Opinion: The Naked Rambler: a response to David Allen

David Allen recently wrote that supporting Stephen Gough, known as the Naked Rambler was a cause for “fundementalist liberals”. This isn’t a case of moderates versus fundementalists, it’s a case that all good liberals should support.

As liberals most of us will accept some degree of the Harm Principle, that people should roughly be able to do what they want as long as they don’t hurt others. Taking this basic principle into consideration there is no possible harm that anyone can do simply by the act of being nude within public. If we want to shed our clothes and our Victorian attitudes I see no good reason why we shouldn’t.

Mr Allen notes that Mr Gough was told he couldn’t walk near a child’s playground. Whilst this may seem reasonably upon the surface, there underlies a startlingly ignorant assumption – that there may be paedophilic motives for doing so – or indeed paedophilic outcomes. The desire to be nude in public (and indeed in nudist areas) is absolutely not the same in anyway shape or form to the desiring of or sexual urges towards children. I repeat, there is no link to how one dresses (or chooses not to) to one’s sexual desires. It’s a shame that Mr Allen indulges these prejudices within his piece.

Mr Allen also contends that it is the rights of parents to stop their children from seeing naked people. To some extent I agree, if parents don’t want their children seeing nudity – they can monitor them and withdraw them from situations. However, I beg the question where does this draw the line in law? What if strict religious parents don’t wish their children to see shirtless men on a hot day, should they be banned, arrested and tarred with the paedophile brush? There is no end to the amount of things to be offended by. Let us withdraw from this rather authoritarian path

Finally, Stephen Tall sums it up best in his piece for Centre Forum

[Gough's] single-minded desire pursuit of personal freedom deserves a respect we’re denying him.

“Moderate Liberals” and Mr Allen should take note.

* Andrew Emmerson is a Liberal Democrat activist from the North of England

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32 Comments

  • hear hear

  • Benjamin Mathis 13th Jul '13 - 10:48am

    I heartily endorse this event or product.

    Really couldn’t have been said better. Let’s leave the Victorian pearl-clutching moralism to the Victorians. The best way we could “think of the children” is by not imposing a backward and damaging set of values about sex and the human body to yet another poor defenceless generation.

  • “This isn’t a case of moderates versus fundementalists, it’s a case that all good liberals should support.”

    So, it’s black and white then. Anyone that disagrees with you isn’t a good liberal.

    “If we want to shed our clothes and our Victorian attitudes I see no good reason why we shouldn’t.”

    Straw man. It is you that describe it as a Victorian value. However,it is a value currently shared by the majority in thie country and every country in the developed world. You are in fact describing an avant garde opinion shared by a minority. There’s nothing wrong with that, but don’t mislabel your opponents please. It holds no more validity than me calling you a sandal-wearing, bearded, typical Lib Dem.

    “there underlies a startlingly ignorant assumption – that there may be paedophilic motives for doing so ”

    Going naked in a public place is such an outlier of human behaviour that at the moment that if someone did turn up naked outside a playground then it would be a reasonable ground to consider if they had paedophilic intentions – their behaviour, especially if repeated, would certainly attract the interest of mental health professionals. Human behaviour well outside of the human norm does that. You need to take up your ideal of acceptance of all non-conformity with the mental health profession.

    “there is no link to how one dresses (or chooses not to) to one’s sexual desires. ”

    Have you got some evidence for this or is it just something you think?

    “if parents don’t want their children seeing nudity – they can monitor them and withdraw them from situations. ”

    So, it’s perfectly OK for their liberty to be limited because they don’t agree with you?

    “[Gough's] single-minded desire pursuit of personal freedom deserves a respect we’re denying him.”

    Really? This is someone who has voluntarily spent years away from his children who have now stopped communicating with him. Pardon me if I choose role-models for advancing freedom elsewhere.

  • It is ridiculous and Draconian that in this “enlightened” day and age public nudity is still forbidden in the UK. Personally I like being naked as it gives me the feeling of freedom and it is also very comfortable. I like to sunbathe, swim, garden and walk in the outdoors or back garden but I need to be very careful as I could be arrested. It is a hypocritical law when we consider that most television dramas or films have some nudity and that there are programs like “How To Look Good Naked” and about being naked in the workplace. Life drawing and nude modelling and burlesque have never been so popular. In the Mediterranean nudity on the beach is common place. In Spain I have spent days naked only wearing clothes to go into town, restaurants or on the bus. I have ridden a bicycle 5 miles to the beach naked and police cars have driven past and not given me a second glance. Yet in England it is against the law.

