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The Upskirting Bill – Why Have We Had To Wait So Long?
Deputy Editor Kat Smith asks why it has taken so long for upskirting to be criminalised, and explains why it is unlikely to be a perfect solution
When the campaign for criminalising upskirting (taking a picture up someone’s skirt/dress without their consent) gained national attention, I was shocked that it wasn’t already a crime. Although those who do it could be prosecuted under other sexual assault laws, there was not previously a specific conviction for those guilty of the crime.
Now, in late June, those convicted of upskirting will be punished by up to two years’ imprisonment and could potentially be put on the sex offenders list. After months of campaigning by victim Gina Martin and a Private Members Bill being introduced by Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse in March which was blocked by Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope, we finally have a minor step forward in protecting the dignity of women.
Although the bill has now succeeded, I’m still angry that Chope had the nerve to object to such an uncontroversial proposition. Despite agreeing that upskirting should be illegal, the MP said that there should have been debate. It was therefore more out of principle than out of the content of the bill. I’m all for debate and democracy but quite frankly Chris, what is there to discuss? To me, the criminalisation of upskirting is an intuitive decision. The only people who ‘benefit’ from it are sexual predators... so it doesn’t take a moral saint to know that discussing the pros and cons of sexual assault is quite offensive. Of course, the details of the legislation regarding prison sentences etc. should be discussed, but this was a consideration about the general principle of criminalising upskirting.
“It doesn’t take a moral saint to know that discussing the pros and cons of sexual assault is quite offensive
It seems that most of parliament and the entire public, except for those guilty of it, share my intuition. So, why has it taken so long to criminalise it? Mobile phones with cameras have been around for years and years… and so have skirts. The fact that Scotland have had legislation against upskirting since 2010 sits badly with me. The safety and dignity of women and girls has been grossly overlooked, with it taking a campaign full of interviews and TV appearances by a victim for it to be addressed.
It scares me that someone could have done it to me or my friends or family and we wouldn’t have even realised. I’ve worn a skirt or dress to school since I was five-years-old. The thought that taking a picture up my skirt as a child would have been a pretty unpunishable act is sickening. And even if we did realise, there wasn’t much we could have done before. Campaigner Gina Martin, who started the battle for legislation against upskirting, said that she took the phone of the man who had photographed her to the police and was told there was nothing they could do. She could not have been the only one to report the crime over the many years it’s been happening in our country, so it’s worrying that the reports failed to accumulate in change.
“I’ve worn a skirt or dress to school since I was five-years-old
While it is a step in the right direction for It’s also not the most perfect of new laws. The crime will carry a sentence of two years maximum and in the most ‘serious’ of cases, it would see the perpetrator put on the sex offenders list. The reference to the seriousness of the crime seems a little too vague – what constitutes a not-so-serious photo up someone else’s skirt? Does it matter what underwear the victim has on? If they’re wearing underwear? The discussion of how serious each case is potentially serves to humiliate the victim more and undermine the violation they’ve experienced.
The combination of this with other instances of women being failed by the law when it comes to sexual offences makes it even more telling. I doubt I need to even remind you of the Rugby rape trial in Ireland, or that only one in 14 reported rapes ends in a conviction. It also raises the question of how we expect victims of assault to come forward when the odds of a conviction are so low and the sacrifices by the victim made in order to get there can be so severe.
I hope that the new upskirting legislation acts as a deterrent, but for those who still manage to commit the crime, that the promised sentences are more than just an attempt to appease the public.