As a child, I was taught to laugh if I bumped into someone who was exposing themselves to porn.
My growing up experiences reflect a broad societal view that pornographic exposure is not a serious sexual offense. The old stereotype is that of a comical “flasher” in a long overcoat lurking in the bushes. These days, when women go online to try to have a meaningful relationship, they run the risk of getting an unwanted dick pic. Whether “Flasher” is offline or online, we are encouraged to laugh about it.
Women are conditioned by society to see these experiences as strange and men as pathetic. But it’s not really a laughing matter. The reality is that these incidents make women feel insecure, harassed and insecure. Therefore pornographic exposure is a serious issue for women.
It also becomes a serious issue for the society if criminals continue to commit contact sex crimes and violence. The Independent Office for Police Conduct is investigating three charges of indecent exposure against Wayne Coozens on the night he kidnapped and killed Sarah Everard. Two of these are related to incidents, which reportedly took place three days before the murder. It appears that these incidents were not seriously or formally investigated by the police at the time.
In the course of my research, I have been reviewing all the literature available on pornographic exposure for the past 30 years. I found a tendency to describe pornographic exposure as a “nuisance” offense. When the Law Commission was attempting to update the legal framework in 2015, its assessment included references to “flashing” – meaning that legally we still do not regard pornographic exposure as a serious and sexual offence. are seeing.
Indecent exposure was only formally classified as a sex offense in 2003. Prior to this, it was legally defined within the Vagrancy Act of 1824. The act suggested that the crime was committed by “wicked and vagabonds”.
Therefore, until relatively recently, if you were the victim of indecent exposure, you would not be viewed as a victim of a sex crime. This is surprising, given that pornographic exposure involves deliberate exposure of the genitals. The slow change in the law shows that pornographic exposure is just beginning to be taken seriously.
And yet it is a prevalent crime. Although official statistics suggest that pornographic exposure is not very common, studies conducted with victims consistently suggest otherwise. A recent YouGov survey found that nearly one in five participants had experienced porn exposure.
reality for victims
This contradiction between official statistics and victim studies can be explained by the fact that women do not report crime. There can be many reasons for not going to the police. They may suffer and be reluctant to revisit the experience or they may fear for their future safety after reporting it to someone.
Importantly, victims may not believe the incident is serious enough to be reported, which would not be surprising since we are all taught from an early age that pornographic exposure is no big deal.
There is evidence that some victims do not report indecent exposure because they lack trust in the system. If society continues to view pornographic exposure as “nuisance”, women will continue to feel reluctant to report their experiences to the police. This means that they will carry with them the psychological harm and fear that pornographic exposure creates in silence.
re-humiliation and escalation
Despite under-reporting, research tells us that men who expose themselves to indecency have higher rates of re-offending. The largest consolidation of relevant research suggested that 25% of men commit further crimes of pornographic exposure (on average).
These high re-offending rates include some of the protesters engaging in other sexual acts. Men who expose themselves to porn may turn to sexual assault involving physical contact, as appears to be part of the picture with Couzens.
I want to be clear: Couzens is not representative of that specific person who exposes himself indecently. But that reminds me of the worst case scenario. What happened to Sarah Everard shows why we should take this type of humiliation more seriously.
When we identify porn exposure, we don’t know exactly who will go on to commit a contact sex offense. The current research base does not agree on how and why this increase occurs. Men who expose themselves to indecency are a diverse group with a wide variety of motivations. This lack of clear evidence makes punishment and rehabilitation more difficult for men who expose themselves to indecency. However, this does not detract from the need for obscene exposure to be properly investigated, punished and treated.
And while victims are reluctant to report this type of crime to the police, we may not get an accurate picture of how routine porn exposure happens. Ultimately, society as a whole does not take pornographic exposure seriously. This is despite its significant psychological impact on victims – and the potential for perpetrators to commit other crimes. Maybe it’s time to stop laughing.