Northern Ireland

Upskirting proposed as a criminal offence in Northern Ireland

Illustration of upskirting

Making upskirting a criminal offence is one of the proposals in a review of laws around Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE).

The Department of Justice (DoJ) has launched a consultation on potential changes to legislation in Northern Ireland.

Upskirting has recently become a criminal offence in England and Wales.

However no legislative change can be made here in the absence of an executive.

The upskirting proposal is one of a number contained in a DoJ review of current laws relating to CSE and sexual offences against children.

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It looks at whether laws on things like the making and distribution of indecent images of children, grooming and online exploitation, and child abduction need to be updated.

"There have been significant increases in online and technology-based offending such as online grooming, sexting, revenge pornography and live streaming," the consultation document states.

"There have also been increases in image-based abuse, as indecent images and films depicting abuse can be made and shared quickly and easily while perpetrators exploit the anonymity and encryption of the 'dark web'."

However, the DoJ acknowledge that it is difficult to determine the actual numbers of children affected by CSE as the abuse is often clandestine and hidden.

The review does give some statistics however.

It said there were 10 recorded cases of child abduction in Northern Ireland in 2017/18.

There were also 123 recorded cases of harassment and 121 cases of malicious communications against people under the age of 18.

Removing terms like 'child prostitution'

The latter covers offences including private sexual photos and film being disclosed.

The DoJ consultation looks at 14 areas where changes to the law may be necessary to strengthen protection for children and young people from sexual exploitation and abuse.

While it says that current laws are already robust enough to deal with most CSE offences, it also proposes some changes including:

  • Removing terms like 'child prostitution' or 'child pornography' from law so that it is always clear that children are victims not participants.
  • Ensuring that legislation on the live streaming of child sex abuse online is tightened.
  • Making upskirting a specific criminal offence.

A previous report in 2014 had found that child sexual exploitation was a growing threat in Northern Ireland.

The current DoJ consultation, which runs until the 16 April, is partly in response to that 2014 report.

It is separate to an ongoing review of the handling of sexual offence cases being carried out by Sir John Gillen.

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