Upskirting is a serious issue that violates the privacy and dignity of individuals – usually women and girls. It refers to the act of taking a photograph or video under someone’s clothing, typically without their knowledge or consent, with the intention of viewing their genitals or underwear. This may be for the sexual gratification of the perpetrator, in order to humiliate the victim, cause distress or alarm – or both. This behaviour is a form of voyeurism and can be extremely intrusive and traumatic for the victim.
Victims of upskirting may experience a range of negative consequences, including emotional distress, embarrassment, and loss of privacy. They may feel a sense of helplessness at not having control over who has access to the image/s. Unfortunately, many upskirting images can be sold and/or posted online on pornography websites without the consent of the person in the image.
Despite the name, you don’t have to be wearing a skirt to be a victim of upskirting. Anyone, and any gender, can be a victim and this behaviour is completely unacceptable.
Upskirting is illegal in the UK and can carry a two-year prison sentence. Where it is found that upskirting was committed to obtain sexual gratification, this can result in the most serious offenders being placed on the sex offenders register.
It can take place in a range of places including on public transport for example. In fact, British Transport Police have seen a rise of reports.
Writer and campaigner Gina Martin was at a festival in 2017 when two men took ‘upskirting’ images of her without her consent. When she reported this to the police, she was shocked to find out that there was no law against what they had done. Gina then campaigned tirelessly with the help of lawyers to ensure this was made illegal.
Similar to upskirting is downblousing – whereby a perpetrator will take an image or video looking down or inside the victim’s top – usually to see their chest or cleavage, or underwear. Again, this is done without the victim’s knowledge and/or consent.
Often these images might be taken from above when the victim is sat down and again, these might be shared online without the consent of the person in the image.
The Law Commission has recommended that the sharing of “downblouse” images and nude photos or videos without consent should be made crimes as currently, there is a loophole in the law that means these are not necessarily illegal. Campaigners are currently working to ensure this is changed and victims are protected.
What does this mean for us in safeguarding? Well, unfortunately we may come across cases both of children who have been victims of upskirting and downblousing as well as children who have perpetrated these acts. Perpetrators may either think they are having a ‘laugh’ or ‘banter’ without realising the legal consequences or some may fully understand the implications of their actions.
It may be that children who travel to school using public transport have experienced this on their way in. In which case, they are unlikely to be able to focus on their education when feeling humiliated, scared and distressed. We may have to move swiftly to protect them from further harm.
It can be difficult to explain to a young person that if they had been ‘upskirted’, this is a crime whereas if they have been ‘downbloused’, this is not. However, as any nude or semi-nude image of a child under the age of 18 would constitute an indecent image of a child, this would still be a matter for the police.
As these issues are a form of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, we would always follow our processes around child-on-child abuse. Our school or setting’s Safeguarding and Child Protection policy should include such processes but if they do not currently, Keeping Children Safe in Education 2022 now has very clear and thorough guidance about what schools should do – and therefore what should be in your policy.
In terms of being pro-active, Keeping Children Safe in Education 2022 clearly outlines upskirting as a harm that can face young people. This therefore needs to be part of every child’s safeguarding education in an age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate way. We can start this from an early stage, teaching children the importance of consent and bodily autonomy.
As children get older, it is important to ensure they know their rights and understand the laws relating to their body – and images of their body. It can be good practice to ensure that for those young people who do not wish to make a disclosure in school, we still ensure they have access to be able to report these issues. Having links on our school website or internal systems to the Childline Report, Remove Tool, local police websites, CEOP and support services is a great start.
Upskirting Signs and Symptoms
Identifying whether someone has been a victim of upskirting can be challenging as
the act is often done covertly without the victim’s knowledge. However, if you suspect
that someone might have been a victim of upskirting, here are some potential upskirting signs
and symptoms to look out for:
- Emotional distress or discomfort: Upskirting is a severe invasion of privacy
and can cause emotional trauma to the victim. A child may therefore present
as highly anxious or distressed.
- Sudden changes in behaviour: A person who has experienced upskirting
might exhibit abrupt changes in behaviour, such as becoming withdrawn,
avoiding certain places, or being on high alert in public spaces. A child in
school may be reluctant to change for PE or may wish to avoid members of
the opposite sex altogether.
- Checking for unusual behaviour in public spaces: If you observe a child
frequently looking around or checking for hidden cameras or individuals
behaving suspiciously, it is worth exploring further with them.
- Heightened vigilance about clothing and personal space: A child who has
been upskirted might become more conscious of their clothing and personal
space, trying to avoid potential incidents. They may start covering up their
body more. For example, wearing high necked clothing in the Summer
months when they would not usually.
- Avoidance of certain locations or events: If a child suddenly avoids specific
places or events where upskirting could occur, it could be an indication that
they have been a victim in the past. Examples include sudden reluctance to
use public transport or to be in assembly.
- Physical signs of discomfort or vulnerability: Some victims may exhibit
physical signs of distress, such as tension, restlessness, or a tendency to
cover or protect their body more than usual.