There is a lot of misunderstanding and ignorance about dogging and the law, which we will try and address here, in the UK context. It is important that you know your rights, and know the legal position in respect of dogging.
Two key things for starters:- (1) The legislation that relates to dogging is the Sexual Offences Act 2003, hereafter referred to as SOA and (2) Dogging is not specifically defined as a sexual offence within the law.
Section 66 of the SOA looks at the offence of exposure whilst Section 67 deals with voyeurism and Section 68 defines voyeurism.
Section 66 of the SOA states that exposure of the genitals with the intent to cause alarm or distress to the person exposed is against the law. If an individual "intentionally exposes his genitals and he intends that someone will see them AND be caused alarm or distress" he is committing an offence. Plain and simple. It can clearly be argued that people out dogging and exposing themselves in the act of dogging are not out to cause alarm or distress, and are thus NOT committing an offence. If they expose themselves to the general public, well that's a different story.
Section 67 of the SOA states that voyeurism is a sexual offence under four separate conditions.
A person commits an offence if :-
- (1) for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, he observes another person doing a private act, and he knows that the other person does not consent to being observed for his sexual gratification.
- (2) he operates equipment with the intention of enabling another person to observe, for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, a third party doing a private act, and he knows that the third party does not consent to his operating equipment with that intention.
- (3) he records another person doing a private act, he does so with the intention that he or a third person will, for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification, look at an image of that person doing the act, and he knows that person does not consent to his recording the act with that intention.
- (4) he installs equipment, or constructs or adapts a structure or part of a structure, with the intention of enabling himself or another person to commit an offence under subsection (1)
In essence this law is stating that it is a crime to watch any person engaging in a sexual act for the purpose of obtaining your own sexual gratification, knowing that the other person does not consent to such observation for your sexual gratification. If the person has consented to you watching and is fully aware that you are watching for your sexual gratification it is not a crime.
So, Section 67(3) of the SOA states that if you were to record another person during a private act, and you are doing so with the intent that you or another person will obtain sexual gratification from the recording and the person has not consented to the recording, you are also committing an offence. If they have consented then it is not a crime. Thus, if you are going to take pictures or record dogging activities on your phone or camera, it is best to make all persons aware that you are doing so and make sure that they consent to it. This is not normally a problem, but it is best to know where you stand legally.
Section 68 of the SOA interprets voyeurism as follows: If a person is doing a private act if the person is in a place (which includes a tent, vehicle or vessel or other temporary or movable structure) which, in the circumstances, would reasonably be expected to provide privacy, and the person’s genitals, buttocks or breasts are exposed or covered only with underwear, the person is using a lavatory, or the person is doing a sexual act that is not of a kind ordinarily done in public.
So that's the law, in the UK. Other countries will of course have different laws. Responsible doggers exercising common sense should not fall foul of the SOA.
Also bear in mind that a person can also be charged if they use words, behaviour or display to cause another person harassment, alarm or distress under sections four and five of the Public Order Act 1986. This offence only applies if there is intent to cause alarm, and this legislation is very unlikely to be used in this context.
One other thing to consider is the common law offence of "outraging public decency". The law comprises "statutory law" - enacted by Parliament - and "common law" which is composed largely of precedents decided by judges in court. "Outraging public decency" is a subjective concept and generally refers to pretty outrageous lewd behaviour, for example stripping naked on a public bus and then urinating on the seats, or doing that two cups thing in public. Dogging does not fall into the category of "outraging public decency" and we cannot find any record of a court finding a dogger guilty of the charge of "outraging public decency". However, the phrase may get quoted by locals objecting to dogging in their area, sometimes the same locals who thought nothing of having fun down Lovers Lane when they were younger. Clearly outraging public decency is not what dogging is all about but do bear in mind the law is set up to protect people from weirdos exposing themselves in public.
Depending on the type of conviction, if you are found guilty of the above sexual offences you can be fined or imprisoned for up to two years, so it is worth knowing the law and more importantly that you abide by the law.
Where do the Police fit into all this? Whilst they have a duty to protect the public from indecent exposure, they have no business interfering with people involved in consensual sexual activity.
Your average police officer cannot be expected to know the law in detail. The average copper wants an easy life, and does not want to make arrests which are later quashed. On the rare occasions they visit dogging spots, they are going either as a result of local police force policy, in response to a complaint, or out of human curiosity. They are reasonable people with a job to do and will normally act reasonably and may ask the doggers to move along. If they are going to arrest anyone, they of course need to have a reason to make an arrest, and may well state offences against Section 66 of the SOA as the reason. Remember, if you are involved in consensual activity, there is no offence. In the unlikely event that you are arrested, write down everything the arresting officer says (or record it to a phone answering machine if easier) - as this will help you later.
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