Photographing a woman who is breastfeeding, without her consent, will soon be punishable by up to two years in prison under new measures announced by the British government.
On Tuesday 4 January 2022 the UK government tabled amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, that’s going through parliament. These included creating a new breastfeeding voyeurism offence for taking photographs or video footage. Instances where a photographer or videographer is trying to gain sexual gratification, or cause the breastfeeding woman “humiliation, distress or alarm” will be outlawed. The Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, said the move would stop women being “pestered, whether it’s for self-gratification or for harassment purposes.”
The bill outlined a new offence of “recording images of, or otherwise observing, breastfeeding without consent or a reasonable belief as to consent” and to be found guilty, the perpetrator, “must be acting for the purpose of obtaining sexual gratification or of humiliating, alarming or distressing the victim.”
The change in law will affect people in England and Wales and has come about after a campaign spearheaded by Manchester-based designer Julia Cooper. Ms Cooper began the campaign to make taking pictures of breastfeeding mothers illegal after her own experience in a local park in April 2021.
She told the BBC, “I sat down to breastfeed my daughter and I noticed a man on another bench staring at us. I stared back to let him know that I had clocked his gaze, but undeterred he got out his digital camera, attached a zoom lens and started photographing us.”
Ms Cooper said she was, “completely shocked and devastated” by the incident but, after reporting it to Greater Manchester Police, she was told her no crime had been committed and there was nothing they could do.
She explained, “I just felt that was so wrong that we had been violated in this way and there was nothing the police could do to help. I was angry he felt just this right to capture what I was doing. It was disgusting. And I just felt so helpless, so I thought I need to do something about this.”
Ms Cooper contacted her local Labour MP, Jeff Smith (Manchester Withington), and his fellow MP Stella Creasy (Walthamstow), who had her own experience of being photographed by a teenager on a train when feeding her child. Ms Creasy had told the BBC it was a, “horrible experience” that made her feel “so self-conscious”.
The two MPs took the campaign to the House of Commons and put forward an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in June 2021, calling for a change in the law. Initially Home Office minister Victoria Atkins called taking such photos, “unacceptable, creepy and disgusting behaviour”, but said the government was waiting for a review from the Law Commission on how best to act. Now there has been a change of heart in the Ministry of Justice, with government minister Lord Wolfson putting forward his own amendment to the bill in the House of Lords.
Ms Cooper said she was “delighted” by the move, despite what she described as “too-ing and fro-ing from government” on the issue. “It is a victory for breastfeeding mothers and it will provide the reassurance that we can breastfeed in public without strangers freely photographing and filming us as they wish. The law is on their side, the law is going to protect them and I am so pleased.”
Ms Creasy also welcomed the change, saying it, “shows the law needs to keep up with the times, with people having phones and being able to take pictures and share them so easily.”
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