Earlier this week, Pink News reported that two men had been arrested for having sex in a London gym. This got me thinking: was it right that they were arrested? Should the gym have phoned the police? Should they have just dealt with it internally?

Virgin Active: should they have reported gay men to the police?

Comments on the news piece were lively, attracting a couple of hundred replies within hours of being posted. Some were saying they should get a room; another commented that “it’s no wonder the homophobes have such a low opinion of us.”

The article makes clear that they were in the sauna area, and not in general view, in a corner of the free weights area or on a treadmill. They were arrested for “outraging public decency”, which is a common law offence that can result in unlimited imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

The couple were released without charge the same day. However, if the police had decided to prosecute, it could have been devastating for them: they would have had to appear in court, and if convicted, would probably be barred from many jobs, including any which involved working with children and vulnerable adults.

The long arm of the law

Involving the police can have unintended consequences, as the mother of a 15 year old found out a few years ago. He daughter was smoking cannabis at home, and, at her wit’s end, the woman went to the police, hoping they’d be able to have a quiet word with her daughter. Instead, the police jumped into a car and raced the woman home, smashed their way into the house, arrested the daughter and also charged the woman with allowing her home to be used for the consumption of cannabis.

The point is that the woman could have found a better way of dealing with it than the blunt instrument of involving the authorities; similarly, the gym could have taken the line of asking the couple to leave, or even banning them from re-entering. Instead, they took what might be considered the nuclear option – once the process it started, it’s out of their hands and could end up going far further than intended.

PR team gets involved

The gym’s PR team justified their decision to get the police involved by saying that they “acted according to the law by reporting the discovery of suspected illegal activity among members”, adding that “clubs have a responsibility to report any suspicion of illegal activity such as serious consensual activity or outraging public decency.”

While the act might not have been within the rules of the club, and the staff may have considered it undesirable, I wonder whether their decency was truly outraged? I think they should have taken a less authoritative line, telling them to stop, or banning them, rather than getting police involved, with all the consequences which could have occurred.