What is 'downblousing' as calls come to make it a criminal offence?

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·6-min read
The Law Commission is calling for the act of downblousing to be made illegal. (Getty Images)
The Law Commission is calling for the act of downblousing to be made illegal. (Getty Images)

'Downblousing' could soon be criminalised following calls to make the practice illegal under a shake-up of laws to crack down on the sharing of intimate images.

The Law Commission wants downblousing, the act of taking photos down a woman's top without consent, to be made illegal in England and Wales, in a bid to bring laws on intimate image abuse into the smartphone era.

It is proposing the creation of a base offence, with a maximum of six months’ imprisonment, covering all acts of intentionally taking or sharing a sexual, nude or intimate photos or video without consent.

This would apply regardless of the perpetrator’s motivation, as the act is “sufficiently wrongful and harmful to warrant criminalisation”.

The change would address concerns from The Revenge Porn helpline who previously told PA News that existing laws are leaving “thousands of people unsupported and unvalidated” because they need to prove the material was shared "with an intent to cause distress".

Read more: Women’s safety campaigner: ‘Pace of change is too slow’

Installing equipment, such as a hidden camera in Airbnb properties or toilets, to take a photograph or film of someone without their consent would also be criminalised, with the new offences applying to victims and perpetrators of all ages. It would cover images that are nude, partially nude, of a sexual act or of toileting.

These include images taken down a woman’s top, known as downblousing, pornographic deepfakes, and images where somebody’s clothes have been removed digitally, making them appear nude, on top of existing criminal offences such as upskirting and voyeurism.

A spokesperson from British Transport Police told Yahoo UK it would welcome the potential law change.

“British Transport Police take all reports of sexual harassment very seriously, and we welcome any extra help in bringing more offenders to justice," detective chief inspector Nia Mellor said.

“We know that all forms of sexual harassment are under-reported to police and we are working tirelessly to encourage more victims to come forward and tell us about what’s happened to them, knowing they will be taken seriously. You can do this by texting us discreetly on 61016 or downloading the Railway Guardian app.”

Prof Penney Lewis, a law commissioner, said: “Sharing intimate images of a person without their consent can be incredibly distressing and harmful for victims, with the experience often scarring them for life.

“Current laws on taking or sharing sexual or nude images of someone without their consent are inconsistent, based on a narrow set of motivations and do not go far enough to cover disturbing and abusive new behaviours born in the smartphone era.”

Read more: New anti-sexual violence campaign makes men responsible for women's safety

Downblousing is the act of taking photos down a woman's top without consent. (Getty Images)
Downblousing is the act of taking photos down a woman's top without consent. (Getty Images)

What is downblousing?

Downblousing is the act of taking a photograph or image down somebody's shirt, blouse or top without their consent.

While not as widely discussed as upskirting, calls to make the practice illegal show it is set to be taken seriously as a crime, reflecting the upset the act can cause to victims.

Emily Hunt, a campaigner for victims of sexual offences and an independent adviser to the Ministry of Justice, said the proposed reforms on downblousing were a vital step for securing greater protection for victims.

“Taking or sharing sexual or nude images of someone without their consent can disrupt lives and inflict lasting damage,” she said.

“A change in the law is long overdue and it’s right that under these proposals, all perpetrators of these acts would face prosecution.”

Watch: Upskirting to become crime in England and Wales

What is upskirting?

In its 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.

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

Read more: Is 'injection spiking' the latest threat to women's safety?

What is the law on upskirting?

Upskirting became a specific criminal offence in England and Wales in 2019 following a high-profile campaign.

The Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 officially came into force on the 12 April 2019, adding two new offences to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to cover the practice of upskirting.

It was already a criminal offence in Scotland.

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

Martin, 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.

In January 2020, it was reported that there had been an upskirting allegation made to police nearly every single day since the law came into force.

Upskirting was made a criminal offence in 2019. (Getty Images)
Upskirting was made a criminal offence in 2019. (Getty Images)

What can victims of upskirting or downblousing do?

If you’re a victim of upskirting or downblousing, the police and other organisations are there to help you.

The British Transport Police has put together some advice if you

Get out of the situation quickly if you can.

If you're in public, move away.

Don't engage directly with the offender.

If it's definitely safe to, consider taking a photo of the offender from a safe distance.

Report it to us, if you feel you can.

"It takes courage to report something uncomfortable, but if you feel you can talk to us, we'll always take you seriously," the site advises.

"Your report can help us stop it happening to someone else. Sometimes people who commit this type of offence go on to commit more serious offences."

If it feels like the situation could get heated or violent or if you feel in immediate danger or need support right away the British Transport Police recommends calling 999.

If it isn't an emergency, you can report upskirting or other voyeurism: online, by texting on 61016, by calling 0800 40 50 40.

Additional reporting PA.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting