Upskirting has taught us the importance of speaking up

It's all thanks to brave people who spoke up...

This article is written by Wera Hobhouse is Liberal Democrat MP for Bath

In photo: Wera Hobhouse with Lorna Maddock and Diana Maddock, former Lib Dem MP for Christchurch

From the very beginning of its journey, the ‘Upskirting Bill’ has been championed brave individuals, particularly women, speaking up. I am grateful to each one of them.

The vile crime of taking a photo up someone’s skirt without their consent was not and is still not, until the Bill passes, adequately covered by the law.

Currently, victims must prosecute the crime under a public nuisance order. This is as nonsensical as it is outrageous. It should not matter how public it was or who else saw it. The law should focus on the individual victims and the crime committed against them. It is their body that is being taken advantage of.

By relegating ‘upskirting’ to a crime under a public nuisance order it makes the crime dependent on location. For example, schools are not considered a public place. How abhorrent is that? Meanwhile, neither those who witnessed it nor the location is considered when prosecuting the crime. That is why victims felt unable to come forward. That is why we need reform

Thankfully, everyday women who had been victims of ‘upskirting’ brought this injustice to the forefront of the public’s consciousness. It was women such as Gina Martin and Laila Woozeer who spoke publicly about their experiences, which was vital in changing the narrative. No longer was this act somehow harmless or to be considered a joke.

This is where I came in. I brought in my Bill based on the law in Scotland, where ‘upskirting’ been a specific offence since 2009, and raised the issue in Parliament with Government Ministers and Theresa May herself. Although they all agreed it was an appalling crime, the Government often maintained that there were avenues through which it could be prosecuted. However, myself and campaigners kept the pressure up until the Ministry of Justice finally agreed to publicly support our Bill.

However, as we were to unfortunately learn, that didn’t mean its passage would be simple.

Christopher Chope objected to the Bill. The outrage that followed demonstrated again the power of speaking out. It was public pressure that forced the Government to act so quickly and bring in my Bill themselves. It was now too embarrassing and too politically damaging to let one of their own get away with this obstruction.

One woman who was particularly outraged was Lorna Rees. Lorna was responsible for the tongue in cheek protest of placing the pants outside Christopher Chope’s constituency office in Christchurch. This demonstration was then repeated outside his office in Parliament, encouraging further protests across Mr Chope’s constituency. It was individuals like Lorna and their actions which has kept up the momentum to deliver this Bill.

It was when Lorna came to Parliament recently and kindly gave me the pants in question (which now proudly hang in my office) that it hit me. It is those people who chose to speak out, who chose to campaign, and who chose to protest that have driven this change.

It is therefore for them, and victims everywhere, that we must ensure that this Bill passes in the best possible form. The Government must therefore be ready to re-double their efforts after the summer recess.

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