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'Consider' A Ban On Upskirt Photography? You'll Have To Do Better Than That

10/09/2017 19:34
lolostock via Getty Images

In a week that includes stories like the Bell Pottinger scandal, Brexit negotiations and Hurricane Irma, it's easy to miss the things that are pushed into the middle of the papers. But one story in particular didn't escape my notice. David Lidington, the justice secretary, said that he would consider a ban on upskirt photography.

'Consider'? 'Consider'? If it wasn't such a serious issue I would laugh. Why are ministers only 'considering' a ban on a sort of behaviour that any decent person could only describe as abhorrent? Forgive me for thinking this doesn't go far enough. If it's illegal, for example, to pinch someone's bum, or to grope a woman's breast, how can it possibly be OK, in law at least, to angle a camera or phone so you can take a photo of a woman's crotch from under her skirt? So forgive me for thinking that there's no excuse for this as well: in 2010, the government bolstered the existing sexual harassment laws under the equality act. Somehow, this was missed.

There are existing laws to convict upskirters, but time has shown they aren't close to adequate. A barrister arrested three years ago for filming up young women's skirts at supermarkets was jailed for 'outraging public decency' among other things. But the jury determined that this was because it was an obscene act that shouldn't take place in public because others can see it. It means that there is nothing in the law that specifies that upskirting is a sexual offence with a victim. This creates problems. When a 25-year-old woman called Gina Martin noticed two men taking upskirt photos of her at a music festival, she grabbed the phone and gave it to the police. Five days later, she was told the case was closed because the people in question hadn't broken any laws: a festival field was not deemed 'private' enough for the upskirters to be charged as voyeurs, and since two or more people didn't see the resulting images, they were not deemed to have outraged public decency.

This is ridiculous. And it's shameful. Gina put it well herself when she told the BBC: 'the only law that protects a victim of upskirting in England and Wales is one that worries about what the public saw, not the victim who's been harassed.' Vera Baird DBE GQ, who is also a writer, lecturer and the co-director of Astraea: Gender Justice, said that in her legal opinion, upskirting 'steals sexual gratification without consent ... victims feel helpless.' As it is, perverts on the Tube or somewhere else can reach for their phones and take intimate pictures of women without their consent. If we can't stop this behaviour, then we must at least punish it severely.

Gina has started a petition to make taking upskirt photos illegal under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003, but this hasn't received nearly enough press. The Metropolitan Police who determined that nothing illegal had taken place in the first instance have reopened the case. But they shouldn't need to be pressured to do so. The law must change. I urge you all to sign Gina's petition, write to your local MP and correct this mistake in our law--now.

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