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Upskirting: A quick guide to the new law

Upskirting has become a specific criminal offence in England and Wales.

Upskirting victim Gina Martin, 26, with her lawyer Ryan Whelan (Alvin Williams/PA)
Upskirting victim Gina Martin, 26, with her lawyer Ryan Whelan (Alvin Williams/PA)

Upskirting becomes a specific criminal offence in England and Wales on Friday following a high-profile campaign.

The law comes into force following a drive led by 27-year-old writer Gina Martin, who spent 18 months fighting to make the craze a specific offence after two men took a picture up her skirt at a festival in 2017.

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.

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Police can now arrest people for upskirting (Joe Giddens/PA)

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.

PA

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