Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Overexposed and Policing Public Sex

I was alerted to these stories via David Downs on Google+.  Two police forces in the US recently appear to have swung into more public sex operations.  I'm sure there are more incidents out there but these are the ones reported recently.  It's a reminder that around the world, public sex venues continue to be assaulted by law enforcement agencies.  In England and Wales, some Police forces try and balance public complaints against their other priorities and diversity missions, but whether in the UK or USA, law enforcement officials still seem to spend an amazing amount of time criminalising consenting individuals who really aren't harming anyone.

First up, Westchester County Police who released the names and photographs of sixteen men.  A disgraceful breach of their privacy and ensuring devastation to the lives of these men. The Police were unrepentant, stating:  “We are going public with Operation Overexposed in the hope that it will be a further deterrent. If you come to Saxon Woods Park for this purpose, you will be arrested and your name will be released to the media.”

The men were aged from 37 to 75.  Quite the threat this 75 year old and his dick represents to the good folk of Westchester County alludes me but there we go.  Read more on that here.

Next up, we cross to Lee County Sherrif's Office and the news that on December 16, 2011, members of the Lee County Sheriff's Office Narcotics/Vice Unit conducted an undercover operation at 18021 John Morris Road (Bunche Beach), due to receiving complaints of men participating in acts of lewdness in public. During the two hour operation, three men approached undercover male detectives at separate times and engaged in conversations indicating they were looking for sexual activity. During the course of these conversations, all three men exposed themselves further indicating they wished to participate in sex acts.

Three men were named and charged.  You can read more on that incident here.   The three men on this occasion were aged 81, 73 and 62.  Personally, I'm rather in awe of an 81 year old still horny enough to go cruising, but society apparently expects 81 year olds to sell Werther's Originals and sip their food through a straw while rotting in some hell hole care home.  The pensioner as a sexualised being challenges so many of our societal norms, and that he does so in a cruising context seems to blow our minds.  Yet, why not have an OAP cruising or dogging outing?  It's got to be beat yet another trip to Blackpool.

Of particular interest in the Lee County incident was the use of agent provocateur tactics - something English police forces claim to no longer use.  The exposure it seems follows a conversation and it seems reasonable to assume that had the undercover police officer rejected the initial attempts at conversation, no exposure would have occurred.  These were not men wandering around a beach with their penises flapping in the breeze.

Ahh I hear you say, they were responding to complaints.  Yes they were, and as I said above, the Police do have  a tricky hand to play when it comes to public sex but these complaints are often vague: men wondering on a beach 'looking suspicious', men spending overly long in a public toilet or men regularly seen visiting a location by someone who works there.  It is rare to hear of a complaint that someone witnessed an actual sexual act.

Whatever your view on these Police operations, these reports evidence - once again - that Police forces continue to spend time and energy on policing public sex and that men - despite a changed legal landscape - continue to engage in it.  We can't go on like this.

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Elly said...

Hi Chris - fascinating stories.

I know these incidents involved men but I think it is worth acknowledging that women do participate in public sex e.g. dogging and in sex clubs.

Sometimes it feels as if you are romanticising the plight of these poor, brave homo men, and their desire to get it out and get it on in public.

And, let us not forget, that one group whose 'public sex' activities are criminalised, demonised and punished, is sex workers, most of whom are women, and some of whom are trans.

Let's not make this into another 'Gay' issue for gay men.

Chris Ashford said...

Yes and no. Absolutely women to participate too, but these stories are about men so that is the focus. I've written about dogging elsewhere and I did try and broaden it out with a reference in this post.

I don't think I am romanticising it (but then I wouldn't so it's interesting to get another perspective) and if I was it wouldn't be 'homo' men but men. Many men who engage in public sex don't accept the label 'gay' so you're right, it's not a gay issue per se.

It does arguably become a gay issue (although I've not addressed it in this post) in the homonormative context when public sex is erased from the gay identity.

Elly said...

Yes I know men who have sex with men often don't identify as gay and you didn't mention the g word. But it is 'gay' to make out this is a man on man issue, in my view.

I have written before about the links between sex workers and homosexuals, in history. I think it is always worth mentioning these kind of stories in the wider context of 'law and sexuality' myself, which includes sex work as criminal activity.

It seemed a bit romantic to me, but like you say it's a question of perspective.

Elly said...

p.s. I am not sure about the concept of 'homonormativity' I don't think it is actually separate from heteronormativity. The focus on gays to get married, have children be monogamous is using all the values of heteronormativity.

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