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UK Indecent Exposure Laws - A Guide

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Public nudity isn’t just frowned upon in the UK – in certain circumstances, it could be a criminal offence that has the potential to lead to serious penalties.

It’s often the case that instances of public nudity or sex in public can lead to a charge of ‘indecent exposure’. But, what exactly classes as indecent exposure? And how does it differ from other criminal offences?

In this post, we discuss what indecent exposure law is in the UK, what charges you could face for indecent exposure and what defences may be available if you are facing such a charge.

What is indecent exposure in the UK?

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 provides a clear definition of what indecent exposure is in the UK. Indecent exposure is an offence where:

  • A person intentionally exposes their genitals, and
  • They intend for someone to see them and be caused alarm or distress

It is important to note that both parts of the offence feature specific intent. If someone has accidentally exposed their genitals, this is not considered to be indecent exposure.

Potential examples of indecent exposure

Given this definition, there are several examples of actions that could potentially lead to an indecent exposure charge.

Examples could include:

  • Someone ‘flashing’ their genitals while out in public
  • Streaking at a public sports game (such as a football match)
  • Masturbating in public (a serious case of indecent exposure)

Indecent exposure and naturism

The Crown Prosecution Service define naturism as ‘the activities of persons who espouse nudity as part of their lifestyle’. This creates somewhat of a grey area, especially when it comes to deciphering the difference between someone who is simply incorporating nudity into their everyday life and someone who is committing indecent exposure.

When assessing these matters, prosecutors will seek to balance the ‘right to freedom of expression and the right of the wider public to be protected from harassment, alarm and distress’.

This essentially means that prosecutors will usually look for any indications of a sexual nature in the nudity or if there was a specific intention to cause alarm or distress.

How does indecent exposure differ from public disorder and public indecency?

Public disorder

The Public Disorder Act 1986 outlines that it is a crime to use words or disorderly behaviour in the hearing or sight of a person who is likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress.

Public indecency

Outraging public indecency is considered to involve actions that are lewd, obscene or disgusting in public and must be of such nature as to outrage minimum standards of public decency as judged by a jury in contemporary society.

It is not necessary that any particular member of the public is outraged. Public indecency is a more serious offence than indecent exposure and has a higher sentencing threshold.

The penalty on conviction at the Crown Court is imprisonment and /or an unlimited fine.

If sentenced at the magistrates court the maximum is 6 months imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

How is indecent exposure proved?

In order to prove indecent exposure, the prosecution will usually need to rely on various pieces of evidence. Proving the exposure itself is often fairly straightforward, especially where there are eyewitnesses, CCTV footage and social media coverage.

However, in accordance with indecent exposure law, the prosecution also needs to be able to prove that there was an intention to cause alarm or distress. Knowing how to prove indecent exposure can be complicated, which means the court will be required to carefully assess the surrounding circumstances to establish the intent, as well as take the perpetrator’s version of events.

Can you be charged for indecent exposure in your own home?

Many people, understandably, question whether it is possible to be guilty of committing indecent exposure in your own home. The answer to that question is heavily context dependent and centres around the issue of intent.

For instance, it is usually possible to tell if someone is able to clearly see into your home. So, if someone intentionally performs certain actions and/or certain interactions without any clothing, they could be liable to face an indecent exposure charge.

On the other hand, if someone unintentionally exposes themselves, such as if they are getting changed, this may not be sufficient enough to warrant bringing forward an indecent exposure charge.

What is the minimum sentence for indecent exposure?

If you are charged with indecent exposure, the sentence you receive will depend on a number of factors. In the least serious circumstances, the minimum penalty for indecent exposure may be a fine and/or a community order.

In some rare instances, you may simply receive a caution from the police, rather than a criminal sentence, but this will largely depend on the potential risk posed to society.

What is the maximum sentence for indecent exposure?

UK indecent exposure law dictates that the maximum sentence for indecent exposure is two years’ imprisonment. This is the worst-case scenario and is usually applied to repeat offenders or very serious cases.

