this is why taking taking photos up someone’s skirt is still legal

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the bill was blocked in Parliament by one old man determined to move the needle backwards.

by Suzy Corrigan
18 June 2018, 12:08pm

Thanks to the tenacity of one young woman, Friday 15 June was supposed to be a landmark day for British women. Last year, Gina Martin went to a festival in London and caught a guy sharing photos he’d taken by sneaking up behind her and sticking his phone camera between her parted legs. After apprehending him, confiscating his phone and alerting both police and festival security, she was shocked to discover he couldn’t even be given a citation for public decency offences, much less criminally prosecuted because -- like most women going about their day in public -- she wore underwear. Gina decided then not to let the matter lie, and has spent the best part of the past year lobbying MPs and government ministers on behalf of the thousands of women like her who’ve been violated by phone-wielding dickheads who derive a sneaky pleasure from quickly grabbing shots of other people’s bits without consent. Last Friday, the day began with a fanfare for the common woman, who’d no longer have to endure this humiliation, as Gina’s efforts to create a new law had the cross-party support of every woman in Westminster, up to and including Theresa May.

Upskirting was set to become a criminal offence in England and Wales, punishable by up to two years in prison and, for some guilty parties, inclusion on the Sex Offenders’ Register. Although upskirt photos taken by men in public places have reached epidemic levels over the decade since cameras became a standard feature in our mobile phones, and female celebrities have long complained about paparazzi hunkering down in gutters to get them, UK-wide laws fell short of offering anything but a slap on the wrist, and left victims feeling violated and undervalued. In Scotland, where it’s traditional for men to go commando under kilts, upskirting and its close relation ‘down-blousing’ have been criminal offences since 2009. Coincidence? There’s no evidence that Scottish men are any more enlightened than those in other parts of the UK, although Scotland’s parliament in Holyrood may well be.

And so it proved. Come lunchtime, disaster: Gina Martin’s celebrated, heralded Private Member’s Bill, raised by the Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse, had been kicked into the long grass by two obstructive Conservative MPs, Philip Davies and Sir Christopher Chope -- with Chope delivering the killer objection. PMBs are the mechanism where MPs can garner support from colleagues and propose amendments to existing legislation, provided the issue is raised in the Commons on a Friday and waved through without incident. In practice, it’s very difficult to pass legislation, because any MP minded to scupper a PMB has two options: the filibuster, where an MP can rise to speak for hours about any old gubbins until 2.30pm (a process known as ‘talking out’) and objection, where only one MP needs to do as Chope did, and yell out ‘Object!’ when the Speaker raises each PMB after Commons discussion has ended.

Davies, who filibustered against Gina Martin’s bill for nearly three hours on Friday, is a 46-year-old divorced backbencher representing Shipley, with a majority of 4,681, who often sets himself against legislation offering redress to women, LGBT people and other minorities, while regularly hosting ‘men’s rights’ groups at the Houses of Parliament. He’s a vocal, well-known chauvinist rumoured to be in a relationship with Esther McVey, Secretary of State at the DWP -- they must be great fun at parties.

Chope, an ex-barrister knighted by Theresa May this year for ‘services to Parliament’ -- no, me neither -- is a 71-year-old backbencher for Christchurch in Dorset (majority: 25,171) who voted against equal pay and equal marriage laws and habitually objects to PMBs, but raised 47 of his own last year alone, while blocking PMBs including the pardon of Alan Turing, opening the Hillsborough disaster inquiry, bans on the use of wild animals in circuses, and making ‘revenge’ eviction an offence. On Friday alone, in addition to objecting to the law against upskirting, he also scuppered PMBs calling for oversight of the use of force in mental health units and a bill that would further criminalise harming police dogs and horses.

Despite Chope’s numerous interventions, the uproar following his objection to upskirting laws made him infamous across the UK in a matter of minutes: slagged off by true-blue Conservatives, pilloried by opposition politicians and putting the Prime Minister in full malfunctioning Maybot mode when asked to justify his recent knighthood. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get rid of a Tory MP with a 25K majority in a very right-wing constituency. When Gina Martin and her lawyer, who’d been watching Friday’s proceedings from the Commons public gallery, confronted Chope after the sitting, he claimed his objection was procedural, and that he would support anti-upskirt legislation if it were a Government bill. Oh, for the luxury of objecting to bureaucracy instead of obvious, vile misogyny.

Moves are now underway to bring Government legislation forward, but when two reactionary men ruin a day that should have been triumphant, on a mere technicality, is it any wonder that the political process fatigues young people unversed in the arcane ways of Westminster?

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