Original article by Duncan Heenan (edited Reg Barlow)
About four years ago, British Naturism and Naturist Action Group came together to look at how the justice system in England and Wales approached incidents involving public nudity. Most of the cases we studied involved Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1988 and to be successful, prosecutors had to show the defendant’s behaviour was ‘likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress’ to a member of the public. Inevitably, much of the argument in court would revolve around whether non-sexual, non-aggressive nudity was capable of doing this and in virtually every case, the prosecution would state that ‘a child could have seen’ a naked adult. This brought an automatic assumption that, whatever the effect of the sight of a naked person may be on an adult, it was bound to cause alarm to a child. The reasoning or truth (if any) behind this statement has rarely, if ever, been questioned by those in court, simply accepting it as one of life’s “truths”.
The justice system is not wholly to blame as the same untested assumption is widely held within the general public, not only here, but the world over. Statements making reference to nudity are often peppered with references to it not being suitable for children – even the film classification system incorporates it – yet there is no real evidence to support this piece of ‘accepted wisdom’. Unchallenged, people are becoming scared to question the notion that the mere sight of a naked body is harmless, in case they are considered perverted. The precautionary principle, which surrounds anything to do with children nowadays, has grown so strong it has subverted common sense and science. Malcolm Boura summed this up at the recent BN convention when he said: “The moment someone shouts ‘Think of the children!’ all thought stops.”
Together, NAG and BN have come to understand that children and nudity is a stumbling block for public acceptance of naturism, as well a legal threat and that naturism as a whole needs to address this issue rather than hoping it will go away. As well as our general campaigning, it has been decided by both organisations to set up a joint project with the specific aim of persuading an academic institution with sociology and/or psychology departments to carry out a rigorous and objective study into the effects of simple, non-sexual adult nudity on children. In the past, there have been several studies of how exposure to nudity affects children, all with positive conclusions, but they are at least a decade old and may not look directly at the subject we wish to be studied. We are looking for an end product that will be equal to an expert witness in court, one that people will feel confident in quoting. As this could be of worldwide importance to naturism, such a study may also need an international dimension.
Can you help?
We are not looking for volunteers to carry out the study; we recognise that we do not have either the skills or the resources to do that but you might know institutions or academics that might help, how to approach them and how to obtain research funding? If so, please get in touch. If you have any information, suggestions or comments that you think might help, please contact Duncan Heenan by any of the methods given below:
by email: Duncan.Heenan@naturistactiongroup.org;
by Personal Message via the BN website;
by post: Dolphins House, Boxers Lane, Niton, Isle of Wight, PO38 2BH