internet-driven craze where people take part in sexual acts with strangers at isolated locations, has prompted local authorities to review security around parks and well known lovers lanes.
Couples and singles on voyeuristic missions are using the internet to arrange meetings in car parks and spots in country parks all across Scotland.
Aside from the sexual health risks, described as “considerable”, authorities are concerned because of the risk of robberies and even blackmail that may arise because the practice is becoming so well known.
The Sunday Herald has found that meetings are being arranged at at least 20 locations across the country from Inverclyde to Edinburgh, St Andrews to Irvine, with over 23,000 people in the UK having signed up to internet sites that advertise and arrange rendezvous.
A spokesman for Dundee City Council said that the web postings offering meeting places in their area were a growing cause for concern. “We have contacted police because we are concerned that an area which is visited by families is being used for this purpose.”
John Turnbull, countryside and landscape manager at Strathclyde Country Park, which appears to have several sites within its boundaries used by “dogging” enthusiasts, said that anti-social behaviour would also prompt a call to the police.
“We work very closely with the local police to ensure that a safe, secure and suitable environment is maintained at all times and we continuously monitor activities within the park and take appropriate action, as necessary,” he said.
A spokesman for Edinburgh City Council said: “While no reports have been made of this activity, our parks department will be increasing its patrols.”
Dogging is a grey area in the law – while having sex in a car is not illegal, if any members of the public are offended by it they have a genuine cause for complaint. A spokeswoman for Strathclyde Police said that any complaints from the public on dogging would be looked into.
She said: “Any members of the public who are coming across this do have protection – public indecency or breach of the peace offences are taken seriously.”
Dr Richard Byrne, a countryside management lecturer at Harper Adams College, recently surveyed 260 country parks, 60% of which had recorded an increase in dogging.
He said: “You have voyeurs who go to watch others, some who want to join in with others, and then there is the more sinister aspect of men who visit well known local beauty spots and lovers lanes to try and spot ‘regular’ courting couples.
“It can lead to other things – litter in the form of condoms and the area gaining a reputation for being a public sex environment, which can lead to prostitution or drug dealing.
“People visiting these places are leaving themselves open to the risk of robbery or even blackmail. There have also been instances where genuine courting couples have been badly frightened by finding that there are people watching them or even trying to get into their car.”
Byrne warned that there are no quick solutions for dealing with the problem in parks.
“Things like lighting car parks don’t really work because watching is all part of the thrill, and several people use video cameras and actually prefer areas that are well lit. Country parks are by their nature open and accessible places,” he said.
Martin Raymond, deputy director of programmes for Health Scotland, said the craze had worrying health consequences.
“People in their 30s and 40s who may be taking part in this should realise that they are not immune from the diseases which are traditionally associated with younger people. STDs don’t know any boundaries of age. Public health specialists will tell you that if you are having sex with lots of people then you are basically sleeping with everyone that they have ever slept with.”
Raymond also warned that there were personal safety issues to contend with.
“No matter what the legality of having sex outdoors is, there is always a risk of things like robbery, assault and blackmail. It is obviously a risky activity but that may be part of the attraction.”
The term dogging originated in the early 1970s to describe men who spied on couples having sex outdoors – these men would “dog” the couples’ every move and watch them.
“Mel”, who runs a website that Scottish couples use, claims demand prompted her to set up the service. “I’ve had requests from couples and a few singles asking for locations. If anyone knows of any lovers lanes, woods, car parks, that are used by doggers, let me know so I can spread the word.”
21 September 2003