Upskirting to be made criminal offence with two-year prison sentence under proposed law

The government initially resisted mounting pressure from campaigners demanding the change

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 15 June 2018 16:22 BST
Campaigners welcome government pledge on upskirting

Upskirting” is to become a criminal offence punishable by up to two years in prison under a proposed new law.

Campaigners arguing that current legislation does not adequately cover the “humiliating” practice have been increasing pressure for the change.

The government initially rebuffed calls by saying existing offences could be used to prosecute offenders, but has now given its backing to new legislation.

​Wera Hobhouse, who is introducing the measure in parliament using a private member’s bill, said “there was a gap in the law that needed to be addressed”.

“We all made the case for common sense,” the Liberal Democrat MP added. “Now if someone is to fall victim to upskirting, the law will recognise them as the victim, and the police will be able to act immediately and bring the perpetrators to justice.”

She praised the efforts of Gina Martin, who started the campaign for an upskirting law last year after two men took a picture up her skirt at a festival in London.

Commons bill to make 'upskirting' criminal offence halted by Peter Chope objection

The 26-year-old writer has been targeted with rape threats after revealing how police closed her case even after she snatched the man’s phone and presented it to officers.

Her campaign has won cross-party political support from MPs and been backed by celebrities including television presenters Holly Willoughby, Dermot O’Leary and Laura Whitmore.

People may take photos themselves or plant hidden cameras
People may take photos themselves or plant hidden cameras

Ms Miller said it had been an “extraordinary journey” and thanked the public and lawyers for their help.

“The result of all that hard work is that women and girls who needed this law changed are now being heard by those in power,” she added.

Figures revealed in February showed that girls as young as 10 have been targeted by perpetrators taking illicit photographs under their clothing, commonly using phones or hiding cameras in public places.

Police are not required to record incidents under current rules, leaving the true scale of the practice unknown, and just 15 of 44 forces in England and Wales had allegations of upskirting on file in the past two years.

Of the 78 incidents reported, only 11 resulted in suspects being charged with any crime.

Legal experts said the lack of a dedicated upskirting offence was driving inconsistent approaches by police and prosecutors, while leaving victims unaware of their rights.

Supporters pointed to hundreds of prosecutions sparked by a 2015 law that criminalised revenge pornography as a potential indicator of the affect the change could have.

Clare McGlynn, a professor of law at Durham University, said upskirting had been made easier than ever by technology and is being carried out for sexual gratification, to harass victims or to make money online.

She and a colleague made recommendations to the former justice secretary about prospective legal changes in December but were told current laws were sufficient.

In February, the Ministry of Justice said prosecutors had “a range of powers to deal with these cases”, with existing offences like taking an indecent photograph of a child, voyeurism and conspiring to outrage public decency used.

But two months later David Gauke initiated a review of the law and on Friday, a spokesperson said ministers “decided to act after concerns were raised that potentially not all instances of upskirting are covered by existing criminal law”.

“The government will support legislation to close any potential loopholes, in order to better protect victims and increase convictions,” he added.

The new law would bring the punishment for upskirting in line with existing voyeurism offences, with a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment and the most serious perpetrators put on the sex offenders register.

Katie Ghose, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, said the proposal sent a “powerful message” that upskirting is unacceptable and perpetrators will be held to account.

“This form of abuse is painful and humiliating for victims and often has a devastating impact on all aspects of their lives,” she added.

“We hope that this new criminal offence will be another step forward in challenging the prevailing sexist attitudes and behaviours in our society that underpin violence against women and girls. Domestic abuse does not happen in a cultural vacuum.”

Lisa Hallgarten, head of policy and public health at the Brook welfare charity, urged people to teach children about privacy, consent and their rights “at the earliest opportunity”.

“We know that the law alone is not enough and schools have a critical role in challenging harmful behaviours and practices,” she said.

Justice minister Lucy Frazer said: “This behaviour is a hideous invasion of privacy which leaves victims feeling degraded and distressed.

“By making upskirting a specific offence, we are sending a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated, and that perpetrators will be properly punished.

“I’d like to thank Wera Hobhouse, Gina Martin, and all other campaigners for their tireless work, and look forward to seeing the bill progress through Parliament.”

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