Upskirting and Downblousing: Changes to UK Law in 2024

The taking and sharing of non-consensual intimate images can be incredibly distressing for victims of any age or gender, which is why the UK government is cracking down on these offences with newer, stricter laws. Upskirting and downblousing are two unfortunately common types of sexual harassment, often carried out in crowded public places that can […]

The taking and sharing of non-consensual intimate images can be incredibly distressing for victims of any age or gender, which is why the UK government is cracking down on these offences with newer, stricter laws.

Upskirting and downblousing are two unfortunately common types of sexual harassment, often carried out in crowded public places that can make it difficult to spot perpetrators, allowing them to avoid legal accountability for their actions.

Upskirting is the non-consensual act of using equipment, such as a mirror or mobile phone, to look under another person’s clothes and take a photograph or video of their genitals, buttocks, or underwear.

Downblousing, similarly, is the non-consensual act of using such equipment to view or take a photograph or video down a person’s shirt or blouse – typically targeting women’s breasts. Both are considered intimate image abuse.

Following a Law Commission review in 2019, these offences – among others – are being addressed through the Online Safety Act 2023 and Criminal Justice Bill 2023. 

Across both areas of legislation, the government hopes to tackle intimate image crimes more effectively, with tougher prosecution and penalties.

Non-consensual intimate images illegal regardless of intent

The Online Safety Act 2023 introduced several new criminal offences regarding the sharing of non-consensual explicit images, or threatening to share them, also updating and expanding the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

The provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill, which has not yet been passed but is likely to become law by the end of the year, will include ‘complementary’ offences regarding the taking of intimate images – primarily, replacing voyeurism and upskirting offences with the base offence of taking an intimate image without consent. 

Additionally, if the non-consensual intimate image was taken with a) the intent to cause humiliation, distress, or alarm to the victim, or b) the intent of using the image for sexual gratification, these will be considered more serious offences.

These amendments are necessary because there was previously a condition that the perpetrator must have behaved with the intent to cause distress to the victim to be prosecuted – now, the act of taking and sharing non-consensual images is illegal regardless of the motivations of the perpetrator. 

The Criminal Justice Bill will go a step further by criminalising the installation or adaptation of equipment to commit such offences, such as installing cameras or changing the direction of cameras to record intimate images of others.

Legal consequences for downblousing and upskirting

The changes are already in force with the implementation of the Online Safety Act and its amendment of the Sexual Offences Act, so charging offenders with the criminal act of taking a non-consensual intimate image is much easier in 2024.

Conviction of offences such as upskirting and downblousing can now result in a prison sentence of at least 6 months, increasing up to 2 years if the intent to cause distress or gain sexual gratification can be proven. 

If the offender is convicted of taking an intimate image non-consensually for the purpose of sexual gratification, they could also be made to register as a sex offender for several years. 

These are serious legal consequences that can affect all areas of a convicted offender’s life – this broader scope should hopefully discourage individuals from participating in these offences thinking they’re ‘just a joke’.

If you or someone you know becomes the subject of an upskirting or downblousing allegation, it’s therefore important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. 

Contact solicitors who are up to date with the latest legislation regarding downblousing and related intimate image abuse offences, who can help you with your case.