Perverts who film up women’s skirts could be jailed for two years under new laws.
Those who commit ‘upskirting’ may also be placed on the sex offenders’ register under legislation that would see the crime recognised as a specific offence.
The highly intrusive practice typically involves individuals secretly taking photographs under a person’s clothing without them knowing with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks.
There have been a string of cases of men caught using smartphones to capture illicit images on public transport, in busy shops and at music venues.
But because upskirting has not been classified as a separate crime, offenders often escape punishment as securing a conviction has proved notoriously difficult.
Culprits can potentially be charged with voyeurism or outraging public decency.
But voyeurism legislation is generally only used against people who hide cameras in changing rooms and public toilets.
This is because it applies to activities in a private, rather than a public place such as a festival, bus or school hall.
The law on outraging public decency requires an image to be lewd, obscene or disgusting, and experts say ‘upskirt’ photos do not always meet these criteria.
The issue was thrust into the spotlight by 26-year-old Gina Martin, who launched a petition to make upskirting a sexual offence after someone took a photo up her skirt at a music festival in Hyde Park last July.
She claimed police told her there was nothing they could do as the man involved had ‘done nothing illegal’.
Following a campaign, Justice Secretary David Gauke has confirmed the Government will support legislation to close the loopholes in order to protect victims and increase convictions.
A Private Members’ Bill introduced by Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse, which will receive its second reading in the Commons today, will amend the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
Justice minister Lucy Frazer said: ‘This behaviour is a hideous invasion of privacy.
‘By making upskirting a specific offence, we are sending a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated, and that perpetrators will be properly punished.’
Miss Martin said: ‘Women and girls who needed this law changed are now being heard by those in power.’
The new law would bring the punishment for upskirting in line with other existing voyeurism offences, and the changes will see offenders face a maximum of two years in prison.
The most serious offenders will be placed on the sex offenders register.
The offence will cover instances where the purpose is to obtain sexual gratification or cause humiliation, distress or alarm.
Katie Ghose, head of Women’s Aid, said: ‘We hope that this new criminal offence will be another step forward in challenging the prevailing sexist attitudes and behaviours.’
Upskirting often sees perpetrators taking photographs or videos of a victim’s groin area from under their clothing and more often than not without that person’s knowledge.
As of February 2018, the Government has said the law around upskirting is ‘under review’ amid fresh calls to make the cruel craze a specific criminal offence.
The first official figures on the practice show complainants as young as 10, with only one-third of police forces in England and Wales having any data on the prevalence of upskirting.
Campaigners say existing laws for voyeurism, public decency and public order to not provide enough scope for a conviction, with many victims concerned about access to justice.
There is currently no law banning upskirting, with victims left to pursue voyeurism or indecency claims in a handful of cases.
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