be a problem.
“We would probably abate the behavior and then turn it over to the dean of students office,” Gilroy said.
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