Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Upskirting to become a criminal offence

Last Thursday, the invasive act of ‘upskirting’ was finally set to be made illegal under the 2003 Sexual Offence Act after an eighteen-month-long campaign by activist, freelance writer and upskirting victim, Gina Martin, 27. Martin’s campaign began as a Facebook post on social media and quickly materialised into a politically recognised petition with over fifty-thousand signatures. The offence carries a maximum of a two-year prison sentence after the bill was granted at its third reading at the House of Commons. It is now awaiting confirmation of Royal Assent.

Upskirting is the act of taking a photo under a person’s clothes without their consent. Martin, within her campaign, aimed to shift public perception from upskirting being a crude joke or prank to being recognised as a violation of privacy that is criminal.

Girls as young as ten were falling victim to the invasive crime

The severity of upskirting can be demonstrated by the records of Avon and Somerset police, where girls as young as ten were falling victim to the invasive crime. Maria Miller, the chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, has stated that she is concerned about the way society has previously chosen ignore the seriousness of upskirting: “I don’t think anyone can belittle the impact of someone taking an abusive photograph this way without consent”.

Despite only just being introduced within England and Wales, the criminal offence has been a part of Scottish legislation for almost a decade. This poses the question as to why England and Wales were lagging so far behind. Martin emphasises how such invasive acts of privacy are “normalised” within society stating that “women’s bodies are just normalised for public consumption.” Through the power of social media and the widespread media coverage of the bill’s success, it appears hopeful that upskirting will become a criminal offence that is regarded with severity throughout Britain.

She witnessed one of the men sharing the image online, grabbed the phone and presented it to the police, only to find out there was a loophole within British legislation that made this act unpunishable

The eighteen-month campaign began after Martin became a victim of upskirting herself during a festival at Hyde Park in 2017. She witnessed one of the men sharing the image online, grabbed the phone and presented it to the police, only to find out there was a loophole within British legislation that made this act unpunishable. After the case was closed four days later, Martin shared her story on Facebook, attaching a petition that within just a few days had been signed over fifty-thousand times and received celebrity and political promotion and support.

The campaign, however, was not one that was smooth and straightforward after being disrupted by Conservative MP Christopher Chope. Chope blocked the bill in June 2019 in an attempt to hinder the progress of the campaign. Such disruption of a bill to protect the dignity of an individual can only be described as confusing. Why set back a legislative change that aims give people freedom and agency and, instead, empower violations of privacy? Theresa May stated that she was ‘disappointed’ with the response and vowed to progress the campaign with law change.

We are not depoliticised and do possess the means to create change

The success of Martin’s campaign can be noted, with upskirting set to be included within the Sexual Offence Act of 2003 at long last. Despite this success, Martin her lawyer, Ryan Wheeler, will continue this campaign through educating young people on the crime and the power of social media platforms.

The success of the upskirting campaign can be regarded as both an advancement of privacy and of agency. The tool of social media, a platform which is accessible to all, can provide a meaningful vehicle to achieve real social change and legislative development. Martin encourages people who wish to create social difference to not feel powerless but instead to persist, work intently, and collect the right support. This legislative success suggests that we are not depoliticised and do possess the means to create change.

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