New upskirting and cyber-flashing offences come into effect in Northern Ireland

A generic shot of a mobile phone.
Credit: PA
The changes to the law include four new offences to capture the specific behaviours of, what is commonly known as, "up-skirting" and "down-blousing".

A milestone in tackling sexual crime has been hailed as new offences including for "up-skirting" and "cyber-flashing" come into effect in Northern Ireland.

They are among the final stage of the implementation of a major legislative reform by the Department of Justice in the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022.

The department's permanent secretary Richard Pengelly said the new laws address behaviours that have become "increasingly prevalent within society".

The changes to the law include four new offences to capture the specific behaviours of, what is commonly known as, "up-skirting" and "down-blousing", in terms of the observing or recording of a person's genitals, buttocks, breasts or underwear without their consent.

A new offence of "sending an unwanted sexual image" will target those who intentionally send an image of their genitals or sexual activity to another person without their consent, commonly known as "cyber-flashing".

There are also 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.

Mr Pengelly said the combination of new laws "addresses a range of particular behaviours which have become increasingly prevalent within society", and "strengthens some existing law identified as needing additional protection".

"Today is a major milestone, bringing the final provisions of the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 into operation - delivered in conjunction with our criminal justice partners and with the assistance of key voluntary sector partners," he said.

"The creation of new offences and the bolstering of existing offences makes it clear that these behaviours are totally unacceptable, and it sends an important message that they will not be tolerated in our society.

"Those who would carry out these behaviours should be aware that there are serious consequences to their actions, with a maximum penalty of two years' imprisonment applying to the offences, as well as the potential to be placed on the sex offender register.

"Victims can be reassured that they do not have to accept treatment of this kind and I hope they will be encouraged to report any instances to the police and seek out relevant support."

Detective Superintendent Lindsay Fisher welcomed the development.

"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. 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 public awareness of the new offences is vital.

"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 said.

"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."

“Medical treatment was provided at the scene and the man was subsequently taken to hospital. He sadly died from his injuries.

“The road which was closed for a time to allow for police enquiries, has since reopened to all traffic.

“Our investigation is continuing and we are appealing to anyone who was travelling in the Annadale Embankment area before 4am and who has dash-cam footage, to contact the Collision Investigation Unit on 101."

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