Commons Committee hears evidence on upskirting
Today (Tuesday 10th July), witnesses including Chair of the Women & Equalities Select Committee Maria Miller MP, Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt of the Metropolitan Police, and Gina Martin, an upskirting survivor who started a petition last year to have the practice recognised as a specific criminal offence in England and Wales, gave evidence to the Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill Committee at the House of Commons.
The proposed Public Bill would add a section to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, setting out two new voyeurism offences aimed at tackling 'upskirting': the act of covertly photographing or recording underneath someone’s clothing without their consent.
The Bill would adopt a similar approach to that taken in Scotland, where upskirting has been recognised as a specific offence since 2010. The two new forms of voyeurism would cover the operation of equipment or recording of an image under another person’s clothing with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks (with or without underwear), and without that person’s consent.
The new offences would carry a maximum sentence of two years in prison and/or a fine, and offenders convicted of particularly serious forms of the new offences would be placed on the Sex Offenders Register.
AC Hewitt said during the session that upskirting should be recognised as a sexual offence, and confirmed that the legislative framework as it stands is not adequate to tackle the issue, particularly with the 'universality' of digital technologies allowing people to commit offences in ways not previously seen.
Rape Crisis England & Wales has been calling for upskirting to be recognised as a sexual offence for some time.
"The current laws of Voyeurism and Outraging Public Decency under which upskirting could be prosecuted are outdated and inadequate. Crucially, they fail to recognise this form of image-based sexual abuse as a sexual offence against an individual.
The lack of clarity and consistency in police understanding and application of existing laws mean victims and survivors of these crimes currently can't have any confident expectation of how their case will be handled. Figures released in February revealed just a third of police forces in England and Wales report the incidents they encounter.
Rape Crisis sees the proposed Bill as an important first step towards recognising the seriousness of upskirting, as well as testament to the tenacity and hard work of survivor-campaigner Gina Martin. But we want to see the legislation go further.
For example, the distribution of images and recordings obtained through upskirting needs to be included in the Bill, as it was in the Scottish legislation. Upskirting imagery often ends up on websites dedicated to the sharing of such material, which undoubtedly increases the potential impact on survivors. One was recently exposed by a national newspaper as receiving 70,000 views a day and was valued at £130 million.
The automatic right to lifelong anonymity afforded victims and survivors of other sexual offences should be extended to those who experience these crimes, in recognition of their significant impacts.
Ultimately, a thorough overhaul of the law and sentencing in relation to all image-based sexual offences, including so-called ‘revenge porn’, sexual extortion, sexualised altering of images and distribution of sexual imagery, is urgently needed, to reflect the advances in digital technologies since 2003."
Maria Miller MP, Chair of the Women & Equalities Select Committee, also raised issues of victims' and survivors' rights to anonymity and the need for clarity in the law regarding distribution of imagery when she gave evidence to the Committee's afternoon session.
Ms Miller said the law as it stands is at best complex and at worst confusing.
She cited research by Professor Clare McGlynn and her campaign to close loopholes in the law surrounding image-based sexual abuse since 2015.