The reputation of British Naturism for protecting Naturists by working with Parliament means that we have a voice that is well-respected, and over the past year we have focussed on the long- anticipated review of Hate Crime legislation. Hate Crime law is currently scattered across a number of Acts, meaning that it is inconsistent, difficult to apply, and often fails to discourage acts of hatred. British Naturism’s work with the Law Commission through the pre-consultation phase has caused us to be major stakeholders. In the consultation paper released in September, the Law Commission recommended that legislation be drawn together into a single Hate Crime Act, citing our contributions 45 times to support the proposal. The purpose of the proposal is to discourage acts of hatred by making it clear what constitutes Hate Crime.
Naturists occasionally encounter abuse because of our lifestyle, and over the last few years there have been growing examples of Naturists being targeted. The objective of Hate Crime legislation is that minority groups should not be targeted on the basis of their identity in a way that forces them to change or conceal their identity. Given that many people choose to conceal their Naturism for
fear of reprisal, we are well placed to offer insight into the consequences of acts of hatred against a community.
In practice, Hate Crime law works by defining certain protected characteristics, such as race and sexual orientation, so that an offence motivated by hatred against the protected characteristic would be classed as a Hate Crime and subject to more severe sentence.
A difficulty for us is that while Naturism might be protected as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act, definitions are different under Hate Crime so that Religion is protected but belief is not. A change in the protected characteristics that gained protection for Naturism would change the landscape in many respects. Official recognition as part of a protected characteristic, rather than simply a hobby or quirk will reinforce our reputation as a respectable community, helping us book venues for events and normalising Naturism. More importantly it will change the perception of the public and give people pause for thought before harassing Naturists. Central to the definition of a protected characteristic is that it should be a feature that defines our identity. Along with other groups, we have urged the Law Commission to expand the categories of protected characteristics in the belief that no minority group should be persecuted on the basis of their identity.
The work has led to the possibility of two characteristics being added to the list that would have a critical impact on the standing of Naturism:
Belief is already considered a protected characteristic under the Equality Act and although no one would argue that Naturism is a religion, it has all of the hallmarks of a philosophy. Naturism has a weighty influence over the lives of many of us and guides how we conduct ourselves. Although Naturists are most easily identified by lack of clothing, our core value is respect; respect for ourselves and respect for others. Our philosophy is comparable to other beliefs and the opinion of independent counsel is that we comfortably meet the test for belief under the Equality Act. Even more important is that the Law Commission themselves have used Naturism as one of two examples of a belief that might be protected under Hate Crime law - the other being Humanism. The fact that British Naturism is being recognised as a key stakeholder in legal consultations and used as the model of a creditable community shows the value of the decades of campaigning by British Naturism.
The second proposed characteristic is Alternative Subculture, a group of people with shared characteristics, often identified by a shared style of dress. In many ways, it would be easier to gain protection for Naturism as an Alternative Subculture as this category does not rely on guessing the motivation behind our choices. The casual observer identifies Naturists by our dress code, namely wearing nothing at all, and it is our dress code that draws abuse, rather than our principles of respect. The most common targets of criminal activity amongst Naturists are nude hikers who can fall victim to shouted abuse, threats, and in some cases violence or dog attacks. It is worth recognising that the police treat such incidents more seriously when they can also be considered to be homophobic, because sexual orientation is a protected characteristic. The different treatments of identical incidents, depending on whether a characteristic is protected, demonstrates why more equal protection of minority groups is important. There are other major players in advancing the calls for protection of Alternative Subcultures. The murder of Sophie Lancaster in 2007 based on her appearance as a Goth has led many police forces to unofficially consider hostility against Alternative Cultures, such as Goths, as Hate Crime. Although Naturists have never encountered hostility of that severity, we do encounter it more frequently and have been able to contribute our experience so that both the prevalence and severity of hate incidents are covered by the contributions of British Naturism and the Sophie Lancaster Foundation.
Whether the two new categories are voted into law by Parliament remains to be seen, but both have a strong chance, and as advocates we advance the profile and acceptance of Naturism.
Communications and 'Stirring Up' Offences
Ideally, legislation would prevent Hate Crime, rather than punishing it retrospectively. Although controlling people’s behaviour is neither possible nor desirable, restricting activities that promote or glamorise physical attacks is feasible and is the purpose in redefining Communications and Stirring Up Offences. Minority groups receive threats and abuse far more often than they are the victims of violence and verbal assault still has consequences. Threats cause people to live in fear or conceal their identity, something that we as Naturists should not have to endure. Issuing threats would be described as a Communications Offence, and we have argued that threats should be classed as Hate Crime when motivated by hostility against a protected characteristic. Greater benefit could be gained by redefining Stirring Up Offences, which are instances where individuals have incited hostility or violence against others. Often, the instigator is not involved in resultant violence, relying on others to do the dirty work, meaning that the instigator is insulated from sanction. However, the consequences of Stirring Up are severe; if an individual can incite a mob, that group can cause far more damage than the single instigator could alone. Naturists have encountered the consequences of Stirring Up when the spreading of misinformation online has provoked attacks against Naturist events or clubs. Improvement in legislation that would oppose the online coordination of abuse of minorities is where we stand to make the greatest gains. Although Stirring Up Offences already exist, they are extremely inconsistent. Stirring Up against race or religion are defined by different criteria, while other protected characteristics are not protected from Stirring Up under the current law. We have lobbied for greater consistency in the definition of Stirring Up offences and that all protected characteristics should gain similar benefit. Consistent law will allow everybody; the police, the courts and the general public, to know where they stand and cause the number of hate incidents to fall.
The area we will benefit most from consolidation of Communication and Stirring Up Offences legislation is through our treatment on social media. Social media dominates the news media these days and, while it is quick to censor healthy nudity, it places few restrictions on propagation of violence, threats and abuse. Those who have reported harassment through social media will know that complaints are normally ignored unless there are clear legal implications. Most abusive behaviour is allowed and only hate speech is restricted, so gaining a protected status for Naturism may limit widespread abuse campaigns against us. The Hate Crime review is not the only way we have been working to influence social media, we also engaged with the Facebook Oversight Board to overturn the removal of images of female nipples as part of a breast cancer awareness campaign. Although these actions will not change the approaches of social media platforms overnight, by continually standing up for our rights we move the culture in the right direction.
So Why Are We Doing This?
The advantages of protecting of Naturists from Hate Crime, should be clear. However, the impact of this work spreads much further. British Naturism is an organisation built on respect; we believe that everybody should have freedom to dress how they want and live as they wish, as long as it does not have a negative effect on others. The right to respect is something we all desire and our success would benefit and protect many vulnerable and minority groups. The status of British Naturism means that we have the opportunity to
do good and we are receiving calls for aid on other projects. We are assisting the Law Commission in devising the early stages of a consultation on the sharing of intimate images without the consent. The large number of nude photographs that we handle means that we have unparalleled insight into managing consent and our approach to respecting the choice of individuals is recognised as a gold standard that others might aspire to. A leading internet company also asked us for advice and praised our safeguarding policy, asking also if they could show it to other organisations as a standard to aim for. Our interest here is partly in avoiding overreach that might restrict the freedom to be naked, but our ability to improve conditions for others should not be overlooked. Having the ability to work for the benefit of all means that we have the responsibility to do so, and that is why British Naturism will continue to campaign.
Mark Bass - President, British Naturism