The criminalisation of upskirting is good news – but it’s just a start

  • United Kingdom
  • 09/06/2018
  • The Guardian Law

Yesterday, the bill to make upskirting a specific, sexual offence passed through the House of Commons. It was a great achievement, and credit to the campaigners and victims who led the campaign. But the job is not finished.

Yes, upskirting will become an offence. But I remain shocked at the scale of the problems that still surround sexual offences.

I therefore welcome the government announcement of a comprehensive review of hate crime legislation and whether misogyny should be recognised as a hate crime. It was a welcome concession secured during the proceedings of the upskirting bill yesterday.

I am sure some people feel this could be controversial; I certainly do not. If we already have hate crime laws to protect people on the basis of sexuality, disability, race and religion, then why should gender be any different?

This review is an opportunity. We cannot allow it to be a missed opportunity.

There remain a myriad of instances where the law simply does not protect those who, devastatingly, fall victim to vile acts that should be classed as sexual offences. The government must not limit this review. It must be wide-ranging, and close in on the loopholes in the law.

Take revenge porn, for example. While a crime, it is not currently considered a sexual offence. But, like upskirting, it is done without consent and is humiliating and distressing to victims. As it is not a sexual offence, victims are not offered protections such as the automatic right to anonymity. This failure often leaves victims feeling too frightened or humiliated to come forward. It is nonsensical to suggest distributing image-based sexual abuse should not be considered a sexual offence.

Then there are deepfakes. These are videos where a person’s face has been digitally swapped with another. With the lines between reality and fabrication being technologically blurred, these videos appear all too real. In many cases these videos are pornographic, some containing celebrities, and others featuring people known to the creator. They are all equally degrading.

Politicians must ensure that the law keeps up with technology, and not just smartphones. Artificial intelligence provides the technological basis for apps that make creating deepfakes easy. We must act now before they become too widespread, and before too many people fall victim to them.

In Scotland, upskirting became a specific offence back in 2009. In England and Wales, we have been embarrassingly slow to take up the campaign. That is inexcusable. We cannot afford to drop the ball again. Women and girls across the country are depending on the law to protect them. Currently, it does not. We must ensure our laws are fit for the 21st century.

That is why I want the government to go further still, and ensure this upcoming review examines all sexual offences. In fact, it would be a dereliction of duty not to address the loopholes in the law concerning sex crime and misogyny.

I am thankful the upskirting bill did more than just make it a specific sexual offence. The national debate this campaign has provoked must lead our society to talk much more widely about consent, harassment, hate crime and the abuses of privacy and trust.

Sexual crimes and harassment can happen to anyone. But if you look at the victims, it is clear this is predominantly an issue of how we as a society view women and the autonomy that they have over their own bodies.

If we are to view women as equal in society, we must ensure that they are adequately protected by the law. It is clear the fight does not end here.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/sep/06/upskirting-crime-sexual-offences-technology-women-law