At long last, we have confirmation from the UK police that the French, a nation of inveterate cheek-kissers, are the terrible criminals we always knew them to be:

There are a number questions about this, which we’ll get to in a moment, but to be honest the most interesting thing about this tweet is the police work involved. How are they going to catch this fella?

The tweet asks for witnesses to come forward, but it was posted on the 16th of May, and it’s asking for people to call the police if they happened to see a man kissing a woman on the cheek on Matlock road on April 28th? Who’s going to remember that? Is there some class of meticulous diary-taker in Derby who, having come home from their afternoon stroll, is likely to have recorded everything in their journal? “April 28th. Sunny and bright. Getting sick of lockdown. Muesli for breakfast, with orange juice. Went for my daily walk, Matlock road this time, met a new puppy. Saw a man kissing a woman on the cheek.  Pasta for dinner, yet again. Nothing on television this evening, as usual”.

Be honest now: Where were you on April 28th. Think about it for a few minutes and see if you can remember what happened that day.

Anyway, when it first appeared, the assumption was that it was possibly in relation to some more serious incident. A missing person, maybe? Perhaps a woman had gone missing and the Lorry driver was the last to see her? Yeah I remember her, she helped me with my flat tire. I remember kissing her on the cheek as she left. Nice woman.

But no, it really is as stupid as it sounds:

Now, obviously people’s preferences differ, but in what universe can a kiss on the cheek be classified as sexual assault? In the current climate, when everyone’s afraid of getting Coronavirus, it could be classified as a straightforward assault, if it caused the woman to worry that she might be infected. But so could a handshake, right? We’re not supposed to touch anybody at the moment, let alone kiss them on the cheek. But they’re not investigating a regular assault, they’re investigating a sexual assault.

Which poses a question: Is kissing someone on the cheek a sexual act? If so, then the country is riddled with incestuous sexual acts between mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters, and legal but dubious sexual acts between friends, colleagues, and total strangers. If kissing people on the cheek is sexual, then the western world is steeped in even more depravity than we thought.

Now, to be fair, there is the question of unwanted touching. For example, if a woman worked in an office and a male colleague had a habit of touching her arms or hair, and combining that with regular cheek-kisses, she might reasonably feel very uncomfortable, and might have a decent case for sexual harassment. But that’s a pattern of behaviour. She would be very unlikely to win a harassment case because somebody kissed her on the cheek once, right?

Then there’s the question of motive. A basic principle of criminal law in the UK and in Ireland is the concept of “Mens Rea” – the guilty mind. Under that principle, and in general terms, a criminal act must be combined with an intent to commit a crime, with the proviso that negligence of the law is no excuse. You can’t get away with speeding by saying you didn’t know the speed limit, because it’s your duty to know it. But in general, you need to have some intent to commit a crime to be guilty of one. Did the truck driver here really intend sexual assault? Without wanting to be crude about it, one might imagine that there were several other avenues open to him if he’d wanted some kind of illicit sexual gratification at the expense of this woman.

Finally, there’s the question of police time. Obviously, and in fairness to the police, this wasn’t a situation where a patrol car was passing, spotted an unregulated cheek kiss, and jumped into action – otherwise they wouldn’t be seeking witnesses. No, this woman obviously reported the matter, and that’s the strongest case for taking it seriously.

Perhaps there’s an element to this case that hasn’t been made public – did he, for example, say something horribly sexual to her as he kissed her? That might explain the report, and it might explain the police taking it seriously. But no, that’s not it, either. Because the tweet from the police above makes it quite clear: “it is a sexual assault because the woman did not want the man to kiss her on the cheek”. That’s it, there is no other element required, they say, for it to be sexual assault.

Which poses a final question: If consent must be actively sought to kiss a woman on the cheek then why does this not apply to basically every physical interaction? Shouldn’t one also actively seek consent to shake a hand? After all, in many cultures (and not remote ones, either, as my opening jibe at the French makes clear) a kiss on the cheek and a handshake serve the same purpose.

Anyway, figure it out. The good news, at least, is that it’s a fine time to be a robber or a burglar in Derby. Police resources are entirely tied up in more important matters.