Published: 00:01, 13 July 2018
The boss of a leading domestic abuse charity believes women may be tolerating attempts by men to take pictures up their skirts.
It comes as a Freedom of Information request by KentOnline reveals only one report of so-called upskirting has been made to police in Kent over the last three years.
The intrusive practice involves offenders taking a picture under someone's clothing without their knowledge with the intention of viewing their private parts.
The singular report between May 1, 2015, and April 30 this year was identified among 115 crime reports relating to voyerism.
Upskirting became a national talking point last summer when festival-goer Gina Martin began a campaign to make it illegal.
The 26-year-old began her crusade after she caught two men taking a photograph up her skirt at an event in Hyde Park, London last year.
The men had that day been trying to pursue Gina and her sister.
She took the perpetrator's phone to show security guards who called the police.
But she was told her case was closed after the offender was ordered to delete the photographs. Currently, there is no specific law criminalising upskirting in England and Wales.
Deborah Cartwright, chief executive of Oasis Domestic Abuse Service based in Margate, said the small number of reports in our county could be a culture thing.
She said: "My first thought is - is that because women are just in a position where they're tolerating this sort of behaviour?
"I don't think it's for a lack of trying on the police's part."
She suggested that other campaigns associated with women's rights may play a part in more people coming forward: "It's only recently that people have started saying 'I've had enough'.
"It doesn't surprise me that police haven't had many reports."
"My first thought is - is that because women are just in a position where they're tolerating this sort of behaviour?.." - Deborah Cartwright, Oasis Domestic Abuse Service
The charity works with young men and women equally to help recognise unacceptable attitudes and behaviours, and upskirting is a topic they cover as part of their programmes.
She continued: "We believe we have to work with everyone to execute change, and we need men who say 'be respectful'.
"This is just about basic respect and you don't have the right to humiliate someone.
"We would tell them [victims] to report it because it's an infringement of your rights."
The single Kent case relates to a man from Tunbridge Wells in his 50s.
He was was arrested in June 2016 following reports that he had taken images up the skirts of young women and girls without their knowledge in various shops in Tunbridge Wells town centre, between June 2013 and June 2016.
He was charged and admitted outraging public decency at Sevenoaks Magistrates Court on January 17, 2017.
He jailed for a year at Maidstone Crown Court in March last year and ordered to pay £100 costs.
A year after Gina's campaign began, a bill to make the act a specific criminal offence was put forward in the House of Commons as a private members bill.
The voyeurism (offences) bill on upskirting came from Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse directly off the back of the campaign.
It was thought that as a private member’s bill, it would have a little chance of being passed, but justice minister Lucy Frazer expressed that the government would back it.
But on Friday, June 15, it was blocked after a Conservative MP Christopher Chope objected to it, on the grounds that he did not agree with there being no debate.
A Private Member’s Bill can be blocked by just one MP if they shout 'object' when it’s read out in the Commons.
It was sent back for another try this month.
Ministers have now decided to intervene and adopted the measures for upskirting as a Government Bill with some MPs' joining a committee to discuss the matter.
If upskirting becomes illegal, it will punishable by up to two years in prison.
Canterbury Labour MP Rosie Duffield said: "This is a really important issue to me and legislation needs updating right now to stop incidents of upskirting the future.
"I know this to be a real issue so the fact that only one incident has been reported in Kent over the past three years is really concerning.
"We need to do more to ensure women feel comfortable reporting upskirting, in the knowledge that they will be taken seriously.
"For this reason, I have volunteered to be on the Bill Committee for this particular bill, and will be working hard to get this bill through the house."
Helen Whately, MP for Faversham, is also joining the committee. She said: "I've heard for the victims of upskirting, it's extremely distressing.
"[I'm not sure] whether there has been under-reporting. I've seen people scoff at it but for victims, its a big deal."
Speaking about the law block, she continued: "I'd say I was really disappointed to see a colleague blocking the bill.
"It just sent a really bad message to the public about what we care about.
"[But] it certainly raised the profile of the issue."
Craig Mackinlay, MP for South Thanet, expressed his surprise at the low figure in Kent.
He said:"As there has been no specific offence associated with ‘upskirting’ in the past, perhaps the lack of reporting makes a little more sense.
"Given that ‘upskirting’ photographs are generally taken on smart phones, the likelihood is that the images will appear on social media, and so the offender should be able to be traceable with some ease.
"There may need to be greater willingness by social media providers to reveal the true identities of what can be anonymous accounts and procedures put in place so that nobody can engage with social media without transparency as to identity.
"I can but guess that the practice is more widespread than we might imagine. The primary positive outcome of the legislation will be to deter, and hopefully eradicate the practice, which I consider to be demeaning, invasive, a breach of privacy and simply unacceptable."
Kent Police has issued advice on what to do if you find yourself in this situation.
Temporary Chief Superintendent Andrew Pritchard, said: “Although rare, ‘upskirting’ is an invasive and vile act and Kent Police would encourage anyone who sees anyone acting suspiciously, or thinks they are a victim, to report it.
"Any reports will be taken seriously and fully investigated.
"If the suspect is still there, victims are advised to move away as quickly as possible making a mental note of what the suspect looks like so they can provide a description to police as soon as they feel safe to do so. People should avoid direct confrontations."
For personal safety and sexual offences advice, visit www.kent.police.uk/advice/sexual-offences
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