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Illicit Sexual Activity in Public Places

Guide No.33 (2005)

by Kelly Dedel Johnson

The Problem of Illicit Sexual Activity in Public Places

This guide begins by describing the problem of illicit public sexual activity and the factors that contribute to it. It then identifies a series of questions to help you analyze your local problem. Finally, it reviews responses to the problem, and what is known about them from evaluative research and police practice.

Public sexual activity includes a range of behaviors, such as solitary nude sunbathing, flashing, streaking, solitary or mutual masturbation, fellatio, and vaginal or anal intercourse. While some behaviors do not involve sexual activity per se, they involve sexual content of concern to both the public and the police. These behaviors are consensual, meaning that the person or people involved willingly engage in them. Both males and females participate in the full range of behaviors, and both opposite-sex and same-sex interactions occur. Jurisdictions vary in the specific criminal charges attached to these behaviors (e.g., indecent exposure, public indecency, lewd conduct).

† “Dogging” is engaging in consensual sexual activity in public to attract an audience; the audience either observes or joins in. See Bryne (2003) and Mendenhall (2003).

There are widely different perspectives on public sexual activity. Some do not believe the behavior constitutes a public safety threat; some view the behavior as a "victimless crime" involving two consenting partners; and some see the behavior as a threat to the community's "moral decency." "Impersonal," "casual," and "anonymous" sexual behaviors have negative connotations to many people, as they stand in contrast to ideals of romantic love, monogamous relationships, and long-term commitments.1 Moral overtones pervade discussions of nudity and sexuality, particularly when they address same- sex interactions. These judgments often underlie the public's concern. Community morals and beliefs about how the law should regulate morality will affect how each community addresses the problem. This guide does not adopt any particular moral perspective; it is intended to inform you about the effectiveness and consequences of various approaches to controlling public sexual activity.

Primarily, such activity constitutes nuisance behavior and does not pose a serious threat to community safety. However, there are many reasons why the police should care about it.

The responses to public sexual activity can be fraught with difficulty. Charges of harassment, entrapment, bias and discrimination against homosexuals have historically surrounded efforts to address public sexual activity between men. Therefore, it is vital that you objectively analyze the problem so that you develop fair and effective responses.

Related Problems

Public sexual behaviors, and the factors that contribute to them, occur in several other contexts of concern to the police. These related problems, not directly addressed in this guide, require their own analysis and response:

Factors Contributing to Illicit Sexual Activity in Public Places

Understanding the factors that contribute to your problem will help you frame your own local analysis questions, determine good effectiveness measures, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses.


Both men and women engage in public sexual activity. Same-sex participants may constitute the main offenders in some locations, while opposite-sex offenders predominate at others. How researchers and law enforcement personnel have conducted their efforts has largely determined what is known about the participants; regardless, participants vary considerably in terms of age, socioeconomic status, marital status, and occupation. Any patterns, or lack thereof, are consistent across studies of the various types of public sexual behaviors.2

Certain patterns (e.g., opposite-sex coupling at a "lovers' lane") have not been studied empirically, while others (e.g., same-sex contact in public restrooms) have been studied much more extensively. It is important to note that engaging in same-sex activity does not necessarily imply a homosexual identity; in fact, many men who have sex with men in public places are married or otherwise heterosexually involved, and do not consider themselves to be gay.3

When apprehended, many offenders may suffer substantial social repercussions, in addition to any criminal justice-related consequences that may ensue. Threats to their marriages, friendships, jobs, reputations, and social standing often cause them to try to distract attention from their behaviors by showing exaggerated degrees of respectability, such as strong ties to the religious community or passionate condemnation of homosexuality.4The larger the community's moral objections to public sexual activity mean that participants have much to lose if they are discovered.


The definition of "public" is not always clear. Some consider any place other than a private residence to be public. Others believe that places out of public view, even though they may be in public areas, are private. So-called "quasi-public" places provide some kind of physical barrier (e.g., car, bathroom stall, or bushes) between the participants and others.5Except for exhibitionists (e.g., flashers or streakers)–those who expressly seek observers– many participants want to remain out of view.

Some activities, such as flashing or mooning, occur in a wide range of locations, while others most commonly occur in locations that specifically facilitate them. Some guidebooks and internet resources identify specific public places where sexual activity occurs.

