Only one in eight reports of indecent exposure in Dorset in the past four years led to a court prosecution.

Figures obtained from Dorset Police also show that a suspect is not identified in more than a third of cases.

The head of a charity working to end sexual violence and abuse said it was “crucial” every effort was made to prosecute the crime.

A senior Dorset Police officer said the force is committed to providing the highest levels of service to victims.

The Echo’s Freedom of Information request unearthed there had been 413 reports of indecent exposure across the county in the past four years.

Last year, when there were 90 reports made, just eight led to an individual being charged, summonsed or receiving a postal requisition.

There were 18 prosecutions in 2021, including two for alternate offences, while in 2020 there were nine and in 2019 there were 15.

Over the past four years, 152 investigations were completed without a suspect being identified. There were 104 instances where the victim declined, was unable or withdrew support to police.

Dorset Police’s figures showed there were seven cases where there was a named suspect but the investigation was deemed not in the public interest.

Jayne Butler, chief executive of charity Rape Crisis England and Wales, told the Echo: “Flashing or indecent exposure is a deliberate, controlling and intimidating type of behaviour.

"Men who do this are looking to seek gratification from instilling fear and discomfort in women and girls. We see it as part of a pattern of sexually aggressive behaviour which can increase in intensity and severity.

Dorset Echo: Jayne Butler, chief executive of Rape Crisis England and WalesJayne Butler, chief executive of Rape Crisis England and Wales (Image: PA)

“Victims of indecent exposure describe feeling upset, scared and unsafe and, for some people, it can have a long-term impact on their well-being.

“It is therefore crucial that all reports of indecent exposure are taken seriously and every effort is made to prosecute this crime.

“For anyone who has experienced indecent exposure – whether it was recently or a long time ago – Rape Crisis is here for you.”

Superintendent Heather Dixey, of Dorset Police, said the force is victim-led and recognised the consequences of witnessing an indecent exposure are likely to be complex.

“You might feel anxiety, fear and feelings of distrust and violation,” Superintendent Dixey said.

“There is no routine response to such an incident and the decision-making process during an investigation encompasses a wider range of factors than the single objective of obtaining a conviction.

Dorset Echo:

"These could include considerations around safeguarding, providing the appropriate support and respecting the wishes of the victim.”

The senior officer said the force would continue to work with partners to “ensure the best possible outcomes”.

Superintendent Dixey added: “With all indecent exposure reports, we will review the location of the incidents and identify any possible trends where we can put in place preventative measures.

“Our officers undertake dedicated proactive patrols in the night-time economy as part of Operation Fireglow and Operation Vigilant to provide a high visible presence and deter these types of incidents. We also work closely with the local authority, who are responsible for CCTV and street lighting coverage to help create a safe environment for the public.

“As part of our victim-led approach we have to acknowledge that there are some cases where the victim is not seeking a criminal justice outcome.

"There can be a range of complex reasons behind this, and we do not underestimate the importance of listening to these individuals and helping to ensure they have access to the appropriate support, while respecting their decision not go through the criminal justice process if it is deemed appropriate.

“It takes courage to report something uncomfortable. If you feel you can talk to us, we'll always take you seriously and we would encourage you to report any offences to Dorset Police to allow for an investigation to be carried out.”

A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokesperson said not all cases of exposure are referred by police and this could be for a variety of reasons.

“In cases that are referred to the CPS, prosecutors will always seek to charge offenders whenever our legal test is met,” the CPS spokesperson said.

“The law is clear that if someone exposes themselves, it is a crime and should not be dismissed.

“We understand why some people may feel reluctant to come forward and support the prosecution of a case if they are victims of such upsetting and frightening incidents, but we want to give assurance that this intimidating behaviour can be a criminal offence.

“We will do all we can, working with the police, to support those who come forward and will deliver justice to help keep our streets and communities safer.”