What is the law on indecent exposure in the UK?

9th October 2020 | Sex Offences|
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Nick Titchener

Director & Solicitor Advocate

In Brief

Indecent exposure is outlined as intentionally showing your genitals in a public place in order to cause alarm or distress. Indecent exposure is a sexual offence, and the sentencing guidelines reflect this, with custodial sentences not uncommon. Defined as exposing the genitals with the intention of causing alarm or distress, it is an offence of ‘specific intent’ which means that in order to qualify as indecent exposure it must be demonstrable that the act was done intentionally. For this reason it is not possible to commit indecent exposure accidentally under UK law. 

indecent exposure

Being convicted of indecent exposure can have serious consequences under UK law. It is classified as a sexual offence, and carries with it not only the associated stigma but the potential requirement to sign the sex offenders’ register and the possibility of a custodial sentence. The damage to your personal and professional life can be significant, so if you are arrested for indecent exposure it is vital to seek the services of a specialist solicitor as soon as possible. 

At Lawtons we handle every case with the utmost care and attention, drawing on our years of expertise and experience to work towards the best possible solution in any case. We will closely examine the facts surrounding your case in order to build as robust a defence as we possibly can. Don’t delay, contact the legal specialists at Lawtons today by calling 0333 577 0522 and we will be able to start safeguarding your reputation.

How is indecent exposure defined under UK law?

In the Sexual Offences Act 2003, indecent exposure is outlined as intentionally showing your genitals in a public place in order to cause alarm or distress. Indecent exposure is categorised as a crime of ‘specific intent’. This means that in cases where someone’s genitalia is exposed it must also be done with that intention. For example, the offence would not have been committed if someone were simply urinating in a public place and this had resulted in the “exposure” of genitalia unless that act itself was done to cause alarm or distress. 

What are the aggravating factors for an offence of indecent exposure in the UK?

There are a number of reasons why a sentence may be more severe in the event that someone is convicted of indecent exposure. These include:

  • Threatening to prevent a victim from reporting the offence
  • Intimidating or threatening behaviour
  • A victim who is under 18 years old
  • A sustained cause of behaviour 
  • Targeting a particular or vulnerable person

What are the sentencing guidelines for indecent exposure under UK law?

The offence of indecent exposure carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment. However, depending on the specific circumstances of the case, many offenders are given community orders instead which does make them subject to the Sexual Offences Notifctaion Requirements otherwise known as the Sex Offenders Register. People accused of this offence are often not made aware of this and just how much of an impact it can have on the personal and professional lives.

Is it possible to commit indecent exposure accidentally?

In order for an offence to be classed as indecent exposure, it must be proved that the exposure was intentional and intended to cause harm or distress. Therefore if you expose yourself accidentally, such as when going to the toilet, it is not possible for this to be counted as indecent exposure.

Do the police give cautions for indecent exposure?

The police do give cautions for indecent exposure in certain circumstances – where you have admitted the offence in the first instance at an interview, have no previous convictions and there are no aggravating factors. Sound legal advice from a specialist solicitor from the very earliest opportunity can increase the likelihood of an outcome such as this.

Do you have to sign the sex offenders’ register if you are convicted of indecent exposure?

If you receive a caution then you will not generally have to sign the sex offenders’ register, but if you are convicted of indecent exposure in court and receive a community sentence of 12 months or more, or a prison sentence, then you will you be required to sign it. You will also need to sign it if the victim is under 18 years of age. Expert representation in court from the team at Lawtons can help to avoid this outcome.

What to do if you are accused of indecent exposure

Getting the help of specialist legal professionals at the earliest possible stage can make a real difference to the outcome of your case, and you should not take part in any sort of police interview without the right legal representation in place. Speak to us today for a non-judgmental consultation where we will take the first steps towards protecting your future.

About the author

Nick Titchener is a director and solicitor advocate of Lawtons. He is a dedicated criminal solicitor with considerable experience in legal cases including sexual offences, violence and assault. 

Nick also oversees the overall management of Lawtons Solicitors, a specialist firm of criminal law defence solicitors with branches across London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex.

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