Earlier this week, I presented a bill in the House of Commons that seeks to include upskirting as a crime under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003. “Upskirting” is the practice of unauthorised photographs under a woman’s skirt. The fact that this is not a criminal offence in all circumstances baffles me as much as it horrifies me. I understand that upskirting is a crime of the ‘modern era’, but in Scotland upskirting was made an offence back in 2009. There is simply no excuse for ignoring this issue any longer.
This is not just a problem that affects celebrities when attempting to climb out of their cars at a glitzy award show. Though I applaud those such as Holly Willoughby who have bravely condemned the paparazzi for their appalling actions, it must be said this is affecting many women right across the UK. It can happen to women on public transport, in a park, at a concert, or even just as we walk along a busy street; often without the victim even realising a photo has been taken.
Women have been increasingly speaking up about this issue, one of the first was Gina Martin. She had a photo taken up her skirt at a concert and when the police told her there was little they could do she started a petition calling for upskirting to be considered as a criminal offence, which now has over 82,000 signatures. A change in the law and ending the current lack of clarity would help police to do more to prosecute.
From the women’s marches to the Time’s Up movement, we are witnessing a real dynamic force of women saying enough is enough
Dame Vera Baird QC from the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said herself the legislation as it currently stands “is far from clear as there is no specific offence”. Currently, some people have been prosecuted for upskirting for outraging public decency. However, this is absurd as it should not matter how public it was or who else saw it. The law should focus on the individual victims and the crime committed against them. It is their body that is being taken advantage of without their consent.
Just a few weeks ago we celebrated here in parliament the centenary of the first women gaining the right to vote. This inclusion of women in politics has meant that women’s voices could no longer be ignored by those in power. However, not enough progress has been made. As a female member of parliament, I feel it is part of my duty to try and make a genuine difference for women across the country. No time would be more appropriate than International Women’s Day to raise these issues.
If this past year has taught us anything it is that each and every one one of us can enact change by working together. From the women’s marches to the Time’s Up movement, we are witnessing a real dynamic force of women saying enough is enough and speaking out about sexism and the current injustices in our society. These strong, passionate, able women - women like Gina Martin - who speak out, who push for change, who refuse to be silenced, are as right as they are courageous.
It is time that society respected and protected women properly. I therefore call on my colleagues to join me in supporting the campaign to make upskirting what it should be: a criminal offence.
Wera Hobhouse is the Lib Dem MP for Bath