Gross indecency

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Gross indecency is a legal term that was originally used to criminalize sexual activity between men short of sodomy, which required penetration. The term was first used in British law in a statute of the British Parliament in 1885 and was carried forward in other statutes throughout the British Empire. The offense was never actually defined in any of the statutes which used it, leaving the scope of the offense to be defined by court decisions. The crime is reflective of Victorian-era morality.


In Australia, a gross indecency statute exists in South Australia, with gross indecency requiring the involvement of a minor (a person under 16 years old). A first-time offense is a three-year felony, and any subsequent offense is a five-year felony.[1]


Canada no longer has any gross indecency statutes.

The term was used in the Criminal Code (sections 178 (1892), 206 (1906, 1927), 149 (1953–1954), 157 (1970), 161 (1985)) as well as in the Criminal Law Amendment Act (1968–1969, section 7); however, all statues that used the term were repealed in 1985 with an amendment to both the Criminal Code and the Canada Evidence Act.[2]

United Kingdom[edit]

In the United Kingdom, the term was used in the following criminal offenses:

Oscar Wilde was charged and convicted of gross indecency in 1895. His trial and punishment is the subject of the 1997 play Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.

Alan Turing was charged and convicted of the crime in 1954, the consequences of which led to his suicide. Turing, who had been convicted of gross indecency for consensual, private homosexual acts, received a posthumous pardon in 2013.[3] In 2017, under the Alan Turing law, all men convicted of gross indecency due to consensual, private sexual acts were pardoned.[3]

United States[edit]

In the United States, Michigan is the only state that currently has gross indecency statutes.


In Michigan, three types of gross indecency crimes exist, all of which are five-year felonies:

  • Gross indecency between male persons[4]
  • Gross indecency between female persons[5]
  • Gross indecency between male and female persons[6]

Historically, the definition of gross indecency was unclear, and courts relied on nebulous notions such as the "common sense of society". The vagueness of the term allowed for adults who engaged in consensual sex with no monetary transactions in the privacy of their own homes to be charged with the crime, and men who had sex with men were particularly vulnerable to prosecution. Over time, the definition increasingly narrowed through Michigan Supreme Court decisions, and a 1994 decision officially narrowed it to sex acts that occurred in a public place or that involved a minor, the application of force, or a monetary transaction.[7] Michigan now has separate statutes addressing all four aforementioned acts in statutes regarding indecent exposure, criminal sexual conduct (CSC), and prostitution;[8][9][10] however, the gross indecency statutes remain in effect.

The gross indecency statutes have been criticized by LGBT rights activists.[11]