Upskirting is a form of sexual violence where an individual takes a photo up another person’s (primarily a woman’s) skirt without their consent.
Celebrities, such as Emma Watson and Cara Delevingne, have called out paparazzi for taking upskirt photos of them, and countless other women have had these inappropriate photos of them taken as well. Now, the United Kingdom (England and Wales) are working to pass a resolution through Parliment that would make upskirting a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.
The campaign to make upskirting a criminal offense in the UK began being pushed for by UK citizen Gina Martin and other women who have been a victim of upskirting. Martin had upskirt photos taken of her in 2017, but police did not prosecute the offense because they deemed the photos “not obscene enough” to fall under the UK’s voyeurism laws. Under the current law, upskirting has to be prosecuted alongside other offenses in the category of voyeurism, even though there are gaps in the current laws that allow the crime to go unpunished.
Due to the gaps, there have only been 11 charges made under the law since 2015, according to information obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request. Additionally, less than half of the police stations in the UK keep appropriate records of how many reports of upskirting have been made, which means there is no way to accurately assess how pervasive the issue of taking upskirt photos might be within the UK.
The first attempt to pass the bill that would have made taking upskirt photographs illegal failed in Parliament due to an objection from one of the members of Parliament; however, a new bill is being introduced and it is believed that progress will be made towards the bill before Parliament recesses for the summer.
According to TIME, the new bill will again be debated on July 6 in the House of Commons, and hopefully this time, there will be no objections to the measure.
The bill being brought forth will protect both women and men, as it includes provisions that make it illegal to photograph up men’s kilts as well. Hopefully, the decision from the UK to make this serious sexual offense its own separate crime will help inspire other countries to follow suit.
In the United States, there are no laws on the federal books that make upskirting a crime, which means that the States are left to determine if upskirting is a crime in its jurisdiction and what the punishment should be. This leaves a lot of variety in criminality and leaves millions unprotected against upskirt photos.
For example, we can look to 2014 decisions on upskirting that took place in Massachusetts and Texas. When Massachusetts State legislators realized there were no laws that protected against upskirting, they passed a measure that made taking upskirt photographs punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine that was to be determined by the age of the victim.
In Texas, however, a Texas court determined that its citizens had a constitutional right to take upskirt photos under “freedom of speech” protections. Whether that decision would hold up in a higher court is yet to be determined, but the lack of federal regulation leaves millions of women (and men) at risk of having no protection against these inappropriate photographs.
Upskirting is a serious offense, and it is unbelievable that in the digital age, the legal system hasn’t evolved yet to address the nature of this cybercrime.
Thankfully, the UK is taking the first steps in order to punish those who commit this crime. We don’t know when the US will follow.