However, where an offence of indecent exposure escalates to outrating public decency, there is no maximum jail sentence. Outraging public decency involves doing anything that is lewd or obscene in public and has a higher threshold than indecent exposure.

If you receive an indecent exposure charge, you may also be added to the Sex Offenders Register. This is because indecent exposure is a sexual offence that falls under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Whether you are required to be on the Sex Offenders Register will depend on your age, the age of the victim and the sentence imposed.

Being listed on the Sex Offenders Register can potentially affect your future job opportunities and where you are able to live.

Are there any aggravating factors for indecent exposure?

There are several aggravating factors that could affect the severity of the punishment someone receives for indecent exposure.

These may include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • The victim was a child
  • The victim was threatened to prevent them from reporting the incident
  • Whether violence was used
  • Whether the incident was based on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation or disability
  • If it is a repeat offence
  • Whether someone has committed any other similar offences

These factors are not exhaustive.

Are there any mitigating factors for indecent exposure?

On the other hand, there are also several mitigating factors that could influence the court’s sentencing decision for indecent exposure.

These include:

  • If the perpetrator shows clear remorse
  • The age of the perpetrator
  • Whether the preparator has a mental or learning disability
  • Lack of previous convictions

What are the potential defences to indecent exposure?

As indecent exposure is a ‘specific intent’ offence, this means that there must be a certain kind of intention – that someone would see them and be caused alarm or distress.

Therefore, one of the main defences to indecent exposure would be to demonstrate that someone did not have the specific intent to cause harm and distress.

A prime example of this would be if someone is caught urinating in public. It is incredibly unlikely that their intention would be for their genitals to be exposed or to cause alarm or distress.

There is also a range of ‘general defences’ which could be applied depending on the circumstances of the incident. These general defences could include:

  • Threats forcing the perpetrator to expose themselves
  • The perpetrator being drugged so that they did not have control over their actions
  • The perpetrator having a mental illness at the time of the incident
  • The perpetrator having sufficient reason to believe they were in a designated nudist location, such as a nudist beach
  • Voluntary intoxication may negate the intent required for the offence

Is public urination classed as indecent exposure?

In the UK, public urination was made a criminal offence under the 1986 Public Order Act. Anyone found guilty of public urination may be fined for it.

However, it is not necessarily an example of indecent exposure. This is because, in many instances, it is unlikely that someone intends for their genitals to be exposed or to cause alarm or distress.

Do I need a solicitor if I’m accused of indecent exposure?

It is strongly advisable to seek the expertise of a sexual offences solicitor if you are facing a charge of indecent exposure. As we’ve discussed, the penalties for indecent exposure can be severe, especially if you are a repeat offender, or your actions could also lead to a charge of public indecency.

A specialist indecent exposure solicitor can work alongside you to build an effective defence against allegations of indecent exposure. This can dramatically increase the chances of avoiding penalties or receiving reduced charges where conviction is unavoidable.

To secure the best possible chance of a positive result, it is also incredibly important to speak to a sexual offences solicitor as soon as possible, as early advice and representation can make all the difference. UK indecent exposure law can be very complex, and proving a lack of intent is something that will require the expertise of an experienced solicitor.

Contact our Sexual Offences solicitors today

For urgent specialist advice about indecent exposure or public indecency, immediate representation, or to speak to us confidentially about a sexual offences case, please do not hesitate to contact our dedicated team of sexual offence solicitors in London, Birmingham or Manchester on telephone:

  • City of London – our senior Solicitors and Partners can meet by appointment at one of several locations across the City
  • Brent & Camden London Office: 0207 624 7771
  • Manchester Office: 0161 835 1638
  • Birmingham Office: 0121 614 3333

Or email: solicitors@jdspicer.co.uk

Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

24/7 legal representation for indecent exposure allegations

In the urgent case that you are arrested or are required to return to a Police Station, be sure to call us for immediate representation and advice on either our office telephone number or our Emergency Number: 07836 577 556, and we will provide you with all the legal assistance you need.

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