Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The need for an upskirting law

It seems that government time will be made available to pass legislation criminalising this offensive and intrusive act. However, knowing the gap between the words and deeds of Mrs May, I feel that declaring victory is a little premature.

When Gina Martin started the campaign which led to Wera Hobhouse's Bill, it occurred to me that this behaviour (not with digital cameras, obviously, but with film cameras or even mirrors) would once have been treated as a common law offence. I wondered whether the police and the DPP were more reluctant to use the common law in these days when so much criminal behaviour is specified in statute. Thanks to The Secret Barrister web site, I learn that the situation is rather more complex:

Upskirting often takes place in populated public places. Outraging public decency, a common law offence which requires two or more people (other than the defendant) to be capable of seeing the act, is therefore available to prosecute most upskirting. But it is neither an adequate nor appropriate solution.
First, the offence does not provide full protection to women. If the prosecution cannot prove that two persons other than the defendant could have seen him take the “upskirt” photo, the offence cannot be used. So, for example, that if upskirting takes place when a woman is on a street or in another public place alone, no prosecution is possible. That is not acceptable.
Second, the offence does not reflect the wrongdoing. Upskirting is a sexual offence with a victim. The public are rightly outraged by upskirting but this outrage is secondary to the harm it causes. A charge of outraging public decency fails to acknowledge the harm to the victim, and fails also to recognise upskirters for what they are – sexual offenders.
The more appropriate offence of voyeurism is, in contrast, not generally available to prosecute upskirters. The reason: to prosecute for voyeurism the upskirting victim needs to have been observed doing a “private act”, which is not normally the case. This is why the Scottish Parliament modelled the Scottish offence of voyeurism on the English one but added extra provisions to that offence in 2010 to ensure it would cover upskirting.

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