THE BLOG
26/10/2017 09:51 BST | Updated 27/10/2017 11:56 BST

Policing Upskirting: It's Serious, Not Funny

Ever wondered why more women don't report upskirting to the police? Here's one possible reason - some police simply do not take this form of harassment seriously. Indeed, some seem to think its funny.

A couple of days ago, UK Cop Humour re-posted a piece from the Bexley Gazette containing images of upskirting. The photo is of two women in the process of being arrested by two police officers - taken presumably by a member of the public - and shows them in a humiliating and degrading position. Held down by police over the bonnet of a police car, with their skirts raised and underwear showing, they cannot adjust their clothing and must suffer the glare of the public on their bodies. The decision of UK Cop Humour to re-post this is seriously troubling.

UK Cop Humour's mission is: '[t]o remind everyone that the Police are the Public and the Public are the Police and break down any barriers that exist, where possible, through humour and positivity.'

There's also a Facebook Page and award-winning Twitter account. Not the type of site that you would expect to find the humiliation of women depicted as a joke? But upskirting is apparently good for a laugh amongst the Police.

Some complained, pointing out the negative impact on women's willingness to report sexual harassment or violence to the police; and that in re-posting and liking they are contributing to the women's humiliation. But many liked it, with one commenting 'no wonder the girls are raped or go missing.'

UK Cop Humour responded to the negative comments: 'If people don't like the post, they'd do well to complain to the page that actually wrote it. No, we don't need you to point out that we shared it. We know. We shared it. We had the ability to step outside the box and see that a passerby took this pic, it's harmless, and the accompanying write up was funny. If it upsets you that much you are, of course, welcome to unfollow the page. No harm done.'

UK Cop Humour has strong links with Police Forces, for example winning the Police Twitter Award. Yet, it seems to be reinforcing a culture where women in short skirts, or indeed any skirt, deserve the humiliation that follows.

And it is this culture that is in urgent need of change, as upskirting is worryingly commonplace. Thankfully there is a movement for change. Following images being taken up her skirt without her agreement last summer, and the police telling her there was little they could do, Gina Martin started a campaign to raise awareness and campaign to reform the law.

It may be a surprise to many that upskirting is not already criminalised, but there is no specific law covering it (there is in Scotland). Prosecutors can use the little known offence 'outraging public decency', but even that doesn't apply in all cases and, let's face it, how many police or victims have heard of it? There are laws on voyeurism, but they don't fit either. They only cover images being taken of 'private' acts, such as being in a changing room or toilet: but upskirting commonly takes place outside in public.

It's therefore vital that the law is changed to ensure that upskirting is clearly criminalised: recognised as a form of image-based sexual abuse that perpetrates serious harms. And the law must be broadly drawn so that it covers cases such as this one. The Labour Party has said it would introduce reform, with the Government currently 'thinking about it'.

But what this case from UK Cop Humour shows is that even if we introduce a new law, there is a long battle ahead. We know from experience that reports of sexual violence to the police are often not taken seriously. We know from data on prosecutions of non-consensual sharing of private sexual images ('revenge porn') that even if reported to the police, few cases are taken further. And we now know that some police and related organisations find upskirting a source of humour.

Unless this police culture changes, women (and it is mainly women who are victims of these offences) will continue to be reluctant to go to the police. They'll also be less likely to pursue cases through to court if that means facing indifference or hostility, or being treated as a source of amusement by those who ought to protect them.

UK Cop Humour claims there is 'no harm' done by reposting this image. There is. By re-posting it they are saying to police officers it is okay to minimise and trivialise the harm done by upskirting. They're saying women's humiliation is a source of fun.