Why Is This Worrying Trend Not illegal?
When Gina Martin became a victim of upskirting this summer, her social media post went viral. Now she wants to make sure it’s classified as a criminal offence
‘That’s my vagina!’ I scream, as I grab the phone from his hand. Within seconds, I have a 6ft man clawing and pushing at me for his phone. I make a run for it. I bolt through the crowd of festivalgoers and finally, crying, find a policeman and tell him this guy took a picture up my skirt and please, please can he arrest him. Through my tears, he looks at me and simply says: ‘There’s nothing we can do. Those pictures aren’t graphic. If you weren’t wearing underwear, it would be a different story.’
This is the reality of upskirting, a fairly new form of sexual harassment where perpetrators take photos (or videos) of women’s underwear or genitals, up their skirt and without their consent. Worryingly, it’s something that seems to be a casual trend, with friends telling me that they’ve seen guys sharing said pictures via Whatsapp on a regular basis – and yet nothing is being done about it.
A week after my incident, still shocked and scared, I received a call from the police. They were closing the case. They tried to reassure me by telling me they’d deleted the picture – my only evidence. And I can’t believe it took that long – but that, thatõs where I got angry.
As women, we’re often made to feel like we’re to blame for our abuse. When I was upskirted, the decision to close the case only confirmed this. I was wearing knickers and therefore I couldn’t prosecute. If I wasn’t wearing knickers, I could have attempted to prosecute. It’s ridiculous and it’s unfair – why on earth is this horrific trend not illegal?
It seems obvious to me that it should be your choice whether an explicit photo of you should be on someone else’s phone. We have a choice. Since posting about my experience on my Facebook, I’ve experienced serious support for that. In fact, my post went viral, with bloggers like Grace Victory retweeting me, and I’ve had several messages telling me to keep going and keep talking about it – but I’ve also had trolls telling me that this is just ‘boys being boys’, these guys were ‘having a laugh’, like it’s not a real problem. It is real. It is a problem.
For those who are unaware of this, upskirting is on the rise. On public transport alone, touching and upskirting forms 60 per cent of all the British Transport Police’s reported offences. In Japan, upskirting is so common that all new mobile phones make a sound that can’t be silenced when a photograph is taken. What’s more, a quick Google search brings up thousands of porn websites dedicated to upskirt photos. From what I could find, there were only handfuls of sites discussing how wrong it is to be taking these images.
Safe Gigs For Women is an initiative that was set up to make festivals a better place for women. When I contacted them to tell them about my experience, they were able to tell me they’re certain not enough is being done to protect women. And while they’re working hard to make sure that festivals operate a ‘zero tolerance approach to sexual assault’, it’s still happening – and in their eyes, festivals aren’t doing enough. And when it comes to secretive acts like upskirting, the law is complicated and victims aren’t supported.
I was told several times by officers that ‘this happens all the time’. And yet, unbelievably, it’s still technically not illegal in our country. Under section 67 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, a person commits voyeurism by videoing, photographing or watching a woman while she’s in a private space – like a dressing room. It doesn’t apply to public spaces. The only act an upskirter can be prosecuted under is ‘outraging of public decency’, which is to commit an act of a lewd, obscene and disgusting nature capable of outraging public decency. In plain English, the only law that protects women in this situation is one that cares more about how outraged the public may be seeing it than how the woman who’s been violated feels. As someone who’s had it happen to them, I can’t tell you how awful, embarrassed and violated I felt at the time – and now.
We need to switch the conversation from ‘stop wearing short skirts’ to ‘stop harassing women’. We need to make a bigger deal of it, to get the law changed. If you see upskirting happening, report it. The more pressure we put on the system to protect us, hopefully we’ll start to make a change. No more loopholes, no more excuses. Women shouldn’t be subjected to this form of assault, and it needs to be categorised under the Sexual Offences Act – no questions asked. It is real. It is a problem. It needs to stop.
Gina in the outfit she wore at the festival