On Tuesday 15 January, the bill to make the act of upskirting a sexual offence passed the final stage on its way to becoming a parliamentary act. Having gained approval in the House of Lords, it now only awaits the Royal Assent for the legislation to be passed, making upskirting a crime in England and Wales.
Upskirting is term used to describe the act of taking a sexually intrusive photograph up someone’s skirt without their consent. The campaign to criminalise the act was launched by 26-year-old freelance writer Gina Miller. Whilst attending the British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park in 2017, she discovered that two men had taken such photos of her and then shared them between themselves. Upon seeing these photos on their phones, she reported the incident to the authorities, only hearing back five days later to be informed that her case had been closed.
After her Facebook post detailing her experience went viral, Miller launched an online petition to have her case reopened and to push for upskirting to be made part of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Her campaign attracted celebrity and cross-party political support, along with support from over 100,000 members of the public who signed her petition.
Upskirting has been a crime in Scotland since 2010, as a result of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 where it is listed under a wider definition of voyeurism. In England and Wales, upskirting could be prosecuted, but only under ‘voyeurism’ if it takes place in a public place or under ‘outraging public decency’ if in private.
Miller, along with her lawyer Ryan Whelan, argued that this failed to acknowledge upskirting as crime with a victim, and failed to recognise perpetrators as sexual offenders.
Figures revealed in February 2018 showed that of the 78 incidents of upskirting reported between 2015 and 2018, only 11 resulted in the suspects being charged with a crime. The figures also showed that girls as young as 10 had been victims to upskirting, with occurrences commonly taking place in public spaces through the use of phones or hidden cameras.
Following the widespread support of Miller’s petition, the case was picked up by the Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse who introduced a private member’s bill proposing the criminalisation of upskirting before the House of Commons. However, on 15 June 2018, the bill was blocked by the objection of Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope who was met with shouts of ‘shame’ following the decision.
Until now, there was very little that could be done to bring perpetrators to justice. Having finally gained parliamentary approval, and following the Queen’s formal agreement, the bill will become law and upskirting is set to be a criminal offence punishable by two years in prison.
Speaking to Refinery29, Gina Miller hoped that her campaign would open a “conversation about how we treat women’s bodies in public and how we normalise this type of behaviour.” From her statement on Twitter, Miller wrote how “we all have the ability to change things if we work hard, know what we want, go about it the right way and just. don’t. stop.”
Image: Diliff via Wikimedia Commons