Parliament returned from summer recess this week. With the Conservative Party pulling itself apart over Brexit and Labour mired in an antisemitism crisis, it can be easy to forget that the day-to-day work continues. This week offered up a rare bit of good news as Wera Hobhouse’s upskirting bill began its journey through the House into becoming law, making upskirting a specific criminal sexual offence.
The Bath Liberal Democrat MP put forward the private member's bill before the recess, representing the peak of a campaign to make upskirting a specific criminal offence. That this wasn’t already an offence shows the scale with which Parliament and our laws are struggling to keep up with modern day misogyny. Conservative dinosaur MP Christopher Chope, however, blocked the bill, but public outrage and passionate campaigning have forced the government’s hand and the bill is now well on its way to becoming law.
This should in no way be the end of it, however. Whilst this is a crucial victory, there is still much more that needs to be done. Loopholes in the law mean that so many crimes that devastate the lives on their victims are not classified as sexual offences and therefore do not offer the legal protections that this brings.
Revenge porn, for example, whilst a criminal offence it is not a sexual offence. This distinction denies victims their right to anonymity in what are harrowing cases. In government, the Lib Dems made revenge porn a specific criminal offence and in 2016 we tabled amendments that would have taken this further and made it a sexual criminal offence. The amendments were sadly rejected by the government. It is, therefore, important that the upskirting bill is not seen as an end but as a precedent for how we can go further.
The bill has not only opened up a national discussion around upskirting but has informed a wider conversation around consent, the distribution of sexual images and the attitudes towards women generally. The concept of consent has got to be at the heart of sexual offences legislation, and the precedent this bill sets out must now be applied to the litany of crimes which are not designated sexual offences and do not offer justice to their victims.
I am very pleased with the speed with which this bill is being progressed. Not only does it show the power of cross-party support in fighting an injustice, but illustrates that even with just 12 MPs Liberal Democrats are making real change and fighting injustice in parliament.
The momentum is now on our side, and the government has shown itself at least open to changing laws. The pressure and campaigning to modernise our judicial system must accelerate as we seek to end not only injustice in the law but misogyny in our society.