Season, Time of Day, and Day of Week

The climate likely has an influence on outdoor public sexual activity. Obviously, the colder it is, the less likely the activity. To the extent that public sexual activity may occur at a particular event or as a tradition occurring at a specific time of year (e.g., Mardi Gras, Spring Break), the season also may affect the amount of activity. The time of day's effect on such activity depends on the location's primary legitimate purpose. For example, at truck stops, activity may increase in the late-night and early-morning hours, when truckers have stopped for the night.15 As some department stores and shopping malls are closed on Sundays, no sexual activity occurs in their restrooms then.


Although people engage in public sexual activity for various reasons, some common patterns exist among the main types of behavior and location.

Exhibitionism occurs in a wide variety of settings. When taken to an extreme, it suggests the exhibitionist is prone to paraphilia,16 "a pattern of recurring sexually arousing…behavior that involves unusual and esp. socially unacceptable sexual practices..." (Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th ed.). Milder forms of exhibitionism, such as nude sunbathing or flashing during Mardi Gras celebrations, often occur because the participant feels anonymous in a large group. Crowds stimulate people to act in ways they would not normally do among their peers or in more regulated situations.17 Drinking alcohol, and the resulting loss of inhibition, is often identified as a contributing factor.18 While perceived anonymity may facilitate the behavior, participants also crave the attention, admiration, and validation they may receive from those who observe them.19

In contrast, some couples–particularly teenagers–engage in sexual activity in public because they have nowhere else to do so. A lack of privacy may also be the reason for male sexual activity in public restrooms. In particular, men with heterosexual identities may want to conceal their behavior from significant others. Their heterosexual identities also deter them from using other, less-public venues such as gay bars or sex clubs.20 Some homosexual men also lack the freedom to pursue same-sex partners privately due to family or peer disapproval.21 A community's condemnation of homosexuality may drive the behavior to remote, although public, locations, particularly among those exploring their sexuality and not yet connected to the gay community.22

Public sexual activity is not always simply a solution for those lacking a private alternative. Those who engage in "dogging" want strangers to watch them. Having an audience heightens their pleasure, and they may feel validated by others' wanting to watch and enjoy their "performance."23 For others, the risk of being caught engaging in public sexual activity serves as an aphrodisiac and increases their overall pleasure.24

Sexual activity in "tearooms," parks, rest areas, and truck stops is usually impersonal and anonymous, and does not lead to complicated entanglements involving commitments, obligations, or expectations from either party.25 Those dissatisfied with their sex lives with their partners may consider engaging in anonymous and impersonal sexual activity as less problematic than having an affair.26 And there's no need to solicit a prostitute, as the sex is free.27 Finally, those engaging in anonymous sexual activity generally needn't worry about assessments of their physical attractiveness or social class, judgments often made in formal dating situations.28


Researchers know more about what leads to some forms of public sexual activity than they do about others. Why people sunbathe nude or teenagers park at "lovers' lanes" has not been well researched. In contrast, researchers better understand flashing during Mardi Gras. The widespread occurrence of flashing during the festivities has been attributed to the accumulation of beaded necklaces in return for doing so.29 The "negotiations" regarding the exchange serve to legitimize it.30

With the advent of the internet, the practice of "dogging" has become more widespread. Those who want to be observed engaging in sexual activity use internet chat rooms to provide potential audiences with dates, times, and locations.31 People also use chat rooms to offer tips to those interested in watching or participating in public sexual encounters. For example, the patterned use of parked vehicles' turn signals, interior lights, and window openings can serve as signals to interested parties.

Men seeking anonymous sexual contact with men in public restrooms must adhere to a highly structured and sequential pattern of interaction.32 These "scripts" generally involve eye contact, movement, and position in the restroom, and very rarely include any verbal exchange.33 The specific patterns differ, but are just as compulsory, in other settings such as truck stops and rest areas.34 Legitimate park or restroom users may be concerned about being sexually propositioned by other men. However, given the complexity of the behavioral scripts guiding these transactions, mistaken propositions are unlikely.35

Collateral Consequences

Engaging in public sexual activity carries with it many risks, including the following:

Understanding Your Local Problem

The information provided above is only a generalized description of illicit public sexual activity. You must combine the basic facts with a more specific understanding of your local problem. Analyzing the local problem carefully will help you design a more effective response strategy.