  • Andrew Emmerson 13th Jul '13 - 12:29pm

    @Steve – read into the first line as you like.

    1) I didn’t label my opponents anything. I labeled an attitude. One which is demonstrably true. The Victorians covered chair legs with cosies just in case men became sexually aroused for goodness sake. It’s quite clearly a Victorian attitude to be afraid of nudity.

    2) You’ve taken two different situations and combined them to create a point which has no relation to the original. One is simply walking past, the other is turning up outside deliberately. Of course the latter would arouse some suspicion.

    3) I can’t prove a negative. However, would you link me wearing pink hot pants with my sexuality? Or me getting into drag with my sexual preferences? I’m hoping the answer would be no.

    4) There is no “liberty” to restrict others. It’s not about who i agree or disagree with, but you don’t have a right not to see anything in a public space. Otherwise not extend that right not to see ugly people? Or fat people? Or gay people kissing?

    5) Do I feel sorry for his family? Yes. Do I respect the man for a bloody mindedness in winning his right to freedom. Even more so.

  • I don’t follow why not wanting a naked man around a playground is to equate his actions to paedophilic ones. There are lots of things that are appropriate in adult company that are less so around children, for example swearing. When you believe that to exercise your own rights trumps everyone else you are not generally being principled but stubborn and probably more than a little daft.

    The police offered a compromise, if they hadn’t I would have supported him absolutely, but they did and he refused to bend one bit and was determined to do so irrespective of the upset he may cause others.

  • @Steve

    I would be staggered by your hypocrisy if it weren’t sadly so commonplace.

    You criticise the author for offering an opinion as fact and for not offering factual evidence. You then go right on ahead and offer your own personal opinion, based on no facts or evidence whatsoever which is nothing more impressive than a simple personal assertion, conflating the naked state with both paedophilia and mental illness without a single shred of evidence. That is what I clearly and unambiguously label as “the kettle calling the pot black”.

  • DefenestrateClegg 13th Jul '13 - 1:51pm

    What about the freedom of [probably many people] who don’t wish to see him strolling around as nature intended ?

    What about them ?

    Why does one seemingly selfish and obsessive individual’s rights stand for more than theirs ?

  • Phil Yeager 13th Jul '13 - 1:52pm

    The other assumption is that exposure to nudity is somehow deeply damaging to children. There have actually been studies on children from nudist families and they show longer abstinence and a lower incidence of eating disorders.

  • DefenestrateClegg 13th Jul '13 - 4:09pm

    @Andrew Hickey

    He isn’t being locked up indefinitely for attempting to exercise his rights though is he ?

    He can march up and down a nudist beach 24 hours a day and stay as free as a bird.
    But he can’t just ramble naked where ever he wants to.

    That’s against the law, and no amount of what the original LDV piece the other day called Fundamentalist Liberalism is likely to change that.

  • I’m curious as to whether Andrew Emmerson would stop at the right to be naked in public as something “all good liberals should support”, or whether he would go as far as to say that people should have the right to perform sexual acts in public (either clothed or unclothed). It’s difficult to see why the same arguments wouldn’t apply. But it’s also difficult to imagine many people defending the right of a man to strip naked and masturbate outside a school playground.

  • I have always understood that being naked in public is not, in itself, an offence; it is only when it is done “with intent to shock or offend” that it becomes the concern of the law. However, it seems that many police officers seem to take a different view.
    Personally, I have never had an issue with public nudity, although I am not sufficiently confident in my own body to walk around without any clothes!
    Just this afternoon I watched a carnival procession in Folkestone, which was mainly primary schoolchildren, in which two pretty (teenage, I would guess) girls, almost totally naked, but with all-over body paint, took part, dancing through the streets after being painted in the town centre in full view of the passing public. They looked stunning and I didn’t see, or hear, anybody take offence as they passed among the crowd handing out leaflets.
    If more people were like the Naked Rambler then, after a while, other people would get used to it and take no notice. I wish I had the confidence to join him when the weather is like it is today!

  • Peter Watson 13th Jul '13 - 7:06pm

    I worry that this article, and some of the subsequent comments could be quoted out of context and used to make Lib Dems look ridiculous.
    What if our naked rambler had an erection while walking, or chose to masturbate? Still happy to let him pass a children’s playground, after all he’s not harming anybody. And surely there’s no fundamental difference between whistling while you walk and swearing. And if he chooses to defecate or urinate in a public place while out rambling, well they’re all perfectly natural functions that true “liberals” should be happy to let him do as long as he cleans up afterwards. Or perhaps we would all draw the line somewhere, and most of the debate here is pointlessly not about a liberal principle at all, simply a matter of degree.

