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R v George [1956] Crim LR 52

Definition of ‘indecent’

Facts

The defendant had a foot fetish, and on two occasions attempted to remove shoes off the feet of young girls without their consent for the purposes of sexual gratification. He was accused of indecent assault contrary to ss.14-15 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956.

Issues

The key issue in this case was whether the defendant’s indecent motive was sufficient to transform an ordinary assault into an indecent one in circumstances where there was nothing inherently indecent about the act (removing a shoe).

Held

The jury acquitted the defendant, concluding that his sexual motives were not sufficient to make his actions indecent. This implies that it the touching is inherently incapable of being reasonably perceived as having sexual or indecent connotations, it does not matter that the defendant’s purposes were in fact sexual or indecent.

It is unclear if this case would be decided the same today. Offences of this nature are now more commonly dealt with using the offence of sexual assault under s.3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. S.78 of that Act provides that an action will be sexual if the jury considers that it is either sexual by nature (such as touching genitals), or if ‘because of its nature it may be sexual and because of its circumstances or the purpose of any person in relation to it (or both) it is sexual’. If the jury concluded that removing a shoe could never be sexual, regardless of motive, then the defendant’s motive would still be insufficient to make the touching sexual and the outcome of George would be the same. However, given greater awareness of fetishes in the modern era, it is likely that a jury would think that even seemingly mundane actions could be sexual.


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