Asking the Right Questions

The following are some critical questions you should ask when analyzing your particular problem with illicit public sexual activity, even if the answers are not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will help you choose the most appropriate set of responses later on.

Community Members





Current Responses

Measuring Your Effectiveness

Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the surrounding area. (For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see the companion guide to this series, Assessing Responses to Problems: An Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.)

The following are potentially useful measures of the effectiveness of responses to public sexual activity:

Responses to the Problem of Illicit Sexual Activity in Public Places

Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.

The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community's problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do; carefully consider whether others in your community share responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it.

General Principals for an Effective Strategy

Most researchers and practitioners agree that focusing solely on arresting those engaging in public sexual activity is unlikely to reduce the overall scope of the problem. In your response strategy, you should acknowledge that it will be difficult to affect people's motivations for engaging in the activity. A balanced approach combining enforcement strategies and those targeting environments that support the behavior is most likely to decrease the prevalence of the activity and the public's concern about it.

Used alone, enforcement efforts are likely to lead to displacement. Although not the most desirable outcome, there is evidence that when displacement does occur, the magnitude of the problem decreases with the move to a new location. New locations are often less desirable for several reasons, including distance and suitability. Further, changes in the times of day or days of week on which the problems occur mean that response affected the problem in some way. When displacement occurs, police can often better manage the problem.

In the past, police have been criticized for using undercover or decoy operations. These operations, particularly when conducted improperly, leave the police vulnerable to entrapment claims. In addition, an exclusive focus on environments in which same-sex interactions occur can result in charges of bias and discrimination. Therefore, you must address the full range of public sexual activity and target particular locations based on objective, justifiable assessments of threats to public safety.

† In 2000, the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund filed suit against the Los Angeles Police Department for its allegedly discriminatory law enforcement tactics targeting gay men.

If same-sex public interactions are part of your local problem, you should develop partnerships with local leaders of the gay and lesbian community and involve them in problem-solving. Not only can their endorsement go a long way toward addressing charges of bias or discrimination, but local leaders can also publicize the problem among the larger gay population and rally support for the responses. Similarly, efforts to control public sexual activity may affect local businesses, whose perspectives you should consider when planning your responses.

† The Denver Police Department, Equality Colorado (a statewide gay-rights organization), and Cheesman Park West Neighborhood Association formed a coalition to address problems caused by sexual activity in a public park. The partnership helped to “build bridges over the gay community’s persistent fear and mistrust of law enforcement” (Luzadder 2000).

†† For example, Mardi Gras celebrations contribute an estimated $1 billion to the New Orleans economy each year (Filosa 2002).

Finally, some of the responses below suggest some level of tolerance of the behavior—an approach that has had some success in Europe. However, community and political attitudes will make tolerance-based responses either more or less feasible. Therefore, before you design any responses, you must assess how much public sexual activity your community will tolerate. You can initiate candid and specific discussions about the types of activity to target by using videotapes and photographs to document the scope of the problem.

† The Santa Ana (Calif.) Police Department used videotape and photographs to document the types of sexual activity occurring in a public park. The visual aids revealed the extent of the problem and were used to advocate special court-imposed probation conditions. They were also used to counter criticism of police efforts, as they showed activity clearly unsuitable for a public park (Santa Ana Police Department 2001).

Specific Responses to Illicit Sexual Activity in Public Places

Enforcement-Based Responses

Enforcement-based responses may be particularly effective when applied to activity such as flashing during annual events, because this conduct is often considered acceptable unless police demonstrate a commitment to controlling it. In particular, regarding annual events, there is reason to believe that the word will quickly spread that the police no longer tolerate such behavior.

Signs warning against exposing oneself in public serve to increase awareness of acceptable practice.

Signs warning against exposing oneself in public serve to increase awareness of acceptable practice. Credit: David Corbett

  1. Posting notices. In areas with high activity levels (e.g., streets on a Mardi Gras parade route, certain rest areas or restrooms), notices can warn potential offenders that public sexual activity is a crime that can lead to arrest. Such notices must be specific enough for the target population to recognize their risk, but general enough that they do not offend the casual observer.

