Upskirting Becomes a Criminal Offence

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upskirting and other sexual offences

New legislation which makes it a specific criminal offence to take pictures or videos underneath someone’s clothing without consent has come into force. Under the Voyeurism (Offences) Act, those found guilty of ‘upskirting’ face a maximum of up to two years in prison and being placed on the sex offenders’ register. The offence is defined as taking a picture ” without consent…beneath a person’s clothing to observe their genitals or buttocks, whether covered or uncovered by underwear.”

It also requires a motive “of either gaining sexual gratification or causing humiliation, distress or alarm to the victim.”

Whether an offender is placed on the sex offenders’ register will depend on whether the abuse was carried out to obtain sexual gratification or for other purposes. Victims reporting the offence will have their anonymity protected by reporting restrictions, in keeping with the protections usually accorded to complainants of sexual abuse.

The Ministry of Justice has said it hopes that the new law would work to “deter perpetrators, better protect victims, and bring more offenders to justice.” Justice Minister Lucy Frazer added: “We have always been clear – there are no excuses for this behaviour and offenders should feel the full force of the law. From today, they will.”

Specific offence closes loopholes

The legislative reforms were pioneered by activist Gina Martin, who began campaigning for stricter laws when she found herself unable to secure any legal justice against two men who took nonconsensual photos up her skirt at a music festival.

Previously, acts of upskirting could only potentially be prosecuted indirectly through the Outraging Public Decency Act, Sexual Offences Act, or Protection of Children Act, subject to specific circumstances. Under the Outraging Public Decency Act, for example, the offence required at least two people to have witnessed or been capable of witnessing the act in a public space.

Voyeurism offences under the Sexual Offences Act meanwhile are only applicable to offences committed in private. As as a result of the lack of specific legislation, many victims were unable to bring their case to court, leading to calls for reform from lawmakers and senior legal experts.

In 2018, Dame Vera Baird QC, Victims Lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners , urged that legislative reform was necessary “to tackle this appalling practice and … protect victims.”

Prime Minister Theresa May has similarly previously acknowledged the need for reform, terming upskirting a “degrading and humiliating” offence and expressing hope that the new specific criminalisation of the offence will mean that more offenders “feel the full force of the law.”

Campaigners encourage more reporting as recorded incidents rise

Greater awareness and campaigning surrounding upskirting abuses have led to a spike in reports, with official figures indicating that the number of reported incidents more than doubled in the year from 2017-18, rising from 56 in 2017 to 120 in 2018.

According to data from the police, the vast majority of cases involve female victims being targeted by male perpetrators, with victims from across all age ranges affected. Campaigners say that in addition to the new stricter laws, work must be done to reduce stigma and encourage reporting. Statistics from children’s charity Plan International UK suggest that 1 in 10 girls between the ages of 14 and 21 have experienced upskirting, with 52% of those affected having not told anyone about what happened to them.

Speaking on the day of the Voyeurism Act’s enforcement, Gina Martin said:

“If a new law’s there, great – but if we don’t know about it or aren’t reporting it, it doesn’t do anything.”

She added: “We have to build a picture of how much this happens, because it happens a lot.”

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