Naturists Campaigning for Naturism

Police Humour: Criminalising Naturism

Police Sergeant turned stand-up comic Alfie Moore is a funny man, his short series on BBC Radio 4 is a testament to that, but like all comedians he also has his serious side. For The Independent (25/07/2014) Moore wrote an article about how he thought the politicians, the criminal justice system and, most importantly, the public did not take indecent exposure seriously enough.

Until the Sexual Offences Act 2003, what the police and the courts had to work with was the Vagrancy Act 1824, something introduced to stop ex-soldiers begging in the streets after the defeat of Napoleon. What SOA allowed the police officer to do was exchange the word ‘penis’ for ‘person’ in statements and the men – of course it had to be men – exposing themselves would no longer be ‘deemed a rogue and vagabond’. This is a fair point. Who, today, has heard that kind of language being spoken, let alone know what it means.

Moore quoted Jane Warding-Smith, a psychosexual consultant specialising in sex addiction, who explained that her most common client group were men (again its men) who drove around in their cars, naked. It isn’t the idea of being seen that excites them, its getting caught, explained Warding-Smith. Similarly, the flasher who masturbates in public is primarily seeking sexual gratification by shocking people. What they are seeking is a hit of dopamine – the ‘feel-good’ chemical produced by the brain – and their behaviour is very similar to a heroin or cocaine addict so like them, if they fail to get the expected reaction, the ‘addict’ is compelled to increase the risk level. This may lead to antisocial behaviour like dogging, or Moore contends, to more serious sexual offences and assault. Not that Moore was suggesting that he thought the flasher masturbating in public isn’t serious enough, but his complaint was that the public didn’t. Or, at least, didn’t seem to with the victim frequently not reporting the incident, even if they have been seriously effected, possibly just laughing it off. His point was that if the police could establish this progression from the less serious to the most serious sexual offences then they and the courts could deal with them properly, early on in their careers – so to speak – and impose treatment orders on them, which have proven to be an effective alternative to custody.

So far, so good, you might say. But Moore’s article came out just days before the Edinburgh Festivals and the launch of his new show, The Naked Stun, and probably the real reason for the article’s production, and just a day after the PSNI threatened to arrest people and add their names to the sexual offences register for skinny dipping during the July heatwave (Irish Mirror, 24/07/2014). So are Moore’s views typical or untypical of the beat bobby?

I do not believe that anyone would object to the main issue highlighted by Moore, in that those committing a sexual offence should be caught and properly dealt with. Although, both NAG and British Naturism have heard plenty of examples of naturists being reported to police by a member of the public who mistake what they have seen for a crime. These range from those working in their own garden to walking the countryside, but like any other incident reported to them, the poor frontline police officer must then decide whether or not they think it is a crime too. Giving him the benefit of the doubt, I believe Moore tried to distinguish between someone just being naked in a public place from someone out to get his fix of dopamine by emphasising the sexual element. Unfortunately, not every police officer is like Moore, for despite the CPS guidelines that the intention to cause alarm and/or distress should be present naturists are still being threatened with arrest and informed that their names could be placed on the sexual offences register, even if there is no evidence of intent.

After the Northern Ireland incident, the PSNI took to social media to try and get across to people the potential consequences of similar behaviour and in response many people were not slow in saying that they thought the Police Service of Northern Ireland had grossly over reacted (The Telegraph 30/07/14). One Northern Irish poster wrote, “The last time I seen any skinny dippers was when I was six years of age. Funny enough it was 12 off duty police officers all drunk at a party at a caravan”. Regrettably the poster did not say how long ago this was but the point was made I think. Martin Metcalfe, another poster said: “PSNI attitudes to nudity are clearly medieval. Nudity does not harm anyone, especially children who are natural nudists. To claim nudity is sexual is to make every shower or bath you have a sexual act.”

When Moore’s article was published naturists naturally used social media to comment on it many of whom looked upon it with dismay. I prefer to see it as a positive thing. If an officer with Moore’s experience can distinguish between naturists and sex offenders, even if it is only in word rather than deed then perhaps the justice system is not above changing its stance towards naturism, in all parts of the British Isles.

As Moore wrote: “No-one in the history of the world has ever accidentally masturbated in public.” It is therefore possible to distinguish between sex offenders and naturists out enjoying the sun and air, and police officers must be taught that difference. The College of Policing is in the process of redefining itself and both NAG and British Naturism is attempting to influence that change by participating in the consultation process. If successful then indirectly we shall be influencing the senior police officers of the future, including chief constables and how other officers are trained, and that can only be to naturism’s advantage. True, the College of Policing will only have a direct bearing on the police services in England and Wales, however its students will undoubtedly find employment in other parts of the British Isles, and so the influence will spread even further but it will be a slow process.