    † The San Diego Police Department posted the following notice in conspicuous locations throughout a public park: “Lewd Conduct Laws Strictly Enforced. Lewd Acts in Public Are a Violation of 647(a) PC. All Areas Within This Park Are Public Places. Violators Will Be Arrested” (Hall and Brady 1994). Similarly, in an effort to reduce flashing during Mardi Gras, New Orleans police posted approximately 1,000 posters throughout the French Quarter warning parade watchers that flashing is a crime that carries a $1,000 fine and jail time (Times-Picayune 2000).

  2. Issuing warnings. Rather than making an arrest, police can issue warnings to suspected participants in public sexual activity. For example, police can warn women observed flashing their breasts that continuing to do so will result in arrest. Similarly, police can stop and warn men observed cruising known locations for public trysting. Because many people do not want their behavior to be exposed to family and friends, specific deterrence may be effective. If the behavior occurs in a crowd that largely supports the participants (e.g., during Mardi Gras), police should be aware of the potential for conflict and use a non-confrontational approach.42

    † Establishing the legal grounds to stop a vehicle can be problematic because it is difficult to distinguish innocent from suspicious behavior. Departments wishing to use this response should seek legal advice.

    In addition, police can contact the registered owners of cars parked in public areas with high sexual activity levels. Letters notifying owners that police observed their car in such an area can also warn of the risk of violence and the health consequences of participating in anonymous, unprotected sexual activity.43 However, because the targeted behaviors are not serious public-safety risks, concerns about this response’s potential to deter legitimate patrons from using the areas and about unnecessary invasions of privacy may outweigh the response’s potential effectiveness.
  3. Creating the illusion of surveillance. The risk of being witnessed is sometimes enough to deter potential participants from using a location for sexual activity. Installing video cameras (whether operable or not), parking decoy police vehicles, distributing fliers, or posting warning signs about routine patrols suggests to those seeking privacy that they will likely be detected.

    † The Santa Ana Police Department stationed unmanned, marked police cars throughout a park to give the illusion of constant police presence (Santa Ana Police Department 2001).

  4. Establishing highly visible patrols. Although some participants in public sexual activity seek an audience, others want privacy. Uniformed police officers and park rangers in patrol cars, on foot, or on bicycle can deny potential participants privacy for such activity. Opening a police substation (e.g., mobile office) can also effectively increase the level of police activity in a particularly problematic area. However, this is a labor-intensive and thus costly response.
  5. Shifting enforcement responsibility to private security firms. Many shopping malls contract with private security firms to patrol both indoor and outdoor areas. Similarly, most colleges have campus police who patrol the grounds and buildings. Assigning these firms responsibility for maintaining the safety and security of facilities within their patrol areas can free police departments from devoting resources to nuisance behaviors.44 Further, by handling these cases internally, businesses and schools can avoid negative publicity, and suspects may be spared the social devastation that can accompany an arrest made public.
  6. Imposing "stay away" orders. As a condition of either bail or probation, courts can order those arrested for engaging in public sexual activity to stay away from public areas where the activity is prevalent. While these orders can reduce the activity level in targeted areas, they are also likely to displace the activity to other locations.
  7. Using police crackdowns. Police usually make large-scale arrests in response to intense public pressure to control a problem. They effectively interrupt entrenched behavioral patterns. However, because such crackdowns require significant manpower, they are unlikely to be sustained for a significant time, and thus have limited effectiveness as a long-term solution. Further, even when the behavior is relatively limited in terms of geography and time (e.g., flashing at Mardi Gras), the sheer scale of such operations makes them very difficult to implement.

Environment-Based Responses

  1. Designating geographic boundaries. If the community is willing to tolerate some level of public sexual activity, specific zones can be created that permit users to engage in certain behaviors without risk of arrest. Such zones should be well away from main recreation areas, should be clearly identified with markers and signs, and should include trash cans. This response has been effective with lower-level behaviors such as nude sunbathing, but could plausibly be adapted to other behaviors as well.

    † The North Wales Police Department addressed complaints about indecent exposure by nude sunbathers by clearly designating the boundaries of a nude-sunbathing area, and posting signs reminding sunbathers to stay within the boundaries and to dress fully before returning to public areas (North Wales Police Department 2002).

