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Upskirting and Downblousing

You may have heard the terms ‘Upskirting’ and ‘Downblousing’, which are now having an increased presence within safeguarding education for young people.

‘Upskirting’ arose as an issue following a passionate campaign by a woman called Gina Martin. Several years ago, Gina was at a music festival when she realised that a male stranger had taken a photo underneath her skirt without her consent. When Gina spoke to police about this, she was shocked to find that there were no laws at that time against this kind of behaviour.

In a fantastic example of grassroots activism, Gina worked with a solicitor Ryan Whelan to lobby the government to make ‘upskirting’ a specific criminal offence.

The Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 finally came into effect in April 2019 making upskirting a criminal offence. While this encompasses any act of taking a picture within someone’s clothing without their consent, the act of ‘downblousing’ has so far not been included. Downblousing can refer to images taken from above of someone’s breasts or cleavage without their knowledge and/or consent.

We know that with the prevalence of smart phones and devices, upskirting and downblousing are common issues within schools and have had an increased focus as forms of sexual abuse and harassment.

Whether or not downblousing falls into The Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 yet, it is vital that young people are educated around these issues and know that there is a zero tolerance approach to this behaviour in school.

Unfortunately, the BBC have this week released a report into the prevalence of Facebook groups dedicated to sharing upskirting photos, some uploaded by perpetrators who target school girls – please find the link below.

Upskirt photos shared in Facebook groups, BBC finds – BBC News

We know that from research conducted by Holly Powell-Jones, a Lecturer in Criminology and Media Law entitled Online abuse: teenagers might not report it because they often don’t see it as a problem (May 7, 2019), some young people believe that there is an ‘anything goes’ sense of lawlessness when it comes to the internet, with some young people feeling that sexual harassment and abuse online is par for the course.

While the law is there to protect them, it is crucial that children and young people feel safe to disclose when these things have or may have happened to them (it may be that they suspect an image was taken, especially when this happened quickly and in a public space for example). Moreover, to put it as simply as possible, they must receive the same support and safeguarding no matter what private area of their body was photographed – it cannot be that while the law protects victims of upskirting, the victims of downblousing are left to fend for themselves or tolerate this abuse. In this area, schools and education settings need to lead where the law is still catching up – to ensure that all young people have clear messages around consent, their rights and where to go for support.