A RAFT of new criminal offences have come into force in Northern Ireland this week – including upskirting, downblousing and cyber-flashing.
Posing as a child online and threatening to disclose private sexual images are also among the new offences which fall under the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act 2022.
Upskirting is defined by the PSNI as "when someone uses a mobile phone or mirror to look, take a photograph or film under a person’s clothing without their consent", while downblousing is "when someone uses a mobile phone or mirror to look, take a photograph or film down somebody's top without their consent".
Cyber-flashing is "when someone sends an unsolicited sexual image to a person without their consent via digital methods such as social media platforms or dating apps".
The PSNI explain: “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.”
Anyone convicted of these offences could face up to two years in prison and, for the most serious cases, up to 10 years on the sex offender register.
PSNI Detective Superintendent Lindsay Fisher welcomed the enactment of the new laws this week.
“These crimes are a huge invasion of someone’s privacy and leave victims feeling degraded and distressed,” she said.
“The impact is long-lasting in a lot of cases,” she added.
“By making upskirting, downblousing, cyber-flashing and threats to disclose someone’s private images a crime, we are sending a clear message as a society that these behaviours are not going to be tolerated and that perpetrators will be properly punished.”
Under the bill, which was brought forward by Alliance Party leader Naomi Long, the rules around abuse by people in a position of trust have also been expanded.
People who are responsible for youngsters in the areas of sport or religion now come within scope of abuse of trust offences.
Detective Superintendent Fisher added: “[Now] 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.”
As the legislation came into force, Ms Long said she was “delighted to see these new laws which I introduced to the NI Assembly become operational”.
She added: “Cyber-flashing, upskirting, downblousing and posing as a child for the purpose of grooming are all serious crimes for which there should be zero tolerance.”
Sarah Mason, CEO of the Women’s Aid Federation, has also welcomed the new laws.
“Women’s Aid welcome the introduction of the new provisions within the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022,” she said.
“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.”
She added: “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.”