Archive | November, 2013

Naturism and The Need to Keep Children Safe

17 Nov

These past few weeks have seen a number of news stories which have suggested a disturbing aspect to some individuals involvement in the naturist world, and have shown why we, as legitimate naturists, need to be vigilant and keen to defend our lifestyle not just from distorted media perceptions, but also from those who would corrupt and misuse naturism for their own horrible ends.

The big story recently has been that of Brian Martens, a Florida man charged with taking pornographic photographs of his three young daughters and sharing them with other men.  Martens and his family live at Sunsport Gardens, a gated naturist community and resort in Palm Beach, and the case against him appears complicated and far from black and white.

At first glance, it would appear to be an unjust persecution of an innocent naturist family man.  Many naturist parents have nude photos of their children, and/or photos of them nude with their children.  If you live or holiday in a place where nudity is normal, it is only natural that your children may be naked in some family pictures.  There is nothing pornographic about such images, and nothing criminal about them: yet in the past, some families have found themselves in trouble with the police because mainstream society has misconstrued possession of them as something sinister.

That may be the case with Martens.  Certainly, Martens is a naturist, as are his daughters: he would have every reason to legitimately own nude photographs of them.  And according to his attorney, the photos include scenes of the girls baking cookies naked; they sound entirely innocent.

Yet there are other elements of the case which don’t fit the “innocent family snaps misunderstood” theme.  For one, the photos came to police attention because they were found on the computer of a neighbour of Martens from Sunsport Gardens; Leslie Grey Vanaman.  Vanaman is currently serving 60 years in prison for possessing child pornography and has previous convictions for such: he was also a self-declared professional photographer who did family portraits of children in the naturist community, including Martens’.  Martens defence is that while there are some pornographic images of his children (no sexual abuse is depicted, but there are apparently some more explicitly-posed close-ups) in the collection of Vanaman, they were taken without his knowledge, by a man who was exploiting the trust of the community in which he lived to secretly hoard both naturist and child-porn images – however the prosecution has provided emails between Vanaman and Martens where the images are shared, and Martens talks about the “sensuality and sexuality” of Vanaman’s photography, as well as boasting that as a male in the naturist community, he can use his three naturist daughters “as a passport” which would “open doors” for him.  That talk doesn’t sound quite so innocent.

Ultimately, the court will decide whether Martens has been a deceived victim or an active participant in the exchange of nude images of children for the purposes of sexual gratification, and he is innocent until proven guilty.  But the case, and in particular the role of Vanaman, highlights a problem that the naturist world needs to be aware of: those who would exploit the innocent, family togetherness of naturism for sinister ends.  Vanaman lived in a family community, taking professional-quality pictures of naked children, while at the same time downloading child pornography and harbouring an earlier conviction for this, which I am assuming nobody was aware of.  He was not a naturist because he believed in the enjoyment of casual non-sexual and social nudity, but because it gave him access to little girls with no clothes on.

Vanaman is not the only invividual to use naturism as a disguise to hide a sexual interest in children.  Also reported this week is the culmination of investigations into a global child pornography ring which had at it’s centre a Toronto-based company called Azov Films.  Brian Way, the founder of Azov Films, was jailed in 2010 for 24 offences, including making and distributing child pornography.  Among the products distributed by Azov Films were DVDs described as “naturist films”, showing naked children from Russia and the Ukraine.

There are a lot of these types of films available on the internet (I’m not going to link them, but they are out there).  There is nothing illegal about them: all they appear to show is naked children and teenagers going about all sorts of activities.  The participants are members of naturist communities in former Soviet countries, where naturism is more culturally acceptable and rules about filming children naked and selling those films are apparently more lax.

However, the whole existence of these films is something which makes me uncomfortable.  These are DVDs which people can buy to watch at home for their own entertainment.  To my mind, there is only one type of person who would be entertained by watching a film of naked children, and that is someone with an unnatural interest in seeing kids with no clothes on.  No genuine naturist has any need to own films such as these; they are the equivalent of owning a stranger’s holiday photos or home movies, completely without merit as entertainment to anyone except those in the films and those who know them.  In my time as a naturist I have never met anyone who admits to owning such films – while it is perfectly legal to do so, nobody views them as a positive factor in the global naturist community.  The investigation around Azov Films indicates that our suspicions that people who would buy them are also buying actual child pornography, and that those who make them are exploiting the willingness of these young people to be naked and their families to allow them to be filmed, appear to be correct

There are other cases in recent years where people have exploited naturism to further indulge their own perversions towards children.  Documented is the case of a paedophile ring in Portsmouth, UK, where 5 people set up a supposedly “naturist” website in order to distribute indecent videos and photographs of children.  Anecdotally, I have heard about important members of naturist organisations who have quietly withdrawn, rumour has it, because of police investigations around their alleged sexual interests; meanwhile on social sites, some individuals present themselves as parents in order to deceive other naturist families into sharing photos of their own kids, or else just live out their own bizarre fantasies of houses full of naked children running about.

It can feel at times like our lifestyle itself is under attack by stories like these and it can be tempting, as naturists, to leap to the defence of all aspects of naturism when it receives a negative depiction in the media.  After all, we believe in the positive aspects of our lifestyle and it affects how we are seen by others when negative news stories about naturists becoming involved in child abuse or child porn come about.

But we cannot defend the indefensible.  Child abuse and child porn is a monstrous corruption of the innocent, positive values of the naturist community, and we should not be willing to forgive the actions of those who would exploit naturism to feed their sick perversions, nor should we turn a blind eye to the fact that such individuals can, and do, operate in our midst.  We need to be mindful at all times of the need to protect our children and the children who visit our clubs, events, and homes to be nude there.

