Should “upskirting” be made a criminal offence?

Campaigners are currently calling for urgent changes to be made to the law to criminalise the behaviour frequently referred to as “upskirting”.

“Upskirting” is the act of taking a photograph of underneath a person’s skirt without their consent. It is often performed in a public place such as on public transport, with crowds of people making it harder to spot people taking these photos. A large proportion of women are targeted in places such as restaurants and shops.

Statistics have shown that 15 of the 44 police forces included in a survey had records of upskirting allegations made in the past 2 years, whilst 14 said there were no records and 15 did not respond. According to campaigners, the reality of the problem is likely to be much bigger, who say police face difficulties in being able to log and investigate such cases.

Due to the absence of a specific offence for this behaviour, the Police are realistically only able to pursue these kinds of allegations under the umbrellas of voyeurism or outraging public decency. The freedom of information request relating to incidents of upskirting, found that the Police pursued 78 allegations since 2015, but that only 11 of those led to the alleged offenders even being charged.  There was insufficient evidence to proceed in numerous cases.

Limitations on the current law include the fact that the offence of outraging public decency usually requires someone to have witnessed the action, but upskirting by its nature, is often unobserved. Further, the offence of voyeurism only applies to filming actions that are taking place in private, whereas acts of upskirting are more often than not performed in the public domain.

MP Maria Miller, who chairs the Women and Equalities Select Committee, has said that more must be done to stop the ‘horrific crime’, however it remains to be seen whether Parliament will impose such legislation.