A commentary and resource on Law and Sexuality by Professor Chris Ashford and guests
Apologies for the lack of posts recently. Life has become increasingly busy and I’m not going to be able to blog as much over the next couple of months as I spend my time with various academic projects that are pressing. However, I’ll still be blogging – just less frequently – so don’t go away!
Anyhow, take a look at the photo for this story in the Hull Daily Mail and this story from the Northampton Chronicle. They are different lay-bys in different parts of England but their similarity highlights the common structure of these public sex spaces. Signposted, removed from the main road and screened from the road – even in winter – by trees and shrubs. They are also clearly designed as points to stop off on a journey to rest, or to make repairs, phone calls etc away from the busy main road.
Both locations have featured in public sex related stories in the last few days. The Northampton incident is curious in many ways. It occurred at 2pm in the afternoon on a Sunday. A time when many people will be driving about, and the light is good.
The newspaper reported that “We witnessed the horrifying spectacle of several elderly men wandering around naked. “My daughter was very upset by this. “We then saw two men having sex in a coppice, and later on, more sexual activity. “At no point did any of these men attempt to cover up.” She said another man was performing a sex act in full view of passing traffic.
‘Later on’ is the phrase that struck me. How long were they there? Presumably the sight of ‘naked’ elderly men (what do they mean by make din this context, complete nudity is unusual especially in the middle of winter?) was so shocking they went back to their car? ‘Later suggests’ that they ere so horrified they carried on taking the dog for a walk. Curious.
We also have the allegation that another man (obviously an unusually popular spot to have such concentration of men) was performing a sex act in full view of passing traffic. The photo accompanying the story suggests that this is unlikely unless the man was stood by the entrance and even there there are questions about visibility whence are are flying by at 60mph.
Another fascinating of the report from the complainants is the observation that “Someone had even left an obscene message on the car windscreen,” he said. I come back to the earlier question, how long were they there? Why was someone so agitated as to leave a message? What did that message say? It is clear that we are only getting half the tale but what journalist wants to truly investigate a story of this nature when the easy thing is to condemn the men involved and portray the complainants as straight forward victims. Perhaps she was, and perhaps the complaint was justified but this piece of journalism does not clearly establish that.
Finally we turn to the response from the Police who indicate that “We have long been aware that these lay-bys have been used as a gay meeting place, however, we were not aware that the area was being used beyond initial encounter. “I will brief my staff to patrol the area and deal with any offences they find.”
So once again we have the Police responding to a complaint but also admitting they were aware men used the location as part of a hook-up process. However, the Police also indicate that they have not policed the location (otherwise he wouldn’t need to tell Police to now patrol the area). If ever there was a case study in the complexities of policing public sex locations it would be this.
Then we travel to Hull to another lay-by and picnic spot that has apparently been used for dogging. According to the Hull Daily Mail, Police have confronted 18 people using a family picnic spot to have sex with strangers in public. Officers vowed to tackle the problem after residents of Skirlaugh and Coniston repeatedly complained about lewd activity in three lay-bys off the A165. Since making the issue a priority less than one month ago, officers have stopped 18 people at the sites, sometimes during the day. Although they were not found to be committing any offences, all were issued with a leaflet with guidance on public sex. There have been no complaints from members of the public since police made it a priority.
So, 18 confronted and zero were seen to be committing an offence. So what were people complaining about? As ever, it is the sight of people or cars rather than actually witnessing acts – or the Police would presumably have seen something. The behaviour complained about is ‘intimidating behaviour’ which I find puzzling. Does this mean just sitting in a car, telling someone to “bugger off”, playing with an air freshener in a suggestive manner before driving off? What on earth are they talking about?
The Police admit to using both plain clothed and uniformed police as part of the operation. Why use plain clothed police in this situation? It is an admission that if someone using the spot for public sex sees someone entering who is clearly not interested, that person or persons will not see something. By entering in plain clothes they appear ‘legitimate’ in the space.
Finally, we have the ultimate irony, that the local authority has cut hedges so as to make the location more visible. Yes folks, previously you would not see any sexual activity from the main road due to the presence of shrubs but now you would, thus ensuring that an offence has taken place. Truly, the barmy logic of Alice in Wonderland.