It is now illegal to take a photo up a woman's skirt, and it's about time
Upskirting - a sexually invasive act wherein perpetrators take a photograph up someone's skirt without their consent - has become a criminal offence that will be punishable by two years in prison, and in the most serious of cases, will result in the convicted being added to the sex offender register, the justice minister has confirmed.
The act was set to be made a criminal offence last week, following a viral campaign that was launched by upskirting victim, Gina Martin. However, the bill was blocked by Tory MP Sir Christopher Cope on Friday. Cope purportedly stopped the legislation from being passed because he disapproved of how it was being brought in. "The government has been hijacking time that is rightfully that of backbenchers," Cope said in his defence. "This is about who controls the House of Commons on Fridays and that's where I am coming from."
While some instances of upskirting can already be prosecuted under the Sexual Offences Act, not all are covered by criminal law. Today, however, justice minister Lucy Frazer confirmed that the government would be backing the private member's bill (brought in by Liberal Democrats MP, Wera Hobhouse) that explicitly prohibits the practice.
"This behaviour is a hideous invasion of privacy which leaves victims feeling degraded and distressed," Frazer wrote in a statement. "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."
The justice minister then thanked Gina Martin for her "tireless work" in bringing the issue to light. Martin started an online campaign to make upskirting illegal in England and Wales (it is punishable by law in Scotland under the Sexual Offences Act) after a man, whose advances she repeatedly refuted, took a photo underneath her skirt while at the British Summer Time festival last year.
"I saw one of his friends looking at an intrusive picture of a woman’s crotch covered by a thin strip of fabric. I knew it was me," the 26-year-old wrote for the World Economic Forum. "Tears filled my eyes and I began drawing attention to him: ‘You guys have been taking pictures of my vagina! What is wrong with you!?’ He grabbed me and pushed his face in front of mine, bellowing that I give him his phone back."
While Martin was able to retrieve the man's phone and present it to police officers, she was informed that the man could not be prosecuted because she had been wearing underwear, and as such, the man's actions could not legally be classed as an offence.
As upskirting is not a criminalised act in England and Wales, police have not been required to record it, meaning that statistics regarding its prevalence are difficult to uncover.
Figures released in February, however, reveal that girls as young as 10-years-old have been victims of the sexually intrusive act, and that only a third of police officers in England and Wales report incidents they are informed of.