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  • Writer's pictureLove Ballymena

Mammoth day for legislation to better protect victims in Northern Ireland

Graphic depicting new legislation aimed at tackling sexual offences

Upskirting, downblousing and cyber-flashing are now specific criminal offences under new legislation made operational today, Monday 27th November.

Strengthening legislation around posing as a child online and threatening to disclose private sexual images are also among the new offences going live today across Northern Ireland as part of the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act 2022.

This will provide greater protections to vulnerable people in our local communities and will make a significant difference to those who suffer abuse and exploitation.

Detective Superintendent Lindsay Fisher welcomes these long awaited legislative advances saying:

“These crimes are a huge invasion of someone’s privacy and leave victims feeling degraded and distressed. The impact is long-lasting in a lot of cases. By making upskirting, downblousing, cyber-flashing and threats to disclose someone’s private images a crime, we are sending a clear messages as a society that these behaviours are not going to be tolerated and that perpetrators will be properly punished.”

Sarah Mason, CEO, Women’s Aid Federation said:

“Women’s Aid welcome the introduction of the new provisions within the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022.  These offences disproportionately affect women and girls and it is important that there is public awareness and that they are dealt with appropriately with a zero tolerance approach.

We must focus on the behaviour and attitudes of perpetrators of violence in order to dismantle them if we are going to have a society where health respectful behaviours are the norm.  We will continue to work with our criminal justice partners and hope that this new development within this piece of legislation will ultimately make Northern Ireland a safer place for everyone.”

Breaking down these legislative updates:

Upskirting is when someone uses a mobile phone or mirror to observe or take a photograph/recording under a person’s clothing without their consent with the intention of obtaining sexual gratification, or to cause humiliation, distress or alarm.

Downblousing is when someone uses a mobile phone or mirror to observe or take a photograph/recording down somebody's top without their consent with intention of obtaining sexual gratification, or to cause humiliation, distress or alarm.

Cyber-flashing is when someone sends an unsolicited sexual image to a person without their consent via digital methods such as, social media or dating apps.

While it is not a crime to send intimate images or videos of yourself privately to another person if you're both consenting adults, showing intimate images or videos, sending them to another person, uploading them to a website, or threatening to do this without consent is also a crime.

All of these offences could land the perpetrator up to two years in prison and in the most serious of cases, 10 years on the sex offender register.

Detective Superintendent Fisher adds:

“I want to make it clear that anyone, any gender, any age, can be a victim of these crimes. However, we know from experience that the vast majority of those affected are sadly women and girls, who up until now have not felt able to come forward and report.

“Escalating violence against women and girls does not happen in a cultural vacuum, this legislation will go a long way to help address the prevailing sexist attitudes and behaviours in our society that underpin violence, abuse and intimidation against women and girls.”

Although the internet lets children connect with friends and learn new things, there are also dangers to going online, and children can be particularly vulnerable. Reports of online child sexual abuse crimes to police have jumped by over 80% in the last three years.

The Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill also strengthens police response to online grooming of children. Now, any adult found masquerading as a child online to lure and groom will face up to two years in prison and up to 10 years on the sex offenders register.

Police are asking parents to pose the question to themselves – do you know who your child is really speaking to online? Helpful tips and signs to spot can be found on their website HERE.

Also included in this legislation, is an expansion of rules to better protect children from those who seek to abuse their position of trust to exploit or abuse them. Those responsible for young people in the area of sport or religion now come within scope of the abuse of trust offences. This alone could land them up to two years in prison and 10 years on the sex offender register.

Detective Superintendent Fisher adds:

“As of today, our young people are further protected in places where they should feel safe, both online and in physical spaces.

“This is a huge day for legislation in Northern Ireland and children have not been left out. We have seen an increase in recent years in the amount of children being targeted and groomed online and we now have further powers to put a stop to those who are masquerading as someone they aren’t or who seek to abuse their position of trust or power.”

The Police Service of Northern Ireland will be raising awareness of these crimes types across their social media channels over the coming weeks to encourage people to pick up the phone and report if they have been witness to or experienced any of these offences.

They are asking victims to have confidence to ring 101 or 999 in an emergency. The message is clear, officers across Northern Ireland take these crimes seriously and will investigate all reports robustly.

Northern Ireland's Department of Justice offers further detail of these changes below.

The changes to the law include:

• Four new offences to capture the specific and highly intrusive behaviours of, what is commonly known as, “up-skirting” and “down-blousing”. They relate to the observing or recording of a person’s genitals, buttocks, breasts or underwear without a person’s consent;

• The new offence of “sending an unwanted sexual image” to capture the behaviour of those who intentionally send an image of their genitals or sexual activity to another person without that person’s consent.  This is commonly known as “cyber-flashing”;

• Four new offences designed to tackle the particular behaviour of an adult pretending to be a child and making a communication with a child under 16 with a view to sexual grooming.  These act as a precursor to more serious grooming behaviours and build on existing child grooming protections;

• Extending the scope of the established abuse of position of trust offences to capture those adults in a position of trust who knowingly coach, teach, train, supervise or instruct a child on a regular basis in the area of sport or religion; and

• Amending the existing offence of disclosing a private sexual photograph and film with intent to cause distress to bring the behaviour of threatening to disclose a private sexual photograph and film with intent to cause distress within its scope.

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