Breastfeeding voyeurs targeted by new proposed offence in England and Wales | Law

Voyeurs who record images of breastfeeding women without permission and domestic abusers who escape jail because of time limits on prosecutions are being targeted by proposals put before parliament on Tuesday.

A new offence of breastfeeding voyeurism, with a maximum sentence of two years, has been included by the Ministry of Justice in an amendment to the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill.

It follows a campaign led by Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, who was photographed while feeding her four-month-old baby daughter on a train in north London.

She has been working with Jeff Smith, the Labour MP for Manchester Withington, on a campaign under the slogan Stop the Breast Pest.

Creasy told the Guardian last year she was breastfeeding on a train when she noticed a teenage boy laughing and taking pictures.

“He had his phone out and I thought he was playing with his phone, and then I realised with horror that he was taking photos,” she said.

“You feel exposed. I don’t think he can have got very much of a picture, but the sheer horror at the point when you’re focused on trying to support your newborn baby … and somebody is doing that, it was vile. Because I felt quite vulnerable, I just got off my train as soon as I could.”

The new offence of breastfeeding voyeurism, which would apply in England and Wales, is one of two new amendments to the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill. There will be a two-year maximum sentence for those caught and prosecuted.

Under a separate amendment, victims of domestic abuse will be allowed more time to report incidents of common assault or battery against them. Currently, prosecutions must commence within six months of the offence.

Instead, this requirement will be moved to six months from the date the incident is formally reported to police – with an overall time limit of two years from the date of the offence to bring a prosecution.

The government’s decision follows similar proposals put forward by Yvette Cooper, Labour’s shadow home secretary, who tabled an amendment to the bill in the Commons last year. It followed the release of figures which showed that over 13,000 domestic abuse cases have been dropped by police over the last five years due to the time-limit.

Welcoming the government’s amendments, Cooper said it is one of many measures Labour is pushing for to tackle violence against women and girls.

Domestic abuse is often reported late relative to other crimes. The change is supposed to ensure that alleged victims have enough time to seek justice and that perpetrators answer for their actions.

Dominic Raab, the lord chancellor and justice secretary, said: “We’re giving the victims of domestic abuse longer to report the offence to the police – so abusers don’t evade justice.

“And we will introduce a new offence to stop people filming or taking photos of mothers breastfeeding without their consent – because no new mum should be harassed in this way.”

The Voyeurism Act made it illegal to take a photograph under a person’s clothing without their consent but it does not specifically cover women who have to remove clothes to feed an infant.

Nicole Jacobs, the domestic abuse commissioner, said: “It is important that all domestic abuse victims have the time and opportunity to report to the police. This is especially important following Covid restrictions, when many victims faced additional challenges to seeking help and reporting domestic abuse.”

Reacting to the decision, Creasy said: “That breast pests can now be stopped is testament to the hard work of campaigner Julia Cooper, Jeff Smith, Lady Helene Hayman and Lord Pannick. We all worked across both the Lords and Commons to make the government listen to our call for change.”

Recommended For You