The UK now has a law against upskirting

A law change that comes into force in the UK today makes the highly intrusive practice of ‘upskirting’ illegal.

The government said it wants the new law to send a clear message that such behaviour is criminal and will not be tolerated.

Perpetrators in England and Wales face up to two years in prison under the new law if they’re convicted of taking a photograph or video underneath a person’s clothes for the purpose of viewing their underwear or genitals/buttocks without their knowledge or consent for sexual gratification or to cause humiliation, distress or alarm. (Scotland, home of the traditional male clothing item known as the kilt, has had a law against upskirting since 2010.)

There have been prosecutions for upskirting in England and Wales under an existing common law offence of outraging public decency. But following a campaign started by an upskirting victim the government decided to legislate to plug gaps in the law to make it a sexual offence.

The Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill was introduced on June 21 last year and gains royal assent today.

Where the offence of upskirting is committed in order to obtain sexual gratification it can result in the most serious offenders being placed on the sex offenders register.

Under the new law victims are also entitled to automatic protection, such as from being identified in the media.

While the UK government is intending the law change to send a clear message that upskirting is socially unacceptable, there’s no doubt that legislation alone can’t do that. Robust enforcement is essential to counter any problematic attitudes that might be contributing to encourage antisocial uses of technologies in the first place.

For example, in South Korea a law against upskirting carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison yet the legislation has failed to curb an epidemic of offences fuelled by cheap access to tiny hidden spy cameras and baked in societal sexism — the latter seemingly also influencing how police choose to uphold the law, with campaigners complaining most perpetrators get off with small fines.