  • “conflating the naked state with both paedophilia and mental illness without a single shred of evidence”

    I didn’t conflate anything. I’m simply stating that persistent behaviour that is well outside normal behaviour (especially when it is maladaptive and results in negative outcomes for the individual) would normally contribute to the diagnosis of a mental health disorder. If I saw someone walking naked on their own in a public place I would probably presume that they are having mental health problems and I would have a good chance of being right. That is how much of an unusual behaviour it is. As such, I would be concerned for the welfare of vulnerable individuals in the near vicinity. That is one reason why it isn’t allowed. The other reason is democracy – the majority of people don’t want it, so why should they dictated to by a minority? However, there is a reasonable accommodation in that there are designated public areas where nudity is tolerated and areas where it is not. Most people would consider that reasonable.

    One thing I find particularly daft in this debate is the way that people view this as discrimination in the same way as discrimination against race, colour, creed, gender and sexuality is frowned upon. It is not the same thing. Banning same sex couples kissing in a public place, for example, is discriminatory; banning everyone from kissing in a public place is not. Banning nudity in a particular public place is not discriminatory as is it does not discriminate in terms of race, gender, etc. It is a social behaviour that is being legislated against in a nudity ban. As such, it is no different to by-laws banning people from drinking in a certain public places, just to give one example.

  • Matthew Huntbach 13th Jul '13 - 11:58pm

    Have we learnt nothing from the Jimmy Saville and other child abuse scandals?

    I’m old enough remember in the 1970s there was a lot of talk about sex being a natural t hing we should all enjoy, children too, no-one should be ashamed of it, anyone who expressed any concern about it was just a Victorian prude. Unfortunately this did lead to child abuse being considered not much of a problem, or even the abuser being just a bit avant garde. A lot of what was then put forward as innocent enjoyment of bodies is now realised to have been abuse. We have had a case recently of a well-known painter whose supposedly innocent paintings of naked children were in reality accompanied by physical abuse. We have had recent cases in music schools, where young girls were led into sexual abuse through claims that being naked was just a natural thing that was needed as part of their education.

    I’m not saying the naked rambler himself wants to do what he wants to do for any sexual reasons. But unfortunately there are a lot of adult men who want to expose their sexual organs to children as part of abuse. Getting the child first to see the penis, with the claim it’s all natural, then to touch it, is all part of the road to full abuse.

    This is why we have to be cautious about these things because it happens to be a fact that there are many men who want to abuse children. If a man wishes to parade around naked for non-sexual reasons, we have to ask him not to because most men who expose themselves naked ARE doing it for sexual reasons and it’s part of abuse. We can’t teach our children “Nakedness is natural, if a man shows his penis to you, that’s just him being natural, if he asks you to take off your clothes, that’s just more of being as nature intended”, because in the vast majority of cases where this happens, the intention of the man is to rape the child.

    As David Allen quoted me saying, I would have thought all this is pretty obvious and shouldn’t need spelling out in graphic detail as I have done, in order to explain why this is not just “pearl clutching moralism” etc.

  • @ Steve Way

    “The police offered a compromise, if they hadn’t I would have supported him absolutely, but they did and he refused to bend one bit and was determined to do so irrespective of the upset he may cause others”

    That was on one occasion in Scotland. As George Cavanagh states in one of his comments on the David Allen article the Naked Rambler Stephen Gough is inside Winchester Prison and he is there for breaching his antisocial behaviour order (Asbo).

    Carol Lindsay in her article on this (http://www.libdemvoice.org/are-we-seriously-going-to-lock-up-the-naked-rambler-for-the-rest-of-his-life-35002.html ) gives a link to the BBC article – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-22971063. He was given an Asbo that according to the BBC quoting the prosecution “stated he must cover his buttocks and genitalia”. The article also states he was arrested leaving the magistrates court.

    This is a travesty of justice. The law regarding nudity is the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the relevant section is 66:

    “Exposure
    (1)A person commits an offence if—
    (a) he intentionally exposes his genitals, and
    (b) he intends that someone will see them and be caused alarm or distress.

    (I assume he includes she). Both a and b have to apply. As far as I can tell the reason this law was not used is because there is no evidence that the Naked Rambler intends to cause alarm and distress. (As far as I can tell this wording is to allow some forms of nakedness but not allow exposure where it is done to cause alarm or distress as in the case of a flasher.)

