In April 2019, we wrote an article about the introduction of the landmark Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019, which made the crime of “upskirting” punishable by way of a prison sentence of up to 2 years. The Voyeurism Act made changes to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, making it an offence to operate equipment or record an image beneath the clothing of another person without that person’s consent. The specific offence being added to the act was to ensure that the law covered acts of ‘upskirting’ that were not previously caught under the umbrellas of voyeurism and outraging public decency.
Looking back on the introduction of this much fought for change to the law, we take a look at whether this has proven effective in dealing with the problem of upskirting in the UK.
What is upskirting?
Upskirting is an offence whereby a person takes a picture or video under a person’s clothing without their permission. Acts of upskirting often take place in public, such as on transport, in nightclubs, or in other crowded places where the actions of the perpetrator are harder to spot.
The offence of upskirting has been illegal since 2010 in Scotland, but it was not until 2019 that this was replicated in England and Wales following the passing of the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019. This was in large part due to the hard work of campaigner Gina Martin, herself a victim of this crime at a summer festival.
How did the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 change the law?
Prior to the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019, the police could only prosecute a person carrying out the act of upskirting under the related but rather unspecific offences of “outraging public decency” or as a “crime of voyeurism” under the Sexual Offences Act.
The Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 specifically makes upskirting a sexual offence and transposes these changes into section 67 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
Specifically, it is an offence to operate or record equipment beneath the clothing of another person to enable the person carrying out the Act (or another person) to observe the victim’s:
- genitals or buttocks (whether exposed or covered with underwear), or the underwear covering B’s genitals or buttocks, where the genitals, buttocks or underwear would not otherwise be visible
- without the victim’s consent and without reasonably believing that the victim consents
- for the purposes of obtaining sexual gratification, or humiliating, alarming or distressing the victim
What happens if I’m found guilty of upskirting?
If found guilty of an upskirting offence, you may receive a summary conviction with a sentence of up to 1 year in prison and/or a fine. Those found guilty of a serious offence in the Crown Court may be imprisoned for up to 2 years. If the offence is committed for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification and other relevant conditions are met, the offender will be placed on the sex offenders register.
Have the upskirting amendments to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 proven effective?
Unfortunately, despite the changes to the law in England and Wales to outlaw upskirting, numbers of this type of offence have continued to rise. According to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), as of December 2021, “Upskirting prosecutions more than doubled over the second year of the legislation being in force, with CPS analysis finding at least a third of offenders are also committing other serious sexual crimes”. The CPS reports that 46 men and one teenage boy were prosecuted for a total of 128 offences under the Voyeurism (Offences) Act between the dates of 1st April 2020 and 30th June 2021. They also report that 15 of these men were also charged with other serious sexual offences at the same time, including child abuse, sexual assault, extreme pornography, and wider voyeurism offences. Their data also shows that supermarkets are the most commonly used location for perpetrators of upskirting crimes. Those carrying out such crimes are using more advanced tactics to hide their methods, including hiding cameras in shopping baskets.
Siobhan Blake, the CPS’s national lead for sexual offence prosecutions, believes that offenders have not been deterred, even given the requirements for social distancing over the past 2 years; she stated, “offenders have not been deterred from violating women’s privacy in a most degrading manner as they go about their daily lives…These are disturbing patterns of behaviour, with our analysis showing many men are also committing other serious sexual offences, including child abuse”.
As a result of the high number of upskirting crimes, the CPS is now encouraging victims and witnesses to upskirting to immediately report the occurrence to the police; “Not only will the CPS treat your complaint seriously, you may also be helping to protect the public from dangerous sexual predators.”
While more needs to be done to raise awareness and deter criminals from upskirting, additional help is needed for victims, potentially including easier access to compensation. The state of Victoria in Australia is leading the way, bringing in new laws to entitle victims to receive financial compensation. Under the new Victims of Crime (Financial Assistance Scheme) Bill 2022, victims will be able to request a “recognition meeting” with a dedicated state government representative to discuss the harm caused to them. The meeting will provide the victim with the opportunity to explain the extent of the trauma caused by the crime and to receive a personal apology on behalf of the state government. Victims of upskirting in Victoria will also have up to ten years to bring a claim for financial assistance (this deadline was increased from two years in the Act), and they will no longer have to face perpetrators or attend a hearing to access compensation. By taking these actions, the Victorian Government in Australia is showing just how seriously they take upskirting and related crimes, which will further encourage those affected to come forward for help and to bring perpetrators to justice.
If you are facing an investigation or prosecution in relation to upskirting or another sexual offence, our specialist Criminal Law Barristers and Solicitors can help. You can contact us through our contact page here.