  2. Improving lighting. Improved lighting in problem areas reduces their attractiveness as trysting locations because the lighting reduces perceived privacy levels. Tamper-resistant, motion-sensing lighting may be useful at restroom entrances and in alleys.
  3. Cutting back bushes and other vegetation. Eliminating the physical cover of overgrown areas in parks or rest areas can improve surveillance opportunities. However, cutting back bushes and other vegetation might degrade the ecosystem and aesthetics of parks and wilderness areas.
  4. Redesigning restrooms. Restroom entrances' "envelope" or "maze" structure (i.e., walls or partitions that must be navigated to enter the restroom; used to prevent a direct line of sight into the restroom) can facilitate loitering and make police surveillance of activity occurring in and around restrooms difficult. Reorienting restroom entrances to face high-activity areas of a park or property, improving lighting (as previously noted), and using cut-away stall partitions reduce the level of privacy for illicit sexual activity.45 Similarly, single-user restrooms can reduce loitering and decrease the likelihood that someone entering the facility will inadvertently witness sexual activity.
  5. Relocating remote facilities. Some facilities are popular trysting locations because they are in remote areas of public places and do not attract large numbers of legitimate users. By moving restrooms or other problem facilities to areas with more activity, the level of legitimate usage may increase, deterring those seeking privacy for sexual encounters.
  6. Increasing the area's legitimate-activity levels. Locating dog-run areas, fitness facilities, or food-and-beverage vending near problem areas of public places increases the amount of foot-traffic and informal surveillance. As a result of the increased public exposure, those who don't want any witnesses to their activities will likely decrease them.
  7. Clearly posted signs indicating rules such as time restrictions on the use of public areas can help reduce unwanted activity.

    Clearly posted signs indicating rules such as time restrictions on the use of public areas can help reduce unwanted activity. Credit: David Corbett

    x Limiting the location's hours of operation. The times of day when public sexual activity occurs vary depending on the type of activity, site, and community's individual characteristics. Specific time restrictions define the hours for legitimate use of the area, while limiting operation during the period when most problem behavior occurs.46
  8. Closing the problem facility, street, or area. When a combination of enforcement and environmental strategies fails to reduce illicit-activity levels, it may be prudent to close the facility, street, or area to the public.

Publicity-Based Responses

  1. Using the media to deter potential offenders from frequenting trysting spots. Print and television media coverage can highlight the community's focus on the problem and stress the consequences for potential offenders, thus serving as a deterrent. Coverage in publications catering to the gay community can also help to discourage use of the problem locations.

    † The San Diego Sheriff's Department's partnership with the North County Gay and Lesbian Association led to stories in gay publications that educated readers about the dangers of cruising and discouraged them from using specific locations being targeted by police (Won 1996).

    Paradoxically, media coverage may also increase activity levels at the identified locations. For some, the increased attention may heighten their excitement about engaging in illicit sexual behavior.47 For others, the publicity may confirm a location's reputation as a good place to find partners.
  2. Requesting the removal of website and guidebook location references. Removing references to specific locations from websites and guidebooks that advertise cruising areas can reduce the number of potential patrons. If websites and guidebooks refuse to remove location references, a second option is for police to post information about enforcement activities (either real or fictitious) to deter potential participants from using the locations.48

    † The San Diego Police Department made a written request to a variety of websites and guidebooks that listed a targeted property as a popular cruising location. Some organizations complied with their request; others did not (Hall and Brady 1994).

Responses With Limited Effectiveness

  1. Using undercover decoys. While using undercover officers to pose as interested parties in illicit same-sex public activity can lead to many arrests, such operations have not had long-term effectiveness in reducing overall activity levels. At best, they temporarily displace the activity to other locations, and the activity usually returns to prior levels once the operations have ceased. Further, given the active role that undercover officers must take to confirm suspects' intentions, the police may be vulnerable to entrapment claims. In addition, many officers are reluctant to serve as decoys because of the customary behavioral scripts they must follow.49 Finally, some may see the serious social consequences of the publicity following an arrest as disproportionate to the severity of the offense.50
  2. Harassing or intimidating suspects. Many who engage in public sexual activity do not want witnesses and try to avoid being seen. Thus, it can be difficult for police to obtain probable cause for an arrest. When the community pressures police to address the problem, officers may resort to harassing or intimidating those observed loitering in parks or rest areas. This approach undermines police integrity, can create tension with the gay and lesbian community and other residents concerned about civil rights, and has not proved particularly effective.51

Summary of Responses

The table below summarizes the responses to check and card fraud, the mechanism by which they are intended to work, the conditions under which they ought to work best, and some factors you should consider before implementing a particular response. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem.

