The scale of the problem has been laid bare by an investigation that reveals allegations reported by police have increased over the last four years, with a 70-year-old woman and schoolchildren as young as seven among the victims in 2018.
In freedom of information data obtained by the Press Association, 25 out of 43 police forces in England and Wales recorded reports of upskirting in 2018, up from 15 over the period from April 2015 to April 2017. The number of incidents also jumped to 94 in 2018 from 78 in 2015-2017.
The figures are likely to be far higher because the two largest forces surveyed – the Metropolitan police and West Midlands police – failed to reply with information.
The law came into force on Friday after a high-profile campaign led by the 27-year-old writer Gina Martin, who spent 18 months fighting to make it a specific offence after two men took a picture up her skirt at a festival in 2017.
Martin, who worked with the lawyer Ryan Whelan to lobby government, said: “During the 18 months of campaigning undertaken, I received hundreds of messages and stories from those who had been upskirted.
“The fact that reports are increasing shows that victims feel more empowered and emboldened to report what has happened to them than before the campaign, which is wonderful – this was just as important … as the law change.
The new figures suggested a huge variety in the people targeted and places they were targeted. Essex police said a suspect was charged with indecency after upskirt images of a child aged between seven and nine were discovered in his possession.
Another case for the same force, involving images of a 70-year-old woman, ran into difficulties after the victim declined or was unable to identify the offender.
The Ministry of Justice said the new law “bans the degrading practice to deter perpetrators, better protect victims, and bring more offenders to justice”.
Upskirting is already an offence in Scotland but not in Northern Ireland.
Previously, victims had to seek prosecution under existing harassment, voyeurism or indecency laws, but loopholes meant it was often difficult to secure a conviction.
The justice minister, Lucy Frazer, said: “We have always been clear – there are no excuses for this behaviour and offenders should feel the full force of the law. From today, they will.”