Upskirting illegal from today with punishment of up to two years jail

Upskirting can be punished by up to two years in jail from today

  • Taking image or video of victim’s groin or buttocks under clothing now illegal
  • If found guilty, offenders could face jail and being put on sex offenders register
  • Gina Martin, 27, campaigned for change in law after being upskirted at a festival

Upskirting has officially been made illegal after a Bill to criminalise the act received Royal Assent in the House of Lords.

People convicted of taking an image or video of a victim’s groin or buttocks under their clothing now face being jailed for two years and being put on the sex offenders register.

Gina Martin, who campaigned for the law change after being upskirted at a festival in 2017, welcomed the move and said it was a ‘long time coming’.

Gina Martin (pictured), 27, has long campaigned for a change in the law to make upskirting a criminal act – having been a victim of such behaviour herself

The issue was thrust into the spotlight by 27-year-old Gina Martin, who launched a petition to make upskirting a sexual offence after realising someone took a photo up her skirt at a music festival in Hyde Park in 2017 when she took a selfie (pictured right). The alleged perpetrators are obscured in black and ringed

Prime Minister Theresa May said she was ‘very pleased to see the degrading practice of upskirting become a criminal offence after the tireless work of victims and campaigners’.

Victims called for the creation of a specific law after becoming frustrated with a lack of options to prosecute perpetrators.

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While some people were able to seek a conviction under harassment, voyeurism or outraging public decency laws, the creation of a specific offence means suspects can be prosecuted where they sought to obtain sexual gratification or cause humiliation, distress or alarm.

The Government intervened last June to bring forward measures to tackle the behaviour after a Private Member’s Bill (PMB) was blocked by Conservative backbencher Sir Christopher Chope.

The veteran politician was criticised again last week after objecting to a PMB which sought to tackle female genital mutilation.

His actions last summer were condemned by campaigners and Tory colleagues, prompting the Government to adopt the Bill.

Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope (pictured) shouted ‘object’ when the draft law was raised in the Commons on June 15 last year. But the government later intervened and ensured the bill went through as part of its bid to eradicate sexual abuse

The draft law came forward after Liberal Democrat Wera Hobhouse was backed by the Ministry of Justice to try and deliver it from the backbenches

Ms Martin’s campaign – aided by lawyer Ryan Whelan from Gibson Dunn – won political support from all parties and was backed by the likes of television presenters Holly Willoughby, Dermot O’Leary and Laura Whitmore.

Ms Martin, 27, said: ‘It’s a bit surreal – Royal Assent is the final step in an exhausting amount of work. It’s become part of my life.’

She added: ‘Chope took the campaign stratospheric – an objection made people even more angry than they were already.

‘There’s a lot of work still to do. A change in law is a huge thing, it sets a precedent but it doesn’t change people’s opinions.

‘There’s a huge job to do in creating narratives around this thing – we still see ‘smaller’ sexual assaults as not such a problem but it’s a massive issue.

‘It has been a long time coming but we are finally protected in every scenario – as we should always have been.’  

Ms Martin said she holds no grudge against Sir Christopher, despite initially thinking his objection scuppered the law.

‘It was like watching a real-life troll in front of me saying ‘you’re an idiot’ and everyone else saying ‘no she’s not’,’ she said.

Reacting to the news in January that upskirting would be made illegal, Barnoness Anita Gale, a member of the Lords, said: ‘Victims of upskirting will now get justice and the perpetrators will be brought to justice’

‘I did feel sympathy for him – that was until he turned around and said he was a victim because his weekend was ruined (because of the backlash against his objection).

‘For you to position yourself as a victim because you had some bad press for two days is really not that bad. I did feel sorry for him for a small period of time but then I got over that and focused on the campaign.’

Ms Martin also described the difficult journey to get the change in law approved by parliament, including moments spent crying and doubting herself. 

She said: ‘There have been a handful of times when I’ve been on the sofa or in the shower literally crying and saying I can’t handle it any more.

‘There were a lot of times when I thought I wasn’t equipped for this – and then the media on top of that, the trolling on top of that, having a job, trying to have relationships, family, friends to see … regular life stuff.

Who is Gina Martin? Upskirting victim who was targeted at London music festival in 2017

Gina Martin, 27, spent nearly two years fighting to make upskirting a specific offence after two men took a picture up her skirt at a festival in 2017.  

While waiting to watch The Killers at Hyde Park a group of men had begun trying to chat her up.

After she declined their advances, one of the men took a photo up her skirt and sent it to his friends.

Gina Martin, 27, was the victim of upskirting but was stunned when she found out it was not a criminal offence 

Outraged Ms Martin grabbed the man’s phone and confronted him before she alerted police – only to be told there was nothing that could be done about it. 

Since, the 27-year-old, who is a writer from Liverpool now living in London, fiercely campaigned for change in law.

She spent 18 months campaigning with lawyer Ryan Whelan after her initial petition got 50,000 signatures.

And in January this year a Bill to criminalise the act was approved in the House of Lords – receiving Royal Assent today.

At times during her campaign, she claims there were times when she doubted would succeed.

One such occasion was when backbench Conservative Sir Christopher Chope objected to a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons last summer.

But Ms Martin said she received hundreds of messages on social media from women who applauded her efforts. And now plans to celebrate the new law with a party. 

‘The thing that kept me going in the moments when I wanted to hide in a cupboard for six months because I felt I’d let people down was due to the messages I received from people who had it happen to them.

‘Those messages basically saying ‘please don’t stop’ is the reason why I carried on.

The new law means police will be able to arrest people on suspicion of upskirting from April.

Justice minister Lucy Frazer said: ‘Those who commit such a degrading act will face prison, and victims’ complaints will be dealt with seriously.

‘Gina Martin and other victims, charities and MPs supporting her should be immensely proud.

‘Her efforts show how one campaigner can work with government to change the law for everyone.’

Mr Whelan said he was ‘truly thrilled’ and never doubted the campaign.

He said: ‘On the day that I met her, I told a rather sceptical Gina that we’d succeed in changing the law. It has been a long road but we never lost faith that this day would come.

‘Never doubt that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. As to our politicians, the success of the upskirting campaign is a timely reminder of what can be achieved when parties from across the political spectrum work together constructively.

‘I also hope that FGM campaigners take faith from this that when the Government say they’ll stand behind you and find a way to overcome an objection from Sir Christopher Chope, they mean it and they will.’

Sian Hawkins, head of campaigns and public affairs at Women’s Aid, said: ‘We hope that this new law will be another step forward in challenging the prevailing sexist attitudes and behaviours in our society that underpin violence against women and girls. Domestic abuse does not happen in a cultural vacuum.

‘By making upskirting a criminal offence, we will send out the powerful message that this form of abuse is unacceptable and perpetrators of this crime will be held to account.’

Clare McGlynn, a professor in law at Durham University who called for a specific upskirting offence since revenge porn was made illegal in 2015, described the law as a ‘welcome step forward’, but said it does not go far enough.

She said: ‘Urgent action is needed to criminalise all forms of image-based sexual abuse, including fake porn and threats to share sexual images, as well as granting automatic anonymity to complainants.

‘The current law is out of date, piecemeal and inconsistent and failing victims.’

The first official figures on upskirting, obtained by the Press Association last year, showed children as young as 10 complained to police.

The information also highlighted that only one third of police forces in England and Wales had any data on the prevalence of upskirting.

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