In the past week the Government has confirmed that it will consider backing calls to make upskirting a criminal offence in England and Wales.
Upskirting – the act of secretly filming or photographing underneath a skirt
At present, the criminal law has a number of limitations which make cases difficult for the police to investigate and prosecute.
There is no single law prohibiting upskirting. Where offences occur in private, cases may be prosecuted as voyeurism. Alternatively, where offences occur in a public place cases may be prosecuted as public decency offences. An offence of outraging public decency usually requires the action to have been witnessed by another person and so in cases of upskirting where the action is frequently carried out furtively the requirements of the offence might not be satisfied.
Campaigners argue that the current law is not fit for purpose.
In March 2018, Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse introduced a Private Member’s Bill which aims to make upskirting a specific criminal offence. An offence will be committed if an individual takes a video or photograph beneath someone’s clothing in order to view their genitals or underwear and the image is used for sexual gratification or causes humiliation, distress or alarm to the victim. The proposed sentences for upskirting include a fine or up to two years imprisonment.
The Voyeurism Offences Bill is due to be debated by MPs on 11 May 2018. In the lead up to the debate Justice Minister David Gauke has said that he shares the outrage of people affected by upskirting and advised that his Department was ‘reviewing the current law to make sure it is fit for purpose’.
In my view better laws to prevent upskirting and stronger sentencing powers are vital to tackling this issue and acting as a deterrent to protect members of the public. A Freedom of Information request by the Press Association in February 2018 showed that individuals as young as 10 years old have been targeted by upskirters.
A recent petition urging MPs to take more action to tackle upskirting received almost 100,000 signatures. The campaign is now encouraging supporters to write to their MP and ask them to back the bill in Parliament on 11 May – https://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/569/552/828/.
Upskirting and the civil law
In certain cases it may be possible to pursue incidents of upskirting as a civil action through the civil justice system.
Upskirting is likely to be viewed as an intentional infliction of injury which may give the victim the right to recover damages from the perpetrator.
Alternatively, where an individual has been filmed or photographed repeatedly they may be able to pursue an action under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.