Enforcement-Based Responses
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
1 Posting notices Targets potential offenders who may not know the behavior is illegal, and deters those who fear social and criminal-justice consequences …the notices clearly define the targeted behavior, are conspicuous and seen by potential offenders, and are supplemented by surveillance or patrol It may stigmatize the site and deter legitimate use
2 Issuing warnings Provides the opportunity for specific deterrence, without the costs of a formal arrest …patrol activities and information are synchronized so that police can identify repeat offenders The consequences may not be seen as certain enough to deter the behavior; recipients of warnings may object to the presumed criminal intent; warnings could deter legitimate users
3 Creating the illusion of surveillance Destroys the illusion of privacy, deterring those who fear exposure …potential offenders believe the surveillance is real Increased police activity may give legitimate users the impression that the area isn’t safe; the efforts may give the public a false sense of security
4 Establishing highly visible patrols Indicates that the police will detect illicit activity, deterring those who fear exposure …patrol schedules are regular, but unpredictable An increased sense of danger may heighten the excitement for some participants; increased police activity may give legitimate users the impression that the area isn’t safe
5 Shifting enforcement responsibility to private security firms Increases the frequency of patrol …businesses or other organizations have both a vested interest in controlling the behavior and sufficient resources for private patrols Delegating responsibility may suggest that the police aren’t concerned about the problem
6 Imposing “stay away” orders Restricts the activity of known offenders …there’s adequate monitoring, and the police have the information to identify offenders It may displace the activity to other areas; it requires legal authority to enforce
7 Using police crackdowns Increases the likelihood of arrest, deterring those who fear exposure …it’s used as a short-term method to interrupt entrenched behavioral patterns, and is supplemented with more-sustained responses Crackdowns are costly; they require significant manpower; they can overwhelm the criminal justice system with lower-level offenders
Environment-Based Responses
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
8 Designating geographic boundaries Reduces the likelihood of inadvertent observation …the boundaries are clearly marked, and activity outside of the boundaries is discouraged Some may think it condones public sexual activity
9 Improving lighting Increases the ability to monitor activity …the current lighting is inadequate, and participants do not want to be observed Installing and maintaining the lighting may be costly
10 Cutting back bushes and other vegetation Improves the ability to monitor activity …vegetation is providing cover for the activity, and participants don’t want to be observed It may have negative ecological and aesthetic effects; the public will more easily notice those who—despite the lack of cover— persist in engaging in the activity
11 Redesigning restrooms Improves the ability to monitor activity, reducing the sense of privacy some participants desire …the new design does not deter legitimate users Renovation costs may be substantial
12 Relocating remote facilities Increases informal surveillance by increasing legitimate use …the new location encourages legitimate use Relocation costs may be substantial
13 Increasing the area’s legitimate-activity levels Increases informal surveillance, and demonstrates that those who want to use the area legitimately are fed up with the illicit activities …legitimate use is consistent and occurs during times when illegal activities have generally occurred It may take time to reassure legitimate users that the area has been reclaimed and is safe for their activities, and for children
14 Limiting the location’s hours of operation Increases the difficulty in finding an area for trysting … the community supports the change, and the area is patrolled during off-hours The community may object to having less time for legitimate activities
15 Closing the problem facility, street, or area Increases the difficulty in finding a location for trysting …the community supports the change, and any barriers used cannot be breached It may be inconvenient for legitimate users
Publicity-Based Responses
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
16 Using the media to deter potential offenders from frequenting trysting spots Deters those who fear exposure …enforcement activities are seen as fair and unbiased, and the publicity is sustained over time It may increase illicit-activity levels by heightening participants’ sense of excitement or by confirming a location’s reputation as an active cruising area
17 Requesting the removal of website and guidebook location references Limits the number of potential participants aware of trysting locations …the high activity levels at the targeted locations are the result of the publicity they’ve received Organizations that provide such information may refuse to cooperate
Responses With Limited Effectiveness
# Response How It Works Works Best If... Considerations
18 Using undercover decoys Temporarily removes offenders from circulation; the social consequences may shame participants and deter repeated activity   This response is vulnerable to claims of entrapment or discrimination; the social consequences may be devastating and out of proportion to the seriousness of the offense; officers may be reluctant to take on such assignments
19 Harassing or intimidating suspects Discourages potential offenders from frequenting targeted locations   It undermines police integrity; it may create tension with the gay community if same-sex activities are specifically targeted


[1] Van Lieshout (1995).

