It’s been 18 months since Gina Martin, a 26-year-old freelance writer from London, experienced the horror of realising that a man had taken a photograph up her skirt at a festival at London’s Hyde Park.
Now, after a long and exhausting campaign, she has succeeded in driving through legislative change that will make upskirting a crime in England and Wales — punishable by up to two years in prison.
It’s a huge success for Martin and for women and girls across the country, and it’s a perfect example of how refusing to settle for the status quo can change things for the better.
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“Eighteen months ago I was upskirted at a music festival and I decided I wasn’t going to brush it off,” Martin told journalists, after the bill was approved in the House of Lords on Tuesday, in its third and final reading.
“I was tired of ‘ignoring it’. I felt this was wrong and I was astounded to learn that upskirting wasn’t a sexual offence,” she continued. “I wanted to change this for everyone, because the least we deserve is to be able to wear what we want without non-consensual photos being taken of us.”
18ontha ago I decided I wasn't going to ignore sexual assault.— Gina Martin (@ginamartin_uk) January 15, 2019
Now? Our bill has passed the last stage.
Upskirting is going to be illegal. https://t.co/yFMl5Fu20B
The legislative change is now just waiting for Royal Assent, which is just a formality, according to the BBC.
And, according to Martin, the positive result shows “politics and society at its best.”
The law change will bring England and Wales in line with Scotland, where upskirting has been illegal since it was listed under an expanded definition of voyeurism in 2010.
After Martin noticed the photograph on the man’s phone, she grabbed the phone and ran to the nearest security guard. But she was stunned to be told that a crime hadn’t actually been committed, and there was nothing the police could do.
So she started an online petition, demanding that we #StopSkirtingTheIssue, which brought in over 100,000 signatures and caught the attention of Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse, who introduced a private members’ bill on the issue.
Me and Ryan are dead. We are so tired and so so so happy 💥💥💥💥💥 pic.twitter.com/Efwn75cHHR— Gina Martin (@ginamartin_uk) January 15, 2019
The bill was blocked by a single backbencher, Sir Christopher Chope, in the House of Commons in June.
Chope was booed by his Conservative party colleagues, after he stopped the bill completing its second reading, and “knicker bunting” was draped across his office door. He did insist at the time that he hadn’t blocked the bill because he disagreed with its intention, but rather he objected to it because he doesn’t believe legislation should be passed without debate.
But after it was blocked, the government announced its support, making it a government bill instead and making the process significantly more secure.
That’s because, while a private members’ bill can be blocked by a single objection (as with Christopher Chope’s), a government bill is voted on and passes if it’s supported by the majority.
Even Prime Minister Theresa May addressed the issue on Twitter in June, calling upskirting an “invasion of privacy which leaves victims feeling degraded and distressed.”
She added that she was “disappointed” the bill didn’t make progress and said “I want to see these measures pass through parliament — with government support — soon.”
Days later, the Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill was put before parliament, and received cross-party support.
Once the legislative change gets the royal stamp of approval, the voyeurism bill will specifically name and ban upskirting.
The Voyeurism Bill received its Third reading in the House of Lords this afternoon so it should soon be on the Statue Book— Baroness Anita Gale (@BaronessGale) January 15, 2019
Victims of upskirting will now get justice and the perpetrators will be brought to justice pic.twitter.com/rMCUQbE3iN
Previously, some instances of upskirting could be prosecuted in England and Wales under the Sexual Offences Act, either for the offences of outraging public decency, or voyeurism. But, as with Gina Martin’s experience, existing criminal law didn’t cover every instance of upskirting.
But the new bill will help ensure justice; people who have been “upskirted” will be able to know their rights to a greater extent; and legal procedures around the crime will be more consistent.
When it’s not specifically a crime, police don’t need to record specific incidents of upskirting that are reported — meaning that it’s difficult to know the true scale of the issue in the UK.
Just 15 of 44 forces in England and Wales had allegations on file from the past two years, according to the Independent. And of those 78 incidents, just 11 results in criminal charges.
Among the known victims who had reported crimes, however, were girls as young as 10. Meanwhile, in March last year, the leader of Britain’s National Education Union (NEU), Dr. Mary Bousted, warned that schoolgirls were wearing shorts under their skirts to protect themselves against upskirting.
It’s so great to see that @ginamartin_uk’s campaign to make upskirting a criminal offence was successful! 🙌— PlanInternational UK (@PlanUK) January 16, 2019
With the @UKHouseofLords backing the Voyeurism Bill, we can celebrate a major step in ending harassment💪#ISayItsNotOKhttps://t.co/v4U3IZfHMG
As well as being a great victory in itself, Martin’s campaign can be an inspiration to all of us — showing that individual, real people can tackle the law and win.
“To the outsider, the ordinary person, law and politics are complex and daunting,” said Martin, who was supported in her campaign by lawyer Ryan Whelan, of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher law firm. “But both are penetrable if you believe in yourself and find the right support.”
Back in July, Global Citizen spoke to Martin about her campaign and what she had learnt, and she encouraged all young people to get involved in society and politics, and change what they don’t like.
“For me, there’s a real space for everyone to look at something they’re not happy with — just take your talent, and try and change it,” she told us. “I’m good at social media, so when I took on upskirting I used social media to get the word out there.”
“There’s space for us all to do that, for us all to change things if we want to,” she continued. “It’s just about who tries and doesn’t stop… Democracy and changing things isn’t just for people in power — the few — it’s for everybody.”