New sexual offences in force in Northern Ireland
New criminal offences of up-skirting, down-blousing and cyber-flashing have come into effect in Northern Ireland.
The Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 is now fully in force, following the earlier commencement of provisions on the privacy and anonymity of victims of sexual offences and suspects in sexual offence cases.
Four new offences capture the specific and highly intrusive behaviours of what is commonly known as up-skirting and down-blousing. They relate to the observing or recording of a person’s genitals, buttocks, breasts or underwear without a person’s consent.
The new offence of “sending an unwanted sexual image” captures the behaviour of those who intentionally send an image of their genitals or sexual activity to another person without that person’s consent, commonly known as cyber-flashing.
Four new offences are 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. These act as a precursor to more serious grooming behaviours and build on existing child grooming protections.
The scope of the established abuse of position of trust offences have been extended to capture those adults in a position of trust who knowingly coach, teach, train, supervise or instruct a child on a regular basis in the area of sport or religion.
The existing offence of disclosing a private sexual photograph and film with intent to cause distress has been amended to bring the behaviour of threatening to disclose a private sexual photograph and film with intent to cause distress within its scope.
Richard Pengelly CB, permanent secretary at the Department of Justice, said: “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.
“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.”