[2] For example, Desroches (1990), Byrne (2003) [Full text], Forsyth (1992), and Redmon (2002).

[3] Humphreys (1975); Schultz (1998); Desroches (1990).

[4] Nardi (1995).

[5] Schultz (1998).

[6] Forsyth (1992); Redmon (2003).

[7] Anderson (1977).

[8] Mendenhall (2003); Byrne (2003). [Full text]

[9] Huber and Kleinplatz (2002).

[10] Desroches (1990).

[11] Desroches (1990).

[12] Schultz (1998).

[13] Corzine and Kirby (1977).

[14] Troiden (1974); Corzine and Kirby (1977); Michael (1997).

[15] Corzine and Kirby (1977).

[16] American Psychiatric Association (2000).

[17] Redmon (2002).

[18] Redmon (2003).

[19] Redmon (2003).

[20] Gray (1988).

[21] Murray (1999).

[22] Schultz (1998).

[23] Byrne (2003). [Full text]

[24] Nardi (1995); Desroches (1990).s

[25] Desroches (1990).

[26] Tewksbury (1995).

[27] Tewksbury (1995).

[28] Schultz (1998).

[29] Shrum and Kilburn (1996). [Full text]

[30] Shrum and Kilburn (1996). [Full text]

[31] Mendenhall (2003).

[32] Gray (1988).

[33] Gray (1988).

[34] See Michael (1997) and Troiden (1974).

[35] Troiden (1974); Gray (1988); Desroches (1990); Michael (1997).

[36] Tewksbury (1995).

[37] Jabvorek (1979); Quinsey and Upfold (1985); Ullman and Knight (1991).

[38] Schultz (1998).

[39] Leap (1999).

[40] Church and Green (1993).

[41] Clatts (1999).

[42] Anderson (1977).

[43] Hall and Brady (1994). [Full text]

[44] Desroches (1991).

[45] Cockfield and Moss (2002).

[46] Santa Ana Police Department (2001). [Full text]

[47] Tewksbury (1995).

[48] Santa Ana Police Department (2001). [Full text]

[49] Gray (1988).

[50] Gordon and Hendricks (1998).

[51] Schultz (1998).


American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.

Anderson, W. (1977). “The Social Organization and Social Control of a Fad: Streaking on a College Campus.” Urban Life 6(2):221–240.

Byrne, R. (2003). “Setting the Boundaries—Tackling Public Sex Environments in Country Parks.” Paper presented at the Planning Research Conference at Wadham University, Oxford, England, April 8–10. [Full text]

Church, J., and J. Green (1993). “Investigation of Motivational and Behavioral Factors Influencing Men Who Have Sex With Other Men in Public Toilets (Cottaging).” AIDS Care 5(3):337–346.

Clatts, M. (1999). “Ethnographic Conversations of Men Who Have Sex With Men in Public: Toward an Ecology of Sexual Action.” In W. Leap (ed.), Public Sex/Gay Space. New York: Columbia University Press.

Cockfield, C., and K. Moss (2002). “Sex, Drugs, and Broken Bowls: Dealing With Problems of Crime Reduction in Public Conveniences.” Community Safety Journal 1(2):37–43.

Corzine, J., and R. Kirby (1977). “Cruising the Truckers: Sexual Encounters in a Highway Rest Area.” Urban Life 6(2):171–192.

Desroches, F. (1991). “Tearoom Trade: A Law Enforcement Problem.” Canadian Journal of Criminology 33(1):1–21.

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Related POP Projects


The quality and focus of these submissions vary considerably. With the exception of those submissions selected as winners or finalists, these documents are unedited and are reproduced in the condition in which they were submitted. They may nevertheless contain useful information or may report innovative projects.

Lewd Conduct at San Elijo Lagoon and I-5 Viewpoint, San Diego Sheriff's Department (CA, US), 1996

Marian Bear Park [Goldstein Award Finalist], San Diego Police Department (CA, US), 1994

Morfa Dyffryn, North Wales Police (North Wales, UK), 2001

Olin Park Project, Madison Police Department (WI, US), 2010

Santiago Park Project, Santa Ana Police Department (CA, US), 2001