It started with one woman, Gina Martin, being prepared to put her head above the parapet and say: this is unacceptable and should clearly be a criminal offence. Martin was a victim of the practice known commonly as “upskirting” – the taking of a photo or video up a woman’s skirt without her permission.
When the police told her there was little they could do, she started a campaign and petition, and now many members of parliament and police and crime Commissioners are calling for a change in the law. This is because, at the moment, English law does not cover most forms of upskirting.
The current law
The law on voyeurism was introduced in 2003 to capture “peeping toms” who, for sexual gratification, spy on people in private – such as in changing rooms or toilets. As upskirting mostly takes place in public – in supermarkets, on public transport, at music festivals – voyeurism does not apply.
Sometimes, prosecutors use the ancient law of “outraging public decency”, but the existence of this offence is little known to either police or victims. Nor does it capture all examples of upskirting – as seen recently in Northern Ireland where two teachers had photos taken up their skirts in the school classroom. The police took no action, saying the conduct was neither sufficiently public, nor private, for it to be covered by the criminal law.
This is clearly an intolerable legal situation that urgently needs reform. So, why has there been no change in the law before now?