Stella Creasy: ‘My horror at stranger photographing me breastfeeding makes me hope the new law will help mums’

When Labour MP Stella Creasy was breastfeeding her new baby a year and a half ago, she looked up to notice a stranger recording her.

“I was on a train feeding my daughter, who clearly needed to eat,” Creasy tells i.

“I have a shawl I wear to make it more discreet because of my own personal preference to do it that way, but I looked up in horror to see a man filming or taking pictures of me, and he clearly thought it was hilarious. It was mortifying and humiliating.”

Creasy, who is MP for Walthamstow, has been part of the push to make it illegal to take photos of breastfeeding mothers in public without their consent, and it has been confirmed this week that this law will go through Parliament.

The campaign against “breast pests” was started by Manchester mum Julia Cooper who spotted a man pointing a long lens camera towards her as she breastfed her baby daughter on a park bench.

She was disturbed by the event, and only breastfed in public one more time, rarely taking her baby out for long stretches of time because she was worried about being photographed.

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She told police but The Voyeurism Act, passed in 2019, bans the taking of non-consensual photographs of genitals or buttocks, otherwise known as ‘upskirting’, but it does not criminalise photographs of the upper body.

Cooper then told her MP Jeff Smith and he and his colleague, Creasy, MP for Walthamstow began a ‘Stop the Breast Pest’ campaign, which garnered cross-party and cross-generational support from men and women.

Creasy says that while Julia bravely confronted the man taking photos of her, she got off the train as soon as she could.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said this new law would stop women being ‘pestered, whether it’s for self-gratification or for harassment purposes’ (Photo: Marko Geber/Getty)

“I fled. He’d clocked that I’d seen him and knew what he was doing, and it seemed to only make him laugh more. He knew it was causing me distress.”

Creasy and the charity Pregnant Then Screwed, who help women being discriminated against because of pregnancy or maternity, were inundated with messages from women who had been filmed or photographed while breastfeeding, with some people making sexualised comments too.

“It’s difficult one to quantify exactly,” says Creasy, because it’s not been an offence, and like most things to do with women and harassment, most women don’t report it because they don’t believe women will take it seriously. I’m hoping this law will change that and we can stop the people who think it’s acceptable to harass women when they’re feeding- babies don’t work to a schedule where you can go and hide in a room.”

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said this new law would stop women being “pestered, whether it’s for self-gratification or for harassment purposes.

Creasy says that whether a mother breastfeeds or not is entirely her choice, but that we should make it easier for people to make that choice if they want to.

“That includes making sure they can go about their daily life and feed their baby without fear of being harassed,” she says.

“If you look at data, there is a lot of evidence that mothers feel uncomfortable about the attitudes of other people and fear of being photographed. Those are factors.

“Feeding a baby is not a sexual act, and motherhood shouldn’t have to be a struggle like this. This is a small thing, but it’s an important thing, for people who are just trying to do something completely natural.”