Fewer than 800 men were prosecuted for flashing last year, figures show, despite the “vast majority of women in the country” having experienced some form of sexual harassment including indecent exposure.

Data from the Crown Prosecution Service shows that only 772 flashing incidents were prosecuted in the 2019/20 financial year, despite 1,967 offences taking place in London alone for the whole of 2020.

The figures have put growing pressure on police forces over how indecent exposure complaints are handled, after it was revealed that serving officer Pc Wayne Couzens was involved in two separate flashing incidents prior to the murder of Sarah Everard.

Couzens, a married father of two, pleaded guilty on Friday to murdering Miss Everard. He had previously pleaded guilty to abducting and raping her.

Three days before snatching Miss Everard from a busy south London road, Couzens allegedly exposed himself to two members of staff in a McDonald’s restaurant in Swanley, Kent.

Police identified Couzens’ through CCTV footage of his car, but he was not apprehended, allowing him to remain at liberty.

Three days later, on March 3, he abducted, raped and murdered Miss Everard.

Probe into previous Couzens incident

Couzens has also been linked to an indecent exposure incident in 2015, which is now the subject of an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct into alleged failures by Kent Police.

Data released by the Metropolitan Police shows that the number of reports of indecent exposure in London has been slowly increasing since 2010, when 1,171 incidents took place. In the 2010/11 financial year, only 656 cases were prosecuted for the whole of England and Wales.

In 2013, the number of reports in London fell to a low 854. But the number of incidents has steadily grown since, totalling more than 1,000 in 2014 (1,175), 2015 (1,269), and 2016 (1,596).

In 2017, there were 1,662 reports of indecent exposure in the capital. But, across the country, where even more cases will have taken place, only 865 were charged and summoned for a first appearance in a magistrates’ court.

Impact of crimes must ‘not be underestimated’

Katie Russell, a spokesman for Rape Crisis, said the figures further proved that the “vast majority of women in the country” had experienced some form of sexual harassment and that flashing needed to be taken more seriously by the police as it was a gateway offence to more serious crimes against women.

She said: “We do know that sexual offences that are traditionally viewed as less serious, like indecent exposure, voyeurism and other non-contact sexual offences, definitely need to be taken more seriously because they absolutely do make up part of a picture of violence against women and girls.

“There is a clear continuum and there are many offenders who start with these non-contact offences and go on to commit sexual assault and the most serious offences such as rape and murder.

“If you look at the case of Libby Squires, the student who was murdered in Hull, her killer had previous convictions for sexually motivated offences such as voyeurism.

“It is vital that we recognise that these offences are interconnected and we do not allow these so-called low level and non-contact offences to be normalised.

“They can be extremely traumatic, frightening and distressing for the victim. We must not underestimate their impact.”