Sexual harassment has become front page news, but violence against women and girls is still “endemic” in the UK, according to a new report.

The Fawcett Society, a gender equality charity that defends women’s rights in the workplace (named after leading Suffragist Millicent Fawcett), has said the British legal system needs “fundamental reform.”

And in the UK, a report from The Fawcett Society has suggested some changes.

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And one of these reforms should be to make “upskirting” — the practice of taking photos up women’s skirts or down their tops — illegal, said the charity.

It’s one of a series of recommendations made by the Fawcett Society, as a result of its Sex Discrimination Law Review (SDLR) panel — a supergroup of legal experts chaired by Dame Laura Cox, a retired High Court Justice. The panel examined the UK’s sex discrimination laws and established what changes needed to be made.

Last year a young woman called Gina Martin launched an online campaign to criminalise upskirting after two men photographed her at British Summertime Festival in London’s Hyde Park. The Metropolitan police refused to prosecute, and Martin has since gathered nearly 80,000 petition signatures to change the law. Upskirting is already illegal in Scotland — and making it a criminal offence in England and Wales was also considered by justice secretary David Lidington in September.

However, the Guardian reported on January 22 that a Ministry of Justice spokesman responded to the Fawcett Society report by refuting the need for new legislation, arguing that legislation on voyeurism, public decency and public order were sufficient to prosecute.

“This behaviour is a violation of privacy and causes considerable distress for victims,” he said. “Prosecutors have a range of powers to deal with these cases. We continue to keep legislation under constant review to ensure we can bring offenders to justice.”

Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, disagreed.

“It’s really important with upskirting, which is seen as a casual and funny thing, that we actually do take it seriously, because it’s an incredible invasion of personal privacy,” Smethers said. “It’s humiliating for them and it’s fundamentally unacceptable.”

“We recognise that some offences are more difficult to enforce than others, but it’s important that women have confidence in the law and that the law is behind them,” she continued. “As it stands, and when you take a step back and look at the law and see how all of this adds up, the legal system is fundamentally failing women at every turn. It’s time to say, ‘enough is enough.’”

Strong words! But how bad is it?

Pretty bad. The report found some damning statistics to back up their demands for changes in the law

  • Half of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • 64% of all women have experienced sexual harassment in public places.
  • One in five women over 16 have experienced sexual assault.
  • 38% of men and 34% of women think a woman is partially or totally to blame for sexual assault if she goes out at night in a short skirt and gets drunk.

“The evidence we received, of increasing levels of violence, abuse and harassment against women, was deeply disturbing,” said Dame Cox. “A lack of access to justice for such women has wide-ranging implications not only for the women themselves, but also for society as a whole and for public confidence in our justice system.”

What exactly needs to change?

In addition to criminalising upskirting, the report made several other important recommendations.

  • Misogyny should be a hate crime.
  • Breaching a domestic abuse order should be a criminal offence.
  • Strengthening sexual harassment laws at work to protect women from third parties.
  • Change the definition of “revenge porn” — right now you have to prove there’s an “intention to cause distress”.

The Fawcett Society also compiled a list of employment law recommendations, including extending protection from pregnancy discrimination, reforming the parental leave system to allow fathers more time with their children, and ways to improve transparency of the gender pay gap.

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Make ‘Upskirting’ Illegal and Misogyny a Hate Crime, Urges UK Report

By James Hitchings-Hales