Is upskirting illegal? What does upskirting mean, when did UK law change as ‘photos shared in Facebook groups’

Those convicted of upskirting face up to two years in jail and being placed on the sex offenders register

Upskirting has been described as a “humiliating” and “harmful” form of abuse - but until three years ago there wasn’t a specific law against it in England and Wales.

Those carrying out the offence often do so in busy public locations - and in a disturbing development upskirting photos and videos have been shared on Facebook groups.

Meta, the owner of Facebook, removed a large number of accounts and groups after a BBC investigation found thousands of users sharing obsence material of women and girls. Among the videos posted included material of schoolgirls in New York being stalked.

But what is upskirting? What is the law on it in the UK, and what penalties do offenders face? Here’s what you need to know.

Scores of people reported being victims of upskirting last year, despite coronavirus restrictions limiting the amount of time people could spend outside their homes, figures show. Picture: Press Association.

What is upskirting?

Upskirting is a covert type of abuse which typically involves someone taking a picture under a person’s clothing without them knowing, with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks or underwear beneath clothing.

Shops, particularly supermarkets, remain by far the most common location for upskirting to take place, accounting for 36 per cent of offences since last spring.

Streets, parks, and public transport or connected areas made up the majority of the remaining locations where the crimes took place last year. Figures show there were 16 offences where victims were identified as teenage girls, including pupils in school uniforms.

When did it become a criminal offence?

A new law came into force on 12 April 2019 making upskirting a specific offence across England and Wales. It had already been illegal in Scotland since 2010. And in March the Northern Ireland Assembly passed new laws criminalising upskirting.

Prior to the new law in England and Wales prosecutions for upskirting were occasionally brought under the common law offence of outraging public decency, which requires the presence of at least two other people and for the act to be done in a public place.

The criminal offence of upskirting was created under the Voyeurism Act when it received Royal Assent in February. It amended the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to make upskirting an offence of voyeurism.

Offenders face up to two years in jail and being placed on the sex offenders register.

The law was introduced after a campain by Gina Martin and other victims, MPs and charities.

Ms Martin had been victim to upskirting herself in 2017 while at a festival and was shocked to realise it wasn’t a specific offence under the law. She started a petition and shared it on social media, where her post went viral.

On 6 March 2018 Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse resented a private member’s bill to the House of Commons in support of Ms Martin’s campaign. The Government signalled that they would support it.

Speaking at the time of the new legislation being brought in Ms Martin said: “Finally we have a fit-for-purpose law that protects against every instance of upskirting - as we should have always had.”

Gina Martin.

How many have been charged under the legislation?

As of December 2021 the total charged since the legislation was brought in was 63 defendants with 175 offences of operating equipment under clothing without consent and recording an image under clothing without consent.

Figures released by the Crown Prosecution Service at the end of last year also revealed upskirting prosecutions had more than doubled over the second year of the legislation being in force. And the CPS said at least a third of offenders were also committing other serious sexual crimes.

In total, 46 men and one teenage boy were prosecuted for 128 offences under the Voyeurism (Offences) Act between 1 April 2020 and 30 June 2021.