Regrettably, in the meantime, front line officers will still have the difficult task of sorting out the wheat from the chaff; the naturist from the sex offender if you will, and as Simon Usborne noted in The Independent (28/07/14) in the past, “Swimming was not swimming if it involved the chafing constrictions of clothing, which negated the perceived benefits of ‘taking the waters’ or ‘being dipped’ in the spa towns and resorts of a less bashful Britain”. He concluded: “Why not let us cut those final undignified threads that tie us to a wretched age of unnatural modesty, and let loose?” So say we all, but saying it doesn’t bring it about. Action does.

8 Responses to Police Humour: Criminalising Naturism

  • Good post Howard. The reason why I think Alfie Moore was not having a direct poke at naturism and naturists was because he always coupled the phrase ‘indecent exposure’ with something else that inferred sexual intent. Naturally, this is taking an implicit interpretation of what Moore has written, not an explicit one, which you have also done but taken it to mean the opposite. Perhaps we should ask him, rather than just assuming?

  • can i just clarify one thing it isn’t illegal to drive your car naked or is it
    but aside from that nice article thank you

  • To be honest, I have no idea. You can certainly drive around naked in a naturist resort, just not so sure about the public roads. But as with other things, as long as the intent is not cause alarm or distress then maybe it isn’t. Perhaps a Lawyer type who has registered with the NAG website could help! And you’re welcome Davros. Thank you for the compliment.

  • So here is the legal position on nudity in public. I cycle naked regularly around rural parts of west Kent and Sussex. Kent police issued the following statement in response to my activities being featured in the Kent and Sussex Courier newspaper:-
    “There is no law against being nude in public in the United Kingdom. Simple nudity is not illegal. However, using nudity to harrass, alarm or distress others is an offence against the Public Order Act of 1986.”
    The CPS issued new guidelines about 18 months ago on the handling of naturism in public places, the main thrust of which is that police should normally take no action against cases of simple nudity – defined to be non-sexual and non-threatening. You can read the guidelines here
    http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/l_to_o/nudity_in_public/index.html
    The BN website has complete legal information and advice and recently produced an A4 leaflet which folds up to credit-card size – I always carry a copy or two with me as well as my BN photocard. Showing these to any police making enquiries really helps to establish that you are a bona-fide naturist. I think non-members can download the leaflet from the BN website:-
    http://www.bn.org.uk/community/files/file/669-public-place-naturism-portable-legal-guidance/
    Having said all that, if you are going naked in public you do need to ensure that your behaviour cannot be misconstrued as sexual under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 or in contravention of Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 (harrasssment, alarm or distress). Context is important. I am sure there would be problems if I rode through my home town of Tunbridge Wells naked whereas there are very few as I ride through quieter more rural areas. The Kent police know of me and that I am just a simple naturist and that my actions are not illegal. Not all police forces will be so aware of the legal position and the new CPS guidelines. Also remember that Hampshire police were able to get an ABSO against the naked rambler Steve Gough for his repeated insistence of being naked all the time everywhere and he is now in prison having broken that ASBO.
    But do go for it! Choose sensible contexts, know the law, be consistently simply naked and be prepared should you receive police attention. Ideally go with others, clothed or naked (but I often don’t). The more of us that do this the more we normalise public nakedness. I get a lot of support from people I encounter – thumbs up, friendly waves, smiles, toots on car horns etc. People in the UK have an instinct for freedom and tolerance. Very rarely there is some hostility (1 in 500 people?) but then you can’t please all the people all of the time.
    Hope this helps – by the way I am not a lawyer.
    Roger Coupe – follow me on twitter – @RogerNaked

  • thanks reg
    i also feel (most likely wrongly) that if in the confines of your own personal vehicle then it is no different to being within your own home people, if so wish, can look inside your house through the windows as they can with the car and with that thinking then if it is illegal to be naked in the car (just in case someone sees you) then it goes that it must be illegal to be naked around your house.
    but i would appreciate a more proper legal standpoint on this subject for future reference if there are any lawyers out there who would like to give away free legal advise, lol

  • Thanks for that Roger. Naturally it would be remiss of me not to mention our own leaflet You and the Law, which can be downloaded from the NAG website.

  • Many or perhaps most people will still use the term indecent exposure to describe a nude person in all circumstances in much the same way that many still refer to Road Fund Tax when they mean Vehicle Excise Duty and in the process get entirely the wrong idea of what it is all about. The whole tone of Alfie Moore’s piece reflects this common idea that “indecent exposure” is illegal and wrong and should not be tolerated. Don’t confuse them with the facts, rely instead on prejudice, especially prejudice reinforced over 18 years. Let us hope he is as he claims, victim focused and able to discern naturists or people supporting body freedom from those who really do need arresting. Sadly, news from members of British Naturism and elsewhere give less cause for hope that police officers in this country generally know the difference.

    The Macpherson report on the death of Stephen Lawrence wrote that police showed a “collective failure of an organization to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture, or ethnic origin”. I have known several police officers of 18 years’ experience who have quoted that experience when justifying the arrest of black people. So many of them will arrest nude people in much the same frame of mind.

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