The image of naturism is better protected by taking a pro-active approach to child protection than it ever can be by burying our heads in the sand and popping up to complain about unfair portrayals when naturism is mentioned in connection with paedophiles who do appear to have been operating in our community.


Clover Spa’s Ladies-and-Couples-only Weekend: Great Idea or “Discrimination”?

6 Nov

ImageThat there are significantly more male naturists than there are female is widely-acknowledged.  There are a huge number of different explanations as to why this might be the case, many of which have equal merit.  But regardless of cause, the fact is that sometimes, attending a naturist event can feel a little bit like going to a very progressive monastery – almost entirely male.  The few women attending are also almost always in the company of males – I know hardly any single female naturists myself, although I am sure they are out there.

Clover Spa, the naturist hotel and spa in Birmingham, England, have decided that they want to do something to redress this balance, and so are exploring how to encourage more women to attend their establishment.

I would reassure Clover Spa that I personally feel they are already doing a great job of encouraging women and couples to try naturism.  Their hotel and spa is new, modern, well-kept, nicely decorated and pleasant to visit.  The surroundings, friendly majority-female (clothed) staff and the fact that it is a spa (with water, steam, massage and connotations of healthy indulgence), all help to create an atmosphere where it feels safe and easy to take one’s clothes off and enjoy nude relaxation which is very welcoming to women.

Certainly, on our last visit, there were no shortage of female patrons, and my girlfriend (not a day-to-day naturist but more a “when I feel like” sort) very much enjoys visiting Clover Spa and using their hot tub in the nude, maybe more than any other naturist venue we have visited.

However Clover Spa obviously feels that they could do more to encourage women to attend, and have identified what they perceive as an issue for some female customers: namely, that they don’t feel comfortable taking off their clothes in an environment where the vast majority of people are male.  That may not be an issue for all women: I have known female naturists who run the gamut from thinking it would be nice if there were more girls, to those who don’t mind being in the minority as long as there is at least one other lady in attendance, and even girls who don’t mind being the only naked lass in an otherwise all male group.  Still, I can easily accept that for some women, it is definitely an issue.

Clover Spa’s solution is to dedicate a weekend of its use, at the end of November this year, to only couples and single females.  Single males, although reassured that they are welcome at any other time of the year, will not be given admittance on that weekend.  Essentially, if you want to use the spa or hotel on those dates, you must either be a woman or bring one with you.

It seems like a good idea.  Women are in the minority in naturism and that can make naturist venues potentially feel like oppressive environments to women.  Making an effort to remove that feeling by artificially lowering the number of males and raising the number of females in attendance makes a lot of sense, if only to help women unsure about nude recreation get over that initial obstacle of taking off their clothes in company.

However, the announcement made by Clover has led to some criticism from certain quarters that the spa is discriminating against people who aren’t female or in a couple by closing it’s doors to them over that weekend.

These are often the sort arguments which get made whenever a minority is seen to be given something “extra” or a helping hand in the name of equality.  For example, Black History Month is routinely characterised by a few sour-graped individuals complaining about the lack of a “White History Month”, and there are always some terrible people who complain that Gay Pride events should be counterpointed by having “Straight Pride” parades.

People making these arguments so catastrophically miss the point of both the reason behind these events, and the whole concept of equality, that it is seldom worth arguing with them.

In the case of Clover Spa, though, it is perhaps not too charitable to give some attention to the complaint that single males are being discriminated against by not being allowed attendance on that weekend.  After all, it must be sad and frustrating to be told you can’t visit somewhere because of your gender or relationship status.  Implicit in the idea of encouraging more women to become naturists by holding women-and-couples-only events is that for women to participate in naturism more, it is necessary for single males to participate in it less.

I do feel sympathy for any single male who had made plans to visit Clover Spa that weekend, only to be told sorry, no, ladies and couples only – especially as that comes on top of the fact that many naturist clubs take the same policy year-round in an effort to keep out perceived troublemakers.  While in the textile world the single male enjoys many advantages, in the naturist one he is much more maligned, sometimes unfairly so.

So while I applaud Clover Spa for making a real effort to create a female-friendly naturist space, I can also see the point of view of those male patrons who are unhappy with this tactic.  That doesn’t mean I feel for a second that Clover should reconsider having this weekend.  However I do see how single males could feel a bit disappointed that they are being excluded in the name of welcoming some hypothetical women who may or may not feel less likely to enjoy themselves if there are a lot of men present.

I think it is important that women are encouraged to be as represented in naturism as they are in the general population – naturism is for everybody, regardless of gender, sexuality or race.  But creating female-only environments to achieve that can be problematic for the organisers.  Segregating people along gender lines, prioritising one gender over another: these are tactics which invite more criticism than they do praise, as they may risk giving a message to men that the cost of increasing the numbers of female naturists appears to be their own freedom to engage in naturist activity.

Ultimately though, I think Clover Spa has the right idea and I am sure their weekend will be successful – I hope it will also encourage women to visit on more mixed-gender weekends.  And if there are single males who feel aggrieved about the fact they can’t attend on that particular weekend, they can at least be reassured that there are 51 other weekends in the year when the facilities are available for their use and their normal privileges are restored.

(As a footnote, it has also been raised that Clover Spa’s “no single males” weekend is discriminatory against gay men.  That is, I think, something that is almost certainly not deliberate on the part of Clover Spa, but it is nevertheless a side-effect of the terms of admission on that weekend – although it is also worth pointing out that they say they will admit “couples” – they don’t say whether this means male/female and female/female couples only, or whether male/male couples will also be allowed, and that does not make allowances for single gay males, who are still single males regardless of sexuality .  The single male/gay male dichotomy in admission policies for many naturist venues is something worth debating, but it will be a long debate and so I would prefer to leave it for a future article)