Why Is This Wor­ry­ing Trend Not il­le­gal?

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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

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