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.