HUGH FORWARD AND CHARIEMA MADIH
Public places across Perth are being used for risky sex meetings known as ‘dogging’, which has become more widespread through the use of social media and online forums.
One online forum, disguised as a news story about a proposed merger between Fremantle and Cockburn councils, listed more than 40 dogging hotspots across Perth.
Hotspots listed in the forum include the DNA tower at Kings Park, Point Reserve in Bassendean, Swanbourne’s nudist beach, Middleswan Reserve in Caversham and the old East Perth power station.
Sexologist with an organisation called InSync, Helena Green, said people engaged in dogging because they were not feeling sexually satisfied.
“Dogging provides individuals with a sense of excitement that might ordinarily be missing from their lives,” Ms Green said.
“Such activities, and other surreptitious activities, are often done as a means of meeting unmet needs.
“There are desires that individuals are afraid of expressing for fear of public or personal condemnation … hence they are done in anonymity.”
Life Skills Centre sexologist Annika Knudsen said she first heard of dogging when she was studying, and has had several clients who have engaged in it since.
“I think it is partly the thrill, it is anonymous, people can do it if they are single, they can do it in couples,” she said.
“A lot of the time people are in relationships and they might go and engage in dogging without their partner even knowing.”
Ms Knudsen said dogging was not limited to straight couples; people of all genders and sexual orientations were involved.
“There is also the concept of men who have sex with men, a lot of them are actually in heterosexual relationships but they like to engage in male-on-male sexual behaviour,” she said.
“Sexuality is not black and white.
“There is a line and there is a spectrum and people can sit anywhere along that line, so I think dogging lets people experiment and explore those different sides of their sexuality which they would not feel comfortable promoting on a day-to-day basis.”
On one public forum, a user tells their unusual dogging story.
“I once took a girl to the top of the DNA tower, thinking it would be all romantic and original (I was horny and didn’t want to wait until I got home),” the user writes.
“I thought it was a little weird that there was a pile of rags sitting up there, and it wasn’t until we got started that the pile of rags stirred a little.
“The pile of rags was a homeless dude.”
Town of Bassendean councillor Bob Brown said he regularly encountered dogging in his 34 years of work as a police officer.
“It seems to involve a lot of young men who are looking for a good time,” Cr Brown said.
“We have a community of lonely young men who are looking for something, obviously.
“It’s not something you would expect a council to encourage, even the most progressive council.”
He said the council would have difficulty stopping the behaviour.
Dogging is not all fun and games; there are health risks and legal implications that come with the activity.
Ms Knudsen said most doggers did not use protection.
“A lot of them are probably not using protection, so there is a high risk of STIs being spread,” she said.
“But as long as it involves consenting adults that are being safe, then it is healthy.”
As well as the risks of contracting STIs, there are the risks that come with social media.
Officer in charge of Kiara police station, Senior Sergeant Mark Stoneman, said there were risks involved with meeting people over the internet.
“That sort of [online] contact has implications for us. It’s flirting with danger, how do you know who you are meeting?” he said.
“Most of it is during the night so there are some huge safety aspects.
“How do you know you’re not being set up to be robbed or bashed?”
Cr Brown also warned doggers of the dangers.
“Now social media has added another dimension to it, it is anonymous, people can portray themselves as something they are not,” he said.
“There are online predators, people with mental illness. It’s a slightly bizarre activity, I think.”
A wide range of people engage in dogging, despite the health risks.
Aside from the dangers of meeting strangers over the internet and the risk of contracting STIs when participating in unsafe sex, dogging can also be punishable by law.
Perth barrister Tom Percy QC said the law applied depending on the circumstances.
“There are some public places that are different to others,” Mr Percy said.
“If it is in the dead of the night in a public place where no one is likely to see them, then it probably would not be something that constitutes a breach of the law.
“If, however, it was likely to be observed by people who might be offended then it may well be an offence.”
Referring to Bassendean hotspot Point Reserve, which is beside a children’s playground, Mr Percy said the seriousness of the offence might increase.
“I think it would be very dangerous to participate in that kind of activity at a place like that,” Mr Percy said.
“If it was built in as part of the intention of the exercise, if someone was likely to see it and thereby the pleasure for the participants enhanced, then it may well be committing a criminal offence.”
Many of the dogging hotspots are near barbecues and playgrounds and dogging does occur at daytime.
Sr Sgt Stoneman said he was aware of the activity, but had to focus resources on more pressing areas like robbery and drug-related crimes.
“We don’t do targeted operations on it, as such, because it’s not something that we find is a prevalent thing,” he said.
“Maybe it is happening and we are too busy with other areas of crime to look at it.
“We might do a targeted operation around drugs or burglary or things like that, things that people are reporting more often and do more harm to our society, to our community.
“Perhaps we haven’t been getting as many complaints because it is more socially acceptable these days.”