So-called ‘upskirting’ becomes a specific criminal offence today, with police handed the power to arrest.
It’s punishable by up to two years in custody – and perpetrators risk being placed on the sex offenders’ register.
New police figures show the growing number of victims last year included a pensioner and schoolchildren as young as seven.
The data shows victims were targeted in shops, while at work, in the street and even at school during 2018, with only a handful of cases resulting in a criminal charge.
The vast majority of cases involved female victims and male perpetrators, according to data released by police forces under Freedom of Information laws.
Here’s everything you need to know about the new law, and how it came to be.
What is upskirting?
The cruel and invasive craze involves perpetrators using cameras to take images or video up victims’ clothing without their consent to see their genitals or underwear.
The new figures show more than half (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.
How did the new law come to be passed?
The law comes into force following a high-profile campaign lead by 27-year-old writer Gina Martin, who spent 18 months fighting to make the cruel craze a specific offence after two men took a picture up her skirt at a festival in 2017.
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.
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, so I’m delighted that the Press Association has taken on the challenge of obtaining the first official stats on reports of upskirting.
“The fact that reports are increasing shows that victims feel more empowered and emboldened to report what has happened to them than before the campaign, which is wonderful – this was just as important to Ryan Whelan and I as the law change.
“We hope that people continue to feel comfortable reporting upskirting under the new Voyeurism Act.”
Who are the victims of upskirting?
The new figures suggested a huge variety in the people targeted and places they were targeted.
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 Ministry of Justice said the new law introduced in England and Wales on Friday “bans the degrading practice to deter perpetrators, better protect victims, and bring more offenders to justice”.
Previously, victims were 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.
“By taking decisive action and working closely with Gina Martin and other campaigners, we have ensured more people are protected from this degrading and humiliating practice.”
The campaign to criminalise upskirting was backed by the likes of 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 Bill make it swiftly onto the statute books.