Voyeurism: additional offences

Part of Voyeurism (Offences) (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 12th July 2018.

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Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 12:15 pm, 12th July 2018

These proposals reflect the context in which we are trying to make legislation. Our conversation proves some of the challenges that we face, and today the national police chiefs are discussing this very issue. It is a simple truth that this country’s law now protects nine different characteristics, under the Equality Act 2010. However, that protection does not extend within our courts. Therefore, not only is there limited redress when people want to take on offences such as upskirting, but we cannot reflect where somebody’s protected characteristic was part of the offence in understanding how we challenge that offence and the message that we send. Currently, when aggravating factors are dealt with in sentencing—which is what the amendments relate to—there is a gap, which means protection is not offered in relation to somebody’s sex, although we offer that protection around somebody’s sexuality, racial background or religious background.

There is a simple, obvious conversation that we might have, which is, “Has somebody done this because, actually, they hate women and believe they have an entitlement to women? They believe that women are second-class citizens and that, therefore, it is their right to use film of them for entertainment.” That is not a new conversation in our society. Upskirting, and therefore the need for the Bill, reflects the fact that everyone now has a mobile phone in their pocket, but humiliating women, targeting women and treating women as pieces of meat for entertainment is a very old facet of our society.

These proposals recognise that if—superficially—we are legislating to deal with the symptoms of that attitude, we need to deal with the primary source. It is time, in 2018, for parity in the way we treat those protected characteristics—not just in the workplace, but in our court houses.

The proposals are about what we can do to tackle the cause of those problems and the fact that one woman in five in our society says she has been sexually harassed, and that upskirting is part of that. They build on the evidence we have from Nottingham that where misogyny is treated as a hate crime—that includes instances of upskirting—that has started to change the experience of victims when they report these crimes, and indeed the mindset of the police and the CPS in dealing with them.

That goes back to the question that the hon. Member for Cheltenham asked me. He seemed surprised that I would query that experience, but the honest truth is that for most women the experience of trying to report sexual harassment and of trying to say, “My body is not here to entertain you; it is here for me,” is very hard. Day in, day out, women in this country face a barrage of harassment and abuse, and upskirting is just one element of that.

Our legislation and our way of dealing with those crimes have not moved with recognising the cause, so we treat the symptoms. We come up with individual offences. We do not send the message that the issue is equality under the law. While we have the protections in the Equality Act, which are mirrored in amendment 6, they do not make a difference in court.

Some people will tell us, and I want to be clear that this is about sentencing when somebody has been proven to have done such a thing, that the courts could take account of them, but if somebody is targeting women—it does not have to be ethnic minority women, because then we could use the racially aggravated offence—we need to say that that is unacceptable in 2018.

In the same way, women who try to report harassment or upskirting have faced an uphill battle with the police, and that has come across in the evidence. We do not yet see hate against women as something that we have to say is on a par with racial hate and religious hate, so when women come forward to report such crimes, very often they get dismissed. Indeed, in some of the testimony, people talked about the police saying, “I’ll just delete it. It’s not that big a deal.” I can tell the Committee it is a big deal while we live in a society where we do not treat women and men equally, and we do not treat them equally under the law.

I hope that, today, the national police chiefs will look at the evidence from Nottingham and recognise that recording street harassment, including upskirting, as a form of hate crime and using that to drive how they identify where it happens, whether there are particular times that it happens and what that means for their policing priorities, will lead to a step change—not just as we have seen in Nottingham, but in every city, in every community. I am sure Members have all heard the stories about this happening.

I tabled these proposals to reflect the fact that this should happen after somebody has been found guilty. I recognised in the earlier amendments that the concept of consent should be the primary motivation as to whether somebody is found guilty of upskirting, and I also recognise the issue is not just about upskirting, but this is the legislation in front of us. As I have explained to the Minister, my purpose in tabling these proposals is to push these votes because we get so few opportunities to try to make legislation that really gets to the root cause of the problem. My fear is that even if we tackle upskirting, and even if new technology is created, the causes remain. The harassment, the inequality and the violence that women then face as a result will continue.

These proposals would do two things. First and foremost, they would put on par the ability of courts to take into account where there was evidence of hostility towards somebody as a result of their sex-protected characteristic. That is the legislation from the Equality Act. It is simply about equality. For Members who are not necessarily convinced on the argument about misogyny, this is simply about parity.

The new clause would encourage the police to do what I hope they will do today voluntarily: start collecting evidence for the purposes of being able to prosecute. The hon. Member for Cheltenham might argue that the courts might well be able to take into account harassment, but they cannot if there is no evidence and if the police have not built up a profile of, for example, the Dapper Laughs character—the person who has taken photos and encouraged people to take photos of women in compromising positions, not because they particularly find that sexually appealing, but because it is simply funny for them.

Why is that funny? Because it is about power. It is actually about the power to control and define what is important about that person by taking that photo. By taking away their mind, their voice or whatever they might say, and making it simply about their body, it is a power play and not sexual. But we would have no evidence for that because at the moment we do not systematically record this to enable us to say that that has been a particular offence.

I appreciate this element is new, and I understand people’s concerns about whether we should get into it in this Bill, but I say to the Minister that we have not had any opportunities and these debates have been around for some time. If she were to say to, “We are going to review this, because there is an anomaly here where we protect characteristics in other parts of legislation, but we do not protect characteristics in the court,” I would happily work with her and go away and look at this. I recognise these proposals might not be the right way to address the problem, but we cannot avoid this debate and this inequality any more, because it is upskirting this week, but it will be something else next week.

Misogyny is pervasive in our society and I would wager it is on the rise, because we live in a society where people think somehow we have equality. Every time I say that, all the men in the room look quizzical and all the woman roll their eyes, because we know how much further we have to go. These proposals highlight a simple point about this legislation, which is that it fits a symptom of a bigger challenge, and if we can target the bigger challenge, we can make real progress.

One of the frustrations for me as a Back Bencher is how few opportunities we get to make any real progress on issues such as this, so I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say. Has the Ministry of Justice been looking at these issues and the evidence from Nottingham on how treating misogyny as a hate crime has driven change in how issues such as upskirting are dealt with?

I am really interested to hear what the Minister thinks we can do, if we do not accept these proposals, to make it explicit that, if somebody targets women in this way and shows that hostility, the courts should be able to take that into consideration. There should be a requirement to have the evidence to be able to make that case.