As ‘upskirting’ law comes in force new police figures show growing number of victims
A pensioner and schoolchildren as young as seven were among the growing number of upskirting victims last year, new police figures show.
Data obtained by the Press Association shows victims were targeted in shops, while at work, in the street and even at school during 2018, with only a handful of cases resulting in a criminal charge.
The figures – released on the day upskirting becomes a specific criminal offence, punishable by up to two years in custody – show the vast majority of cases involved female victims and male perpetrators, according to data released by police forces under Freedom of Information laws.
The law comes into force following a high-profile campaign led by 27-year-old writer Gina Martin (pictured), who spent 18 months fighting to make the cruel craze a specific offence after two men took a picture up her skirt at a festival in 2017.
The new figures show more than half (25) of 43 police forces in England and Wales recorded allegations of upskirting during 2018, compared with just 15 forces in the two years previously.
The number of incidents also jumped, from 78 in between April 2015 and April 2017, to 94 for the whole of 2018.
The exact figure is likely to be much higher because the two largest forces – the Metropolitan Police and West Midlands Police – were among those who failed to reply with information.
Campaigners have long claimed the lack of a specific upskirting offence has also deterred victims from coming forward, while some police officers have previously been unsure of how to investigate any allegation.
Ms Martin, who worked with lawyer Ryan Whelan to lobby Government, said: “During the 18 months of campaigning undertaken, I received hundreds of messages and stories from those who had been upskirted.
“It was obvious that we didn’t have the tools to adequately paint a picture of what a big problem upskirting is, so I’m delighted that the Press Association has taken on the challenge of obtaining the first official stats on reports of upskirting.
“The fact that reports are increasing shows that victims feel more empowered and emboldened to report what has happened to them than before the campaign, which is wonderful – this was just as important to Ryan Whelan and I as the law change.
“We hope that people continue to feel comfortable reporting upskirting under the new Voyeurism Act.”
The new figures suggested a huge variety in the people targeted and places they were targeted.
Essex Police said a suspect was charged with indecency after upskirt images of a child aged between seven and nine were discovered in his possession.
But another Essex case, involving images of a 70-year-old woman, ran into difficulties after the victim declined or was unable to identify the offender, despite a suspect being identified by police.
Avon and Somerset Police said two girls aged 13 were among those subjected to upskirting, while Northumbria Police said they had a report of a boy laying a mobile on the ground to film up a girl’s skirt – both parties were under 16.
Leicestershire Constabulary said there were six upskirting incidents reported in 2018, with victims as young as 14. In this case, schoolgirls said their teacher had taken pictures up their skirts in the classroom. The teacher received a conditional discharge.
The Ministry of Justice said the new law introduced in England and Wales on Friday “bans the degrading practice to deter perpetrators, better protect victims, and bring more offenders to justice”.
Previously, victims were forced to seek prosecution under existing harassment, voyeurism or indecency laws, but said loopholes meant it was often difficult to secure a conviction.
Justice Minister Lucy Frazer said: “We have always been clear – there are no excuses for this behaviour and offenders should feel the full force of the law. From today, they will.
“By taking decisive action and working closely with Gina Martin and other campaigners, we have ensured more people are protected from this degrading and humiliating practice.”
The campaign to criminalise upskirting was backed by the likes of TV presenters Holly Willoughby and Laura Whitmore, but received a temporary blow when veteran Conservative backbencher Sir Christopher Chope objected to a Private Member’s Bill that would have seen the Bill make it swiftly onto the statute books.
UPSKIRTING: A QUICK GUIDE TO THE NEW LAW
Upskirting becomes a specific criminal offence in England and Wales on Friday following a high-profile campaign.
Here are some of the key questions surrounding the issue:
- What is upskirting?
The definition is applied to the invasive practice of taking an image or video up somebody’s clothing in order to see their genitals or underwear. While the vast majority of known cases involve men targeting women, the roles can be reversed. Data obtained by the Press Association shows children as young as seven have reported being victims of the cruel craze. Up until Friday, there was no specific upskirting offence in England and Wales.
- But haven’t people been convicted of upskirting?
While Scotland has had its own law on upskirting for almost a decade, the law elsewhere in Britain had not adapted to advances in technology. Previously, anyone in England and Wales who fell victim to the cruel craze could explore possible convictions for the likes of voyeurism, public disorder or indecency. But campaigners said this was inadequate because criteria for a conviction down these channels – such as the incident being witnessed by other people – is not always available.
- Why could campaigner Gina Martin not prosecute in 2017 when she was upskirted at a festival?
Before it was made a criminal offence, the men who upskirted Ms Martin could have potentially been prosecuted for outraging public decency. The problem was that this was not appropriate. There are two primary reasons for this. First, the offence of outraging public decency does not apply in all instances of upskirting. This means that women are not protected in all circumstances. Second, the offence of outraging public decency is inappropriate as it fails to reflect the sexual nature of the offence and/or the fact that the harm is caused to the individual (rather than the public).
- What does the new law say?
The Voyeurism Act allows upskirting to be treated as a sexual offence and ensure that the most serious offenders are placed on the sex offenders’ register. It will capture instances where the purpose is to obtain sexual gratification or cause humiliation, distress or alarm.
- What sort of sentence could a convicted upskirter receive?
A conviction at magistrates’ court would carry a sentence of up to one year in prison and/or a fine. A more serious offence, tried in the crown court, would carry a sentence of up to two years in prison. Police will be able to arrest people on suspicion of upskirting from Friday.
