Upskirting is now a criminal offense in England and Wales, after a campaign by a woman who was targeted by an offender at a music festival.
The offense — which involves taking a photo under an individual’s clothing with the intention of viewing their underwear, genitals or buttocks without their knowledge — will be punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment, with the most serious offenders being placed on the sex offenders’ registers, Britain’s Ministry of Justice said Friday.
“We have always been clear — there are no excuses for this behavior and offenders should feel the full force of the law. From today, they will,” Justice Minister Lucy Frazer said in a statement.
The legislation gained traction in Parliament after a campaign by Gina Martin, who became a victim of upskirting at the British Summer Time music festival in 2017.
Martin, now 27, reported the incident to the police but was shocked when they declined to prosecute. She subsequently discovered that upskirting was not a specific offense under English law.
She expressed her anger at how the incident was handled on Facebook, and her post quickly went viral, with many posters sharing their own experiences.
Martin launched an online petition calling for her case to be reopened by the police, and it soon gained 50,000 signatures and was picked up by Wera Hobhouse, a member of Parliament for the Liberal Democrats.
Hobhouse subsequently brought a bill to Parliament calling for the creation of a specific upskirting offense.
Her bill was expected to pass easily through the House of Commons, but it was blocked by one MP from the governing Conservative Party during its second reading.
Nonetheless, the government gave its support to a new law, and the Voyeurism Act was brought before Parliament last summer, successfully passing both houses.
“Finally we have a fit-for-purpose law that protects against every instance of upskirting — as we should have always had,” Martin said in a statement on Friday.
“But this is just the beginning,” she added. “Please raise your voice and report if you are a victim or if you see someone become one — every report builds a picture so we can stop upskirting.”
Frazer added: “By taking decisive action and working closely with Gina Martin and other campaigners, we have ensured more people are protected from this degrading and humiliating practice.”
Hobhouse, the MP who proposed the original legislation, wrote on Twitter that the implementation of this law represents “one step towards enshrining women’s autonomy over their own bodies in to law. Positive change in politics.”
Even before the creation of the new law, upskirting didn’t always go unpunished, with some successful prosecutions under the Outraging Public Decency law.
However, that law did not cover every instance of upskirting. The new legislation strengthens the existing 2003 Sexual Offences Act, designating upskirting a sexual offense when its purpose is to “obtain sexual gratification or cause humiliation, distress or alarm,” according to the Ministry of Justice.
Upskirting has been illegal in Scotland since 2010, but it is not yet a specific offense in Northern Ireland.