'Upskirting' isn't a sexual offence in 2017, and that isn't good enough

Not everyone uses technology for good [Photo: Pexels]

UPDATE: Shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon called for upskirting to be made a specific sexual offence in the House of Commons on 5 September. Further updates to follow.

If you don’t know what a ‘creepshot’ or ‘upskirting’ is, you’re probably better off never finding out.

Essentially, they’re photographs of women in public spaces taken by men and sometimes uploaded online without the former knowing or giving consent.

These can span from taking photos of women’s fully-clothed legs from a distance or in the case of ‘upskirting’, taking up-skirt shots of women’s crotches.

Taking a photo like that not only erodes a woman’s privacy, her comfort in public spaces and flat-out disgusts her, but the worst thing about creepshots is that they’re rarely taken with the sole intention of going home and having a lonely masturbate over them.

The kick that creepshotters get is from sharing them with fellow men.

Creepshotters take everything from up-skirt shots to snaps of women fully clothed [Photo: Pexels]

Online communities and Twitter accounts sharing these photos, such as Reddit’s notorious r/Creepshots, have been around for years and when banned or deleted often appear again under another name.

It’s easy to assume that people are getting away with it because on sites such as Reddit and Twitter, you can stay anonymous, and otherwise the law would quickly catch up with them – right?

If only.

While at a festival, digital writer Gina Martin had a man take a photograph up her skirt, only realising what had happened when she spotted him sharing the photograph of her crotch with his friends.

But after alerting the authorities, she was stunned to discover that taking a photograph up a woman’s skirt isn’t technically a sexual offence.

As an alternative option, one would assume it’d easily fall under voyeurism, for example. But it slips through the net as that must involve someone observing or recording a “private act“.

 


You could consider it to be “outraging public decency” too, but that also comes with a list of problems.

Days later, Martin’s case with the police was closed. But after campaigning for her case to be re-opened (a successful petition which reached more than 55,000 signatures), Martin is now hoping to see the men prosecuted and the law amended so that taking up-skirt photos is considered a sexual offence.

“I’m currently drafting a letter to MPs that have expressed interest in women’s issues in the past,” says Martin.

“I’m desperate to get MPs to support me and to push for the Sexual Offences Act 2003 to be amended to specifically list upskirting as a sexual offence.


“The law that victims can currently prosecute under is an old common law that states something lewd or indecent has happened (and been seen) in public.

“So effectively right now, up skirting is treated as a public nuisance much like urinating in public, flashing, or having sex in public.

“It’s NOT technically listed as a victim crime. This isn’t good enough.”

We’re not the only country not to legislate against it in this way – in Australia there aren’t any specific laws stopping someone taking your photo or video in a public place or posting it online.

And US states such as Texas and Oregon have a similar stance, even when it happened to a 13-year-old girl.


Though others are beginning to wise up.

When one creepshot Twitter account with 17,000 followers was shut down in Calgary, Canada, a Sargent classfied it as “voyeurism activity” which is a punishable offence under the Criminal Code of Canada.

While in Massachusetts, US, taking upskirt shots specifically has been a crime for years.

Martin believes that writing clearer laws will lead to clearer sentencing – meaning there will be more obvious repercussions for offenders and therefore fewer cases.

“I also think it will alert the public – upskirting is such a secretive act and the public aren’t on the look out for it,” she  says.

“I think amending this law will help it happen less as perpetrators will know that it’s on the public’s radar.

“You have to think: if law clearly states it’s a sexual offence, men like the men who targeted me are less likely to take the chance.”

 


 

She also points out that people probably assume it’s already a sexual offence because “surely, logically, it is”:

“But unfortunately the law doesn’t reflect that.

“I am bored of women bodies being public property, and I am imploring people to sign the petition.

“If there are any MPs reading this who believe in this campaign please reach out to me, I need your help!

“This is not about my case, it’s about all women, and protecting little girls who are running around today.

“I really hope we can change something here. It just makes sense.”

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