Larry Craig

How would an officer know someone was soliciting sex?

Some Idaho Statesman readers have questioned how the police officer who arrested Sen. Larry Craig in an airport men's room sex sting decided Craig was soliciting sex — and how men in restroom stalls obtain sex from strangers.

The officer, Sgt. Dave Karsnia of the Minneapolis Airport Police, and his police department arrested 41 people in the four-month sting that snared Craig. Officers witnessed certain behaviors — including the foot-tapping, shoe-touching and hand-swiping Karsnia accused Craig of doing — repeatedly as men solicited them from adjacent stalls.

Craig denies he solicited sex and says his actions were misconstrued. He filed papers this week in a Minnesota court seeking to withdraw his guilty plea for misdemeanor disorderly conduct in connection with his June 11 arrest. He faces a hearing Sept. 26.

In his arrest report, Karsnia said he recognized toe-tapping in the men's room is "a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct."

Men who are interested in sex in a bathroom follow a protocol, according to Slate.com, an online magazine of politics and culture. The magazine says the toe-tapping signal has been "around for decades" in the United States and Europe. Repeated toe-tapping leads to the next step, where one of the men slides a hand under the divider between the toilet stalls.

According to Slate, "This usually means he's inviting the other person to present himself, as if to say, ‘Show me what you got.' The partner can respond by kneeling on the floor and presenting his penis or rear end underneath the divider. Or he can swipe his own hand under the divider, as if to say, ‘You go first.' Some married men make a point of displaying their wedding band (like Sen. Craig is accused of doing) to make themselves more alluring."

Shawn Henderson, moderator for D.C. Young Poz Socials, a support group for HIV-positive men in the nation's capital, says he has heard of many ways men indicate they want to have "public" sex.

If a man is in a restroom stall, "you tap your foot, and if the person next to you taps a foot, you keep going back and forth until one person makes a move," he said. "Someone will then stick their hand underneath. Or they will pass a note on paper. Or, what I've heard is, when they think it's safe," they will move on to sex beneath the partition.

Karsnia stopped before that point, saying he displayed his badge to Craig under the stall wall after Craig displayed the foot and hand signals.

But how can a sex act be completed with a divider between the stalls? 

"It depends on the bathroom," Slate says. If the participants were in the last stalls in a long row, they might have enough privacy to have anonymous sexual contact in the space beneath the partition.

"Alternatively," Slate says, "one person can enter the other's stall by surreptitiously ducking out and back. Positions vary depending on the space, but one classic setup has one man sit on the toilet while the other straddles his legs and receives oral sex. (In the 1970s, some men frequenting the popular bathrooms at Bloomingdale's in New York would hide their legs by standing in a pair of shopping bags.)"

Legal experts disagree about whether Karsnia gathered enough information to make charges against Craig stick.

Boise lawyer David Leroy, a former Idaho attorney general, says none of the signals Karsnia described constitute a crime. Steve Simon, a University of Minnesota law professor, says Karsnia's arrest report offers powerful evidence against the senator.

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