England and Wales have followed Scotland’s lead and finally made the practice of taking unauthorised photographs under a woman’s skirt or man’s kilt a crime.
‘Upskirting’ was made illegal in Scotland since 2010 by the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 when it was listed under the wider definition of voyeurism.
Some MPs have been attempting to have the practice outlawed in England and Wales for some time, but proposal to criminalise the act was blocked in June 2018 by Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope.
The Voyeurism (Offences) Bill had been proposed by Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse and had been widely supported by ministers, but Chope had objected to it being given a second reading in parliament.
At the time, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “Upskirting is an invasion of privacy which leaves victims feeling degraded and distressed.
“I’m disappointed the bill didn’t make progress in the Commons today, and I want to see these measures pass through Parliament – with government support – soon.”
Recent research unveiled that victims of upskirting in England and Wales in 2018 included a pensioner and children as young as seven, and police reports show that victims were targeted at school, at work, in shops and in the street – with just a handful of cases resulting in a criminal charge.
The newly introduced law comes off the back off a highly publicised 18-month campaign spearheaded by Gina Martin, who called for upskirting to be made a specific crime after two men took a photograph up her skirt at the British Summer Time music festival in London’s Hyde Park in July 2017.
After reporting the incident to the police, she was informed that, as upskirting was not a specific offence, the case would be closed.
Martin said: “During the 18 months of campaigning undertaken, I received hundreds of messages and stories from those who had been upskirted.
“The fact that reports are increasing shows that victims feel more empowered and emboldened to report what has happened to them than before the campaign, which is wonderful. We hope that people continue to feel comfortable reporting upskirting under the new Voyeurism Act.”
For the purposes of the act in England and Wales, upskirting is defined as creating images of, or operating equipment, to view genitals, buttocks or underwear beneath clothing where they would not normally be visible, for the purpose of sexual gratification or to cause humiliation, alarm or distress.
The maximum sentence for the offence is two years’ imprisonment and, in the more serious sexual cases, those convicted can be added to the Violent and Sex Offender Register.
In Northern Ireland, upskirting is not yet a specific offence, but the Department of Justice (DoJ) has begun a consultation process regarding potential changes to legislation.