Victims aged seven to 70 subject to upskirting last year, police figures show

A pensioner and pupils as young as seven were among the increasing number of upskirting victims last year, police figures show.

Upskirting – the act of taking a photo up someone’s skirt without their permission – is illegal in Scotland under the Sexual Offences Act but only became criminal as an individual act in England and Wales today.

The crime is punishable by up to two years in custody under the Voyeurism Act. 

Data shows victims were targeted in shops, while at work, in the street and even at school during 2018. Only a handful of cases resulted in a criminal charge.

The vast majority of cases involved female victims and male perpetrators, according to the data released by police forces under Freedom of Information laws and obtained by the Press Association.

The figures suggested a huge variety in the people targeted, and their locations. Essex Police said a suspect was charged with indecency after upskirt images of a child aged between seven and nine were discovered in his possession.

But another Essex case, involving images of a 70-year-old woman, ran into difficulties after the victim declined or was unable to identify the offender, despite a suspect being identified by police.

Avon and Somerset Police said two girls aged 13 were among those subjected to upskirting, while Northumbria Police said they had a report of a boy laying a mobile on the ground to film up a girl’s skirt – both parties were under 16.

Leicestershire Constabulary said there were six upskirting incidents reported in 2018, with victims as young as 14. In this case, schoolgirls said their teacher had taken pictures up their skirts in the classroom. The teacher received a conditional discharge.

The latest figures show 25 of 43 police forces in England and Wales recorded allegations of upskirting during 2018, compared with just 15 forces in the two years previously.

The number of incidents also jumped, from 78 in between April 2015 and April 2017, to 94 for the whole of 2018.

The exact figure is likely to be much higher because the two largest forces – the Metropolitan Police and West Midlands Police – were among those who failed to reply with information.

Campaigners have long claimed the lack of a specific upskirting offence has also deterred victims from coming forward, while some police officers have previously been unsure of how to investigate any allegation.

The law comes into force following a high-profile campaign spearheaded by 27-year-old writer Gina Martin, who spent 18 months fighting to make the phenomenon a specific offence after two men took a picture up her skirt at a festival in 2017.

Ms Martin, who worked with lawyer Ryan Whelan to lobby government, said: “During the 18 months of campaigning undertaken, I received hundreds of messages and stories from those who had been upskirted.

“It was obvious that we didn’t have the tools to adequately paint a picture of what a big problem upskirting is.”

The fact that reports are increasing shows that victims feel more empowered and emboldened to report what has happened to them, she added.

The Ministry of Justice said the law introduced in England and Wales on Friday “bans the degrading practice to deter perpetrators, better protect victims, and bring more offenders to justice”.

Victims were previously forced to seek prosecution under existing harassment, voyeurism or indecency laws, but said loopholes meant it was often difficult to secure a conviction.

Justice Minister Lucy Frazer said: “We have always been clear – there are no excuses for this behaviour and offenders should feel the full force of the law. From today, they will.”

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The campaign to criminalise upskirting was backed by TV presenters Holly Willoughby and Laura Whitmore, but received a temporary blow when veteran Conservative backbencher Sir Christopher Chope objected to a private member’s bill that would have seen the legislation make it swiftly onto the statute books.

Ms Martin said: “Today, the Voyeurism Act comes into effect and I’m so happy. Finally, we have a fit-for-purpose law that protects against every instance of upskirting – as we should have always had. 

“But this is just the beginning. 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.”

Additional reporting by Press Association

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