Saskia Murphy skirts Brexit to find a slightly more hopeful political moment

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There’s a lot to be said for optimism. Sometimes, when it feels like it’s the end of the world it’s just nice to remind yourself that it’s not. When things feel broken it’s always worthwhile to think about how they can be fixed. When you are starting to lose faith in something it’s always a good moment when something positive happens and your trust is restored.

Our political system has felt a bit broken recently. For more than two years we’ve looked on as the government has failed to deliver what it promised to do. The country has started to lose faith in politicians and in the democratic process. Both remainers and leavers feel like they’re getting a bad deal.

This past month has felt like Groundhog Day. We’re in the same position now as we were at the beginning of December. Nothing has changed.

But, away from Brexit, in the same building where politicians are battling with each other about the country’s future, one woman has proven that there is still reason to believe in our political system.

Eighteen months ago 27-year-old Gina Martin was upskirted at a music festival in London. When she reported the incident to the police she was told there was nothing they could do. The act of taking a photograph up somebody’s skirt was not a criminal offence.

Martin had experienced something that so many women and girls have had the absolute horror of experiencing. Last year it was reported that the advent of camera phones had led to girls having to wear shorts under their school skirts, and at the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers’ conference, one union leader reported how there had been a disturbing increase in the number of pupils taking photographs up teachers’ skirts and posting them on social media.

The act of upskirting is just an appalling continuation of what has already been going on for years. When I was at school girls wore shorts under their skirts in case our skirts were pulled up. Looking back now it seems outrageous, but at the time we didn’t even question it.

Upskirting is just another example of how girls’ bodies are put up for public consumption and ridicule, but with social media it gets even more sinister. An image can be taken and shared in a matter of seconds, and it’s often the victim who is left dealing with all the consequences that should be with the offender – utter humiliation and shame.

Martin decided not to let her experience go. She launched a petition and lobbied the government to change the law, campaigning for upskirting
to be made part of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

Of course she faced a few bumps in the road. As her campaign picked up momentum, Martin was bombarded with abuse and rape threats online by the types of people who treasure their right to sexually harass women by taking photographs of them without their consent.

But she persevered, and as a result upskirting will be made illegal as of this year, carrying a possible prison sentence of up to two years.

In the midst of Brexit chaos, where it feels as though politicians have been left to run amok with our futures, Martin has proven the power one citizen has to effect change. That’s a reason to stay optimistic.

Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy

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