Upskirting is due to become a specific criminal offence, with the worst offenders facing up to two years in jail, after the Government backed a campaign to criminalise the cruel craze.
The Ministry of Justice announced its support to ban the practice, which sees perpetrators take images under a person’s clothing without their consent, on the eve of a Parliamentary session which could have otherwise seen the bill sink without trace.
Upskirting victim Gina Martin, 26, who faced rape threats and abuse after launching her campaign to make it a criminal offence, told the Press Association: “This is obviously great news, and it’s thanks to everyone who’s listened to us along the way.
“I want to hug every woman who has got in touch with me to say it’s happened to them, to say that now – hopefully – we can get access to justice for all victims because the politicians listened.
“There’s still a way to go, but it looks now like it will go through without too much of a hitch.”
Upskirting is due to form part of the Voyeurism (Offences) Bill – proposed by Wera Hobhouse, Lib Dem MP for Bath – which is now expected to be nodded through the Commons on Friday following the Government’s public backing, unless there are any objections.
The bill – which has received cross-party support – will still have to be scrutinised and pass through both Houses of Parliament before it receives Royal Assent, but this is seen as the greatest sign yet that the campaign will bear fruit.
Justice minister Lucy Frazer said: “This behaviour is a hideous invasion of privacy which leaves victims feeling degraded and distressed.
“By making upskirting a specific offence, we are sending a clear message that this behaviour will not be tolerated, and that perpetrators will be properly punished.
”I’d like to thank Wera Hobhouse, Gina Martin, and all other campaigners for their tireless work, and look forward to seeing the Bill progress through Parliament.”
Hobhouse said: “I got involved in politics to change things that my constituents and I care about. I am incredibly grateful to Gina Martin for starting this campaign, and for giving me the opportunity – in my first year in parliament – to do exactly that.
“The fact that the Government has listened to our calls is testament to the widespread consensus that there was a gap in the law that needed to be addressed. By working with Gina and ministers on the detail of my bill, we have demonstrated when we work together successfully we can make a difference on issues that really matter to people.”
Martin, a freelance writer living in London, has spent the last year calling for the ban after two men took a picture up her skirt while at the British SummerTime festival in Hyde Park in 2017.
She only realised what had happened when she spotted one of the men sharing the image on his mobile in front of her – but despite snatching the phone and presenting it as evidence to nearby police, the case was closed four days later.
Her campaign – aided by lawyer Ryan Whelan from Gibson Dunn – has won political support from all parties, was acknowledged by Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions last month, and has been backed by the likes of television presenters Holly Willoughby, Dermot O’Leary and Laura Whitmore.
The first figures on the prevalence of upskirting, published by the Press Association earlier this year, showed complainants as young as 10, with incidents in a slew of public locations such as restaurants and festivals.
Currently victims in England and Wales are forced to seek prosecution through other legal avenues, such as outraging public decency or harassment, prompting the call for a specific law similar to one already in force in Scotland.
The new law would bring the punishment for upskirting in line with other existing voyeurism offences, and will see offenders face a maximum of two years in prison.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The Government will now work with Ms Hobhouse and others to bring these measures through, with ministers planning to ensure crucial amendments are made to the bill – the most notable of these amendments includes placing the most serious offenders on the sex offenders’ register.”
Whelan said: “Securing Government support is a significant milestone in the campaign. Gina, Wera and supporters from across the political spectrum are rightly celebrating.
“The bill will be heard on Friday and we trust and hope that no member of Parliament will oppose it.”