Upskirting is now a criminal offense in England and Wales after campaigners lobbied for years for the UK government to outlaw the practice.
The new legislation means that individuals convicted of photographing or videoing underneath a person’s clothing without their knowledge for the purpose of sexual gratification or causing humiliation or distress face up to two years in prison. They may also be placed on the sex offenders registry. The law was approved by the UK’s House of Lords earlier this year, but it officially came into force today after the bill received royal assent.
Previously, upskirting could only be prosecuted as a crime against public decency or as voyeurism, but these laws contained serious loopholes. The charge of voyeurism only applied when the individual was filmed in private; while outraging public decency requires that others were witness to the action.
These deficiencies in the law were brought into the public spotlight after one individual, Gina Martin, launched a campaign after being upskirted at an outdoor festival. After Martin complained to the police that a man had taken pictures of her crotch underneath her skirt, they told her they couldn’t pursue the case as she was wearing underwear at the time and therefore the picture was “not graphic.”
“Eighteen months ago I was upskirted at a music festival and I decided I wasn’t going to brush it off,” said Martin after the new legislation passed the House of Lords. “I was tired of ‘ignoring it’. I felt this was wrong and I was astounded to learn that upskirting wasn’t a sexual offence. I wanted to change this for everyone, because the least we deserve is to be able to wear what we want without non-consensual photos being taken of us.”
Martin’s campaign was picked up by the media and then by UK MPs. The bill received the backing of the government last July. The law only applies in England and Wales as similar legislation has existed in Scotland since 2010.