The Battle To Ban Upskirting Is Finally Over

Update (1.30 pm. Monday 18th June 2018): The government announced today that it will be putting forward a bill to make upskirting a sexual offence, campaigner Gina Martin said on Twitter this afternoon. It follows the shock objection to the bill on Friday by a single Conservative MP, Christopher Chope, who has faced widespread condemnation, including from members of his own party, ever since.
"I said that we'd look back on Friday as the day one man tried to stand in the way of justice and didn't. But I didn't realise we'd be looking back on it so soon," Martin wrote, adding that she was "so happy [she] could cry". "The bill will go through. The Government, Ryan [Whelan] and I will finish this. Upskirting will be made a sexual offence."
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Update (3p.m. Friday 15th June 2018): The bill to make upskirting a specific crime was blocked when Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope objected to it. It was expected to pass after the government earlier announced its support. It's not over yet, though... The next reading will be on 6th July.
Update (10a.m. Friday 15th June 2018): Upskirting is set to become a criminal offence punishable by two years in jail following a campaign led by 26-year-old Gina Martin. The Ministry of Justice said the government would support the private member's bill introduced by the Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse, who threw her weight behind the campaign.
"From the beginning of the campaign, so many people told me it would be impossible to get the government to back this campaign. But today, I can proudly say they have," Martin told Refinery29 UK on Friday. "I sat with justice minister Lucy Frazier yesterday with my lawyer Ryan Whelan and we spoke about my campaign and the detail of the bill.
"It was clear that not only is Lucy supportive, but that she cares and is right behind my campaign. It’s so brilliant to know that not only does she really, truly care about this becoming a specific offence, but that she is impressed by our campaign and thinks the legislation we’ve put forward is the right solution. With Victoria Atkin MP passionately on board too, and so many other MPs from all parties truly believing in and standing behind our bill, the government is well and truly behind us.”
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This story was originally published on Thursday 14th June.
It wasn't even a year ago that a man took an upskirt photo of Gina Martin during a gig in London's Hyde Park, but having taken on the issue and made national headlines with her campaign to change the law, the 26-year-old is close to making her mark on UK legislation.
Martin, who has held down her job as a writer throughout the gruelling campaign, has been working towards making upskirting – the act of taking an upskirt photo of someone without their consent – a sexual offence in England and Wales. Upskirting can currently be prosecuted, but only under 'voyeurism' if you are in a private place, or with a public nuisance order called 'outraging public decency' if you are in public. Martin and her 'partner in justice', lawyer Ryan Whelan, argue this is inappropriate as it fails to acknowledge upskirting as a crime with a victim and, crucially, it means perpetrators aren't recognised as sexual offenders.
Martin's campaign has gone from strength to strength since the pair teamed up, gaining attention from international media (and working alongside Refinery29 on a series of stories on the topic under #StopSkirtingTheIssue) as well as support from celebrities including Holly Willoughby and Laura Whitmore, the backing of MPs from across the political spectrum, endorsement from academic lawyers in the field, and support from police commissioners and more than 100,000 members of the public.
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Excitingly, Martin and Whelan have also provided input on a bill that looks likely to become law. The Voyeurism (Offences) Bill 2017-19, which will make upskirting a specific sexual offence, was tabled by Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse and is due a second reading in the House of Commons on Friday 15th June. If it gets through parliament it could see perpetrators of upskirting be fined or receive a jail sentence of up to two years.
It feels amazing being able to hold a physical copy of the draft bill, Martin told Refinery29 UK in parliament yesterday, ahead of its second reading. "This has been almost a year coming so I'm really happy about it," she said, adding that it's been worth the agony of having to recall her traumatic experience time and again throughout the campaign.
"It's been quite hard to continually retell it and not be able to let it go, but this will be closure when we change the law so it will have been totally worth having to tell it a thousand times a day."
For a young woman with no previous campaigning experience or legal expertise, leading a movement of this size has been a learning curve, she said. "The most valuable thing I've learned is that if you want to change something, you can not like the system but you have to play within the system and do things the right way. You have to know exactly what you're talking about, ask for help and get the right people in with you. I couldn't have done it on my own, but we're not quite there yet!"
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Wera Hobhouse MP and Gina Martin.
She's also learned a lot about herself along the way. "I've realised I'm more robust than I thought I was and that if you just keep going and don't give up you can actually change stuff. I thought I'd find it too hard but I just didn't stop and I'm really proud of myself for that."
As well as changing the law, of course, Martin hopes to encourage more people to come forward regardless of what happens to them or how 'everyday' the assault is. "More importantly, I also want to have a conversation about how we treat women's bodies in public and how we normalise this type of behaviour."
Whelan believes the law change would "without question" make it easier to prosecute people who upskirt. "The word 'upskirting' would exist in law as a specific offence, police officers in England and Wales would know about it, charging officers would know about it, the Crown Prosecution Service would use it, and so women will be safer," he told Refinery29 UK. "They will be protected properly and appropriately and offenders dealt with in a way that's suitable."
Laila Woozeer, 27, who was upskirted on a bus when she was 20 and wrote about her experience for Refinery29 UK, said it's been amazing watching the campaign unfold. "It's blown up so much and it just goes to show that upskirting is a universal issue that a lot of women can relate to. I couldn't believe it wasn't a sexual offence already."
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She said awareness of the issue has grown among her male friends, while her female friends have felt more comfortable to speak out. "They told me it had happened to them but they hadn't realised there was a term for it, they just thought it was a weird experience they'd had. Even just being able to name something makes it easier to deal with it."
Woozeer believes the law change will make women more likely to come forward. "Previously they may not have seen a point in coming forward and sharing their story, and we already know how women who report any kind of assault get treated – not well. But if you know there might be some action as a result of you coming forward you'll be much more likely to do so.
"Women are realising how bad they've had it for so long and trying to take things back, and the upskirting campaign will have inspired so many people to stand up for their rights and realise that things aren't okay as they stand, and that we shouldn't brush things under the carpet as 'just part of being a woman'."
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