14:37, June 15 73 0 theguardian.com

2018-06-15 14:37:14
The law must change on upskirting. One Tory MP won’t stop us

Upskirting is a depraved violation of privacy. It is outrageous that a single Tory MP has been able to derail a much needed and universally supported change in the law. But that is exactly what has happened.

While the actions of one backwards, out-of-touch Tory anger me greatly, it is nothing in comparison to the hurt I feel for the women who have been harassed and degraded because they don’t have the protection they need from the law. The experiences of these women, such as Gina Martin who founded the campaign, are what inspired me to lodge my bill to make upskirting a specific sexual offence.

Gina’s story is one of many. Less than a year ago, she was at a festival in London with her sister. She was then horrified to notice a man behind her had taken a photo up her skirt. Shocked and distressed, she sought help from the police. The law, however, was not sufficient to ensure the police could help her. Indeed, Dame Vera Baird QC from the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners said legislation as it currently stands “is far from clear as there is no specific offence”.

This deeply troubled me. I had to take up the fight. I then set about the task – launching the bill on International Women’s Day – of making the government listen. And listen the government did.

Play Video
3:29
Upskirting happened to me and now I'm fighting to change the law – video

Last month, at my urging, the prime minister backed my bill and remarked on her own “outrage at the disgusting act”. The leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, also lent his weight to the campaign by writing to Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn urging them to encourage their MPs to back the bill. I am glad to say colleagues from across the House of Commons were receptive. The cross-party campaign was building momentum.

The breakthrough came when alongside Gina, and her lawyer Ryan Whelan, we engaged in discussions with the ministry of justice to work on the details of the bill, which the minister Lucy Frazer then decided to back. Given that in Scotland upskirting was made an offence in 2009, I could see no excuse for not acting.

Working with the government, particularly when party politics is involved, is no easy task. However, it is testament to the importance of this issue that there is such widespread consensus that a change in the law is desperately needed. I can’t tell you of my excitement when, credit to the minister, the government agreed to support our plans to close the loophole, in order to better protect victims and increase convictions.

The feeling was short-lived today, but the fight is not over. I will not allow one male Tory MP, Christopher Chope, to deny women the right to feel safe.

Urgent arrangements are now being made to agree a route forward with the government and I already have a date in the Commons for another, and hopefully successful, second reading. My message to women who have been victims of upskirting is clear. We will keep fighting to ensure the police are able to act immediately and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Wera Hobhouse is the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath

Topics