    The advice on the CPS website is that an order (Asbo) can be issued if the court considers “That the offender has acted, at any time since [1 April 1999], in an anti-social manner, that is to say in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household as himself”.

    However it seems that it shouldn’t cover an offence that already has a penalty and it needs to be place and time specific. For the Naked Rambler to be arrested just outside the magistrates court the place is wider that where he lives or the areas where he shops it is every public place. I also wonder what evidence was used to prove that his behaviour was likely to cause alarm or distress.

    The naked rambler is appealing the Asbo and I wish him every success.

    It also seems that he has been convicted under section 5 (Harassment, alarm or distress) of the Public Order Act of disorderly behaviour however the defences include – his conduct was reasonable or he had no reason to believe it was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress. The interesting thing that a conviction for this only carries a fine. Hence I expect the Asbo.

  • @ Andrew I sometimes sunbathe or do gardening naked in my back garden during weekdays. Could I be prosecuted? I live in a converted house with several flats and the other tenants are generally at work although not always. The garden has quite a few trees and is quite secluded but not completely and it is possible that someone next door could see. Can you please explain the risk? Thank you. Michael

  • A Social Liberal 14th Jul '13 - 1:45pm

    As I understand it, Liberals support the right of a person to carry on a practice as long as it does not harm others.

    Not upset, or offend, but harm others.

    By walking the UKs highways and byways as he arrived in the world Mr Gough is not hurting anyone else. To introduce spurious hypothetical arguements which would have Mr Gough sporting an erection or furiously masturbating in full view of horrified children is just that – spurious.

    AS I have said on other forums in LDV, The human form is not offensive, nearly everyone sees at least one every day.

  • It should be pointed out that there is also a hygiene issue with Gough’s behaviour. He isn’t just a naked rambler – he also takes his clothes of in places like planes and courts of law. I’m struggling to think of anything more anti-social, yet he appears not to understand how his behaviour impacts other people and their property (in addition to not understanding the impact on his family and the taxpayer).

  • A Social Liberal writes:

    “To introduce spurious hypothetical arguements which would have Mr Gough sporting an erection or furiously masturbating in full view of horrified children is just that – spurious.”

    Mr Gough may not do these things, but other nudists do. I and others have observed them a close quarter.

    I’ll give you an example. Years ago, an 11 year-old boy described to me something that happened to him in the summer of 1968. He was cycling across a public open space in the early evening and he came across a bunch of folk engaged in an al fresco orgy. They were nude or partially nude, the men had erections, and they were performing sexual acts. Is that kind of behaviour acceptable in a public place? Should an 11 year-old boy have been forced to watch it?

    “AS I have said on other forums in LDV, The human form is not offensive, nearly everyone sees at least one every day.”

    The straw man rears his ugly head. I don’t think anyone is contending that the human form is offensive, any more than sexual intercourse is offensive. What they are actually saying is that genitals, like the sexual act, belong in the private sphere. That’s what makes the act of exhibiting one’s genitals in public inappropriate, unacceptable and yes, offensive. Firstly, it is a sexually aggressive act intended to assert power over the observer. Secondly, it violates a near universal cultural norm that regulates human relations by placing certain things in the private realm. Those are the reasons why people don’t like it. It has nothing to do with disgust at the human form.

  • “The Victorians covered chair legs with cosies just in case men became sexually aroused for goodness sake. It’s quite clearly a Victorian attitude to be afraid of nudity.”

    Clearly, Victorian prudes would oppose the Naked Rambler. It does not follow that all those who oppose the Naked Rambler are Victorian prudes. No doubt Kim Jong-Il would like us to scrap Trident. Does that prove that it would be wrong to scrap Trident?

  • “It is ridiculous … that in this “enlightened” day and age public nudity is still forbidden in the UK. Personally I like being naked as it gives me the feeling of freedom ….. In the Mediterranean nudity on the beach is common place.”

    That’s a perfectly valid point of view, and if it were accepted, the argument would change. The Naked Rambler would then no longer be an “outlier of human behaviour” (as Steve put it). If such behaviour became commonplace, then the parents of small vulnerable children would have far less reason for concern when they saw it, and the police would no longer be able to argue that it was behaviour intended to cause alarm.

    However, the NR has chosen to be naked specifically in order to strike a blow for freedom. So if he was told that his nudity had now become acceptable, I think he would feel compelled to think of something else to do, which was not deemed acceptable! Otherwise he would have ceased to be a fighter for freedom, wouldn’t he?

