Upskirting: Prosecuting for Privacy

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Despite 2018 allegedly being “The Year of the Woman”, shocking details of a sexual offence trend have recently come to light. Victims, politicians and campaign groups have been fighting to make “upskirting” a criminalised sexual offence.

Upskirting is the act of taking illicit photographs under women’s dresses or skirts without consent. Girls as young as ten have been targeted by perpetrators using phones in public spaces including nightclubs, shops and restaurants. Despite the shocking nature of the offence, groups such as the End Violence Against Women coalition are rightly disappointed by the government’s inaction and indeed indifference regarding this issue, which is sometimes brushed aside as being a mere “prank”.

Currently there is no law banning upskirting in England and Wales, and, because it isn’t a specific criminal offence, victims and police can only pursue offences of voyeurism, public order and indecency. Even then this proves difficult, as “outraging public decency” usually requires a witness, yet the very nature of upskirting and the closely-related “downblousing” means it is often unobserved. Furthermore the crime is often only discovered later when the photographs are found online. This difficulty has led to only eleven charges being made of the seventy-eight incident reported since 2015.

The sooner a law is introduced, the more crimes can be prevented

The government has said the law is under review as part of the the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s current inquiry into everyday and public sexism, but this is coming too late. When it comes to criminal offences, rapid action is needed. Victims are pressing for upskirting to be criminalised, not just to get justice and charge their attackers, but also to prevent this happening to other women in the future. The sooner this law is introduced, the more crimes can be prevented.

Upskirting became a criminal offence in Scotland in 2010 following its inclusion under the broader definition of voyeurism. No wonder the Scots want independence from us. Why hasn’t the rest of Great Britain followed suit and criminalised it?

Campaigners argue that this lack of legal public protection against upskirting “breaches women’s human rights”. Once this act is regarded as a sexual offence and complainants have a right to anonymity, victims will feel increasingly confident in reporting incidents. This will reduce sexual harassment and enable prosecutions of perpetrators, who may be discovered to have committed other sexual offences.

Once it is regarded as a sexual offence, victims will feel confident in reporting incidents

Campaigners point out the similarities between upskirting and revenge porn, which was criminalised in April 2015 following a national campaign. The act of posting explicit material online without consent became a crime in response to public outcry over a legal grey area, and has led to five-hundred prosecutions annually.

Upskirting is ultimately a gross violation of privacy which belittles and degrades women, and is especially concerning because of the young ages of victims. As a fellow woman, Theresa May should be shocked by these allegations and should ensure that this legal grey area is removed quickly and fairly, with the victims being treated with the sensitivity they deserve.

Grace Dean

Upskirting is exactly what it sounds like. Taking photos up women’s skirts in order to procure illicit images for private or public consumption.

Unsurprisingly, this is technically categorised as sexual harassment.. It has in the past however only been prosecuted as ‘voyeurism’ under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act and as a criminal offence of ‘outraging public decency’ as was in the case against Simon Hamilton in 2007. Upskirting itself is not a crime in England and Wales despite having been criminalised in Scotland under the Sexual Offences Scotland Act of 2009.

One of the main issues with criminalising it in England and Wales has been the low statistics. Only seventy-eight cases have been reported and investigated in the last two years, which in comparison to most sexual offences is low. In 2015-16 there were 23, 851 cases of rape in the UK. However one need only take a cursory glance across the internet to find hundreds of thousands of images depicting upskirting, certainly more than seventy-eight. This is by no means a new problem, as seen by the fact Scotland has legislated against it, but it has recently been brought to the media’s attention due to Merseyside releasing that of the twelve cases they reported this year, four of them were children. As minors are involved a more emotive reaction has erupted.

Objectification of women has once again gone too far

Furthermore, last year a woman named Gina Martin began a petition to have the 2003 Act amended to include upskirting following an incident of her own, the petition is currently only a couple thousand short of its 85,000 target. MPs such as David Lidington, Justice Secretary have said they take these cases highly seriously and if it reached more than 60,000 would look into the legalities around having the Act amended. However he has not commented more recently on the topic. Several American and Australian states have put in legislature and in Japan the issue is so rife camera phones have a shutter sound when taking a photo.

So why is it that the UK has yet to consider such a blatant case of sexual misconduct a crime? At best, it is for personal use and is thus harassment and voyeurism, or at worst it is publicly distributed and is thus revenge porn. Another clear crime that found no legislature until only three years ago. Objectification of women has once again gone too far. No man should consider themselves to have the right to take inappropriate and illicit images of women without their consent, to say otherwise is ridiculous and unsubstantiated

Georgia Corbett

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