Upskirting is now a criminal offence in England and Wales

Upskirting will be made a criminal offence from today [Photo: Getty]

Additional reporting by PA

Upskirting becomes a specific criminal offence in England and Wales today following a high-profile campaign.

The Voyeurism (Offences) (No.2) Bill, known as the “Upskirting Bill” received Royal Assent on 12 February.

It will now become the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 and officially comes into force on the 12 April.

The act adds two new offences to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to cover the practice of upskirting.

The breakthrough comes after writer Gina Martin launched a campaign to legislate against the act, after discovering it was not technically considered a sexual crime. 

Gina, was herself a victim of upskirting while at a music festival in 2017, only realising what had happened when she spotted him sharing the photograph of her crotch with his friends.

But after alerting the authorities, she was stunned to discover that, at the time, taking a photograph up a woman’s skirt wasn’t technically a sexual offence.

After a Facebook post detailing her experience went viral, she launched an online petition to get her case reopened with the police and called for upskirting to be made part of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Within days, her petition received 50,000 signatures. 

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What is upskirting?

In it’s simplest form upskirting is the invasive practice of taking an image or video up somebody’s clothing in order to see their genitals or underwear.

Essentially, ‘upskirt’ or ‘creep shots’ are photographs of women in public spaces taken by men and sometimes uploaded online without the former knowing or giving consent.

Data obtained by the Press Association shows children as young as seven have reported being victims of the cruel craze.

And while the vast majority of known cases involve men targeting women, men have also been victims.

Previously upskirting wasn’t considered a criminal offence [Photo: Getty]

Why was upskirting not considered a criminal offence?

It seems crazy that something so invasive couldn’t be considered criminal but up until Friday, there was no specific upskirting offence in England and Wales.

Scotland has had its own law on upskirting for almost a decade, but the law elsewhere in Britain had not not yet been adapted to incorporate technological advances that allowed the practice of upskirting.

Previously, anyone in England and Wales who fell victim to the cruel craze could explore possible convictions for the likes of voyeurism, public disorder or indecency.

But campaigners said this was inadequate because criteria for a conviction down these channels, such as the incident being witnessed by other people, is not always available.

In Gina Martin’s case the men who upskirted her could have potentially been prosecuted for outraging public decency.

But there were a couple of reasons why this was not possible.

First, the offence of outraging public decency does not apply in all instances of upskirting.

Second, the offence of outraging public decency is inappropriate as it fails to reflect the sexual nature of the offence and/or the fact that the harm is caused to the individual (rather than the public).

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What does the new law mean for victims of upskirting?

Until now, if someone was caught upskirting, the police could request that the image be deleted, but no further prosecution was possible.

But now the Voyeurism Act allows upskirting to be treated as a sexual offence and ensure that the most serious offenders are placed on the sex offenders’ register.

What’s more a conviction in a magistrates court could carry a sentence of up to one year in prison and/or a fine, while a more serious offence, tried in the crown court, would carry a sentence of up to two years in prison.

Police will also be able to arrest people on suspicion of upskirting from today.

Commenting on the law change Paola Diana, female activist and author of ‘Saving the world. Women: the XXI’s Century Factor for Change’ says: “The news that upskirting has finally been made a criminal offence, punishable by two years in jail, is a long overdue step in the right direction.

“Upskirting is a horrific crime of which no woman should be subject to. It is a stark form of sexual abuse, and falls into the same category as revenge porn and image-based sex abuse which was addressed in legislation implemented in 2015 and resulted in over 500 prosecutions.

Paola says there should be no grey area when it comes to sexual abuse. “I am glad to see that we are now doing more to protect women by making such acts punishable by law enforcement. There should be zero tolerance when it comes to harassment and sexual abuse.

“We have a moral obligation to protect not only our women but our children, and I found it quite astonishing that prior to this development, people were able to loop holes in our legal system, allowing these despicable acts to go relatively unpunished.

“[Upskirting] is a despicable invasion of privacy and it is now down to the police to log and investigate these cases as they would any sexual abuse crime. By making upskirting a crime, we are sending a clear message that women will no longer be easy prey for these sexual predators, and their actions will be met with adequate consequences. I’d say that this law change is a huge win for women in the UK!”