    This debate really shouldn’t be about what precise aspects of dress code and sexual behaviour should or should not be acceptable. It’s about someone who is deliberately doing something which goes outside what is accepted, because he wants to go outside of what is accepted, because he believes in freedom in an avowedly fundamentalist way.

  • ” The Victorians covered chair legs with cosies just in case men became sexually aroused for goodness sake.”

    This did not actually happen, as any photograph of a Victorian interior should convince you. Stark naked table and chair legs abound.

  • Benjamin Mathis 15th Jul '13 - 1:11am

    Sesenco – as I understand it, sex in public is legal so long as it is not witnessed by a third party who is distressed by it. In practice this tends to mean that if the people partaking had taken some reasonable precautions against discovery – i.e. they were somewhere relatively covert, not on the grass verge of the A34 – then it would have been legal – up until the point they were seen and the person who saw them was upset. It sounds a bit Heath-Robinson as laws go, but it basically covers the legal territory quite well: People can do what they want as long as they don’t scare the horses.

    Of course, at the time, the orgy itself may have been illegal if more than two men were involved.

    I presume there is more to the story than just what you relate, however, since if witnessing people having sex was all that disturbing, there’d be an awful lot of disturbed people about.

    Oh and one final thing – again assuming we can take the story at face value – no, an 11-year old boy (or anyone) should not be forced to watch people having sex. He could have looked away any time he wanted. Reminds me rather of Mary Whitehouse;

    “Dear BBC, last night my husband and I watched a programme we found so disgusting and depraved we could scarcely believe our eyes. The sex scenes were so graphic and appalling we almost changed the channel.”

  • For me, my public nudity is not a sexual act, or an act of aggression or rebellion. Nakedness is openness and when naked a person is vulnerable. I am opening myself to the world and saying take me as I am. For me being naked is not conducive to confrontational behavior either physically or verbally and I never drink alcohol when naked as I want to be in full control of my faculties Nakedness focuses the thoughts and helps me create my art. I enjoy the primitiveness of it, of being back to nature. I like the feeling of the sun on the skin and the feeling of freedom. But most of all I seek acceptance to be as I am.

  • Benjamin Mathis wrote:

    “Oh and one final thing – again assuming we can take the story at face value – no, an 11-year old boy (or anyone) should not be forced to watch people having sex. He could have looked away any time he wanted. Reminds me rather of Mary Whitehouse;”

    Wrong. If you are cycling on a public open space (Pyrford Common in this case) you cannot simply avert one’s gaze. In front of a television you are safe. You can switch it off. Cycling on Pyrford Common, especially when you are aged 11, and you are vulnerable and frightened, is somewhat different. You need to be able to navigate your vehicle safely, either to complete your journey or retreat, so you cannot simply look away. Does one really have to be Mary Whitehouse to think that conducting an orgy in a place where one has reasonable grounds to believe there will be non-participants is a rather nasty thing to do? I have no idea if the boy concerned was damaged by what he witnessed. He’s still alive and living a long way from Surrey, but that’s about all I know. It did shock him. Oh, and yes, we can take the story at face value. He wasn’t sniggering, and I don’t think he actually wanted to talk about it too much. In those days, 11 year-old boys barely knew about the existence of sex, let alone the more obscure mechanics.

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Jul '13 - 12:42pm

    Andrew Emmerson

    The Victorians covered chair legs with cosies just in case men became sexually aroused for goodness sake. It’s quite clearly a Victorian attitude to be afraid of nudity.

    Actually, a brief walk around central London will show the Victorians were fond of public statuary involving nudity. Consider for example

    http://www.victorianweb.org/sculpture/doylejones/3.html

    I don’t think anything like that would be put up now.

  • Steve on July 13th maintains that a nudity ban is non-discriminatory because it applies to all not just a sub-group. He cites the example of places where drinking is banned i.e. no one can drink in those places.

    I must disagree. The nude person is not exhibiting a behaviour. Nudity is a passive state and is not like drinking which is an active behaviour. What Steve is saying is that he agrees with the banning of things that people are NOT doing. If the majority think sunglasses are cool, should the law make not wearing them criminal and non-wearers be put in prison for it?

    What these repressive attitudes really show is how all pervasive is our fear of our frail, naked mortality. So lets pretend we are all immortal and hide away our bodies in fear of our own genitalia, without which no of us would be here.

    Note too how the most authoritarian regimes, usually male dominated and based on religion beliefs, are so incensed by nudity. Try to find naturist beaches in the Middle East! worse still try being a woman there.

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