Julia Cooper welcomes new proposed law against ‘breast pests’ after a man pointed a long lens at her in a park
• Breastfeeding voyeurs targeted by new proposed offence
When Julia Cooper had her first child, she decided to breastfeed so that she could take her out on long walks through nature, one of her favourite hobbies. But that suddenly changed when she spotted a man pointing a long lens camera towards her as she breastfed her baby daughter on a park bench in Greater Manchester.
After twisting her baby out of view, feeling unnerved, and noticing he continued to stare, she approached the man to ask him whether he was taking photos of her. He replied that he had the right to do so, since they were in a public park.
“I was just so shocked and turned away with my baby so he couldn’t get any more photos, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it – it was really bothering me,” Cooper said.
Still rattled that evening, she called Greater Manchester police. Although sympathetic to her distress, they said there was no law against breastfeeding voyeurism, and as a result they were unable to help.
But for Cooper the incident transformed her life. She no longer felt able to take her daughter out for long stretches of time, and would hide in her car whenever she needed to breastfeed her daughter. “I was left feeling so disgusted, disturbed and angry that this man had got away with taking photos of me and my daughter,” she said.
“I only tried breastfeeding once in public again, and it just ruined the experience for me. I was looking at everybody around thinking: are they going to photograph me.”
Distraught by the lack of action, Cooper turned to her MP, Jeff Smith, for help. Together with Stella Creasy, one of the few MPs who is a young mother and who has experienced breastfeeding voyeurism herself, he launched a campaign under the slogan Stop the Breast Pest, which has resulted in the creation of a new offence of breastfeeding voyeurism, which is being put before parliament on Tuesday.
Cooper said the proposed new law would provide much-needed reassurance to mothers such as herself that “you can breastfeed in peace”.
Creasy’s own experience of breastfeeding voyeurism took place on an overground train in London, when she noticed that a boy seated opposite her was filming her breastfeeding her baby.