- What about pictures or images taken before the law came into force?
The law cannot be applied retrospectively – which means images taken before Friday cannot be considered specific upskirting offences. That said, older images could still fall foul of other laws, such as outraging public decency.
FORCE BY FORCE: HOW POLICE RECORDED UPSKIRTING ALLEGATIONS IN 2018
Here is a force-by-force breakdown of the number of incidents recorded by police forces in England and Wales during 2018, obtained by the Press Association using Freedom of Information laws.
Those forces not included either reported no incidents, refused to reply, or failed to respond.
Avon and Somerset
A whole range of criminal options were considered after nine upskirting-related incidents last year. This included investigations for voyeurism, outraging public decency and harassment. The two youngest victims were 13, while the oldest was 37 – although the ages of five victims were not known. Four incidents remain under investigation, while only one ended in a charge.
Two incidents were reported, including one man allegedly upskirting a 25-year-old woman. One of the cases was discontinued, the other remains ongoing.
Devon and Cornwall
Neither incident reported resulted in a conviction as a suspect could not be identified. Both incidents involved female victims, aged 23 and 24, who told police they spotted someone filming up their skirts.
The only incident involved a 15-year-old girl who was upskirted; however, there were “evidential difficulties” in bringing a case.
A 70-year-old woman was among the three complainants to Essex Police in 2018; however, the case broke down because the victim was either reluctant or unable to support further police action to identify the offender. Another incident involved upskirt images of a child, aged between seven and nine – the suspect was charged with an offence relating to indecent photographs.
Two upskirting incidents were recorded as exposure and voyeurism. One of the cases resulted in a caution.
Greater Manchester Police
Six incidents were reported to police, half of which were in March. This included a “call made with good intent” to police, and another case of someone taking an upskirt photo while on the tram. Three of the incidents were not considered a crime, while there was no suspect identified in the other three – meaning police were unable to prosecute.
One incident was reported, in July, when a male pushed a mobile phone along the floor under a female. The investigation was closed when no suspect was identified.
All three incidents reported to police involved allegations that a man was seen taking pictures up a woman’s skirt. In two cases, police were unable to identify the victims, while no suspect was identified in the other. In all cases, it meant police were unable to prosecute.
There was only one incident identified, although the details were withheld by the force.
The four voyeurism cases involving upskirting were reported in November. The only known detail about the victims is that one was a 52-year-old woman. Three cases collapsed due to evidential difficulties, although the fourth remains active.
Six incidents were recorded, including two for voyeurism, three for causing public fear alarm or distress, and one public order offence. All of the incidents involved female victims, one of whom was said to have been of “school age”, while the oldest was 56. Police were unable to state the details of each case, or the outcome, although at least one resulted in a charge.
All six incidents reported involved female victims, with one as young as 14. In this case, schoolgirls said their teacher had taken pictures up their skirts in the classroom. The case resulted in a conditional caution and was investigated under the obscene publications act.
In four of the cases, there was either no suspect or evidential difficulties. In another case, a memory stick belonging to “an employee” was found to contain upskirting photos of young females – the suspect received a court summons for voyeurism, although his place of work is not recorded. The force said another case involved a 25-year-old woman who was assaulted by a man when she and her friends confronted him about taking pictures up their skirts. He remains at large.
One case was reported, in September, when it was claimed that photographs on a suspect’s phone contained upskirting images. There was no charge.
Only one of the three incidents relating to upskirting reported to Norfolk was considered a criminal offence. The victim was a 33-year-old woman and the suspect was given a caution for outraging public decency.
None of the seven incidents has yet resulted in a conviction. According to the details where known, all victims were female and aged between 18 and 67. Three incidents involved a “known offender seen to have hidden a camera on his foot and was filming up a female’s skirt in the street without her knowledge”.
The only incident disclosed by police in Northumbria was the case of a boy who laid a mobile phone on the ground and filmed up a girl’s skirt. Both parties were under 16 and no charges were made.
Two incidents were recorded, one of which involved a 17-year-old girl and the other a woman of unspecified age. The incidents happened on public transport and a public highway. Neither suspect was charged.
The three incidents involved a suspect recording upskirt videos of women while they were out shopping, and taking upskirt and downblouse images of a 39-year-old woman, and a third case of taking pictures up a 59-year-old woman’s dress at work. There were evidential difficulties with two cases, while the other resulted in a voyeurism charge.
There were three incidents of voyeurism recorded by police involving the suspect taking a picture of video up the complainants’ skirts. There were no further details.
Six incidents were recorded, featuring female victims aged between 15 and 60. They took place between March and October, and were investigated for using a mobile phone to take illegal images. No charges were brought. Outcomes included a conditional caution, although one victim did not want to press charges, while another suspect could not be identified.
One ongoing case relates to harassment of a 34-year-old, while two women – aged 53 and 36 – have been unable to get a conviction for voyeurism because of either evidential difficulties or a lack of suspect being identified.
There were two upskirting incidents reported to police, although details about them were redacted due to the force’s concerns about data protection laws. One of the incidents was recorded as a stalking offence.
All of the 11 incidents reported to police involved female victims, aged between 15 and 30. The force said no further action was taken in five cases, although there were no further details on the remaining six cases.
Six incidents were reported, including two which resulted in the suspect being charged. Victims were aged between 27 and 37, according to the details available. One suspect was witnessed using a mobile to film up a woman’s skirt, while another was spotted doing similar on CCTV.
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