`Upskirting' incidents reportedly on rise
PeePing tom laws • Photos taken up dresses of women has prompted changes to legislation
OKLAHOMA CITY — During a late-night, tension-filled budget meeting in a crowded Capitol conference room in May, Travis Goss Brauer sat on the floor, just a few feet from where a protester stood wearing a blue dress.
Brauer, 29, an aide to Gov. Mary Fallin, placed his phone on the floor near one of the woman's stiletto heels in what a witness later told authorities appeared to be an attempt to take photos or videos up the woman's dress.
“Upskirting” is the intentional taking of photographs up the dresses of unsuspecting women in public places and, in some cases, posting the images on the internet. The practice, aided by the proliferation of digital technology, has prompted a flurry of legislation in states seeking to combat what some victims characterize as another form of sexual assault.
“Some people may say `well gosh, it's kind of a minor deal isn't it?' Well, you know, it's really not to these young ladies and women who have this happen to them,” Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said. “It's a frightening deal. It's kind of like peeping Tom-type situations, if you think that those are minor events, that's your next burglar, that's your next rapist, and so it's a significant incident to us.”
Such crimes often may go unreported. In many cases, victims might not even be aware they've been targeted, said Oklahoma City police Master Sgt. Gary Knight.
“Often times a witness will tell somebody ... `Hey, there's a guy over there taking pictures up women's dresses or skirts,'” he said.
That's what happened in Brauer's case. The alleged victim didn't know she had possibly been recorded until another woman who'd seen Brauer place his camera on the floor approached her minutes later.
Brauer learned of the allegations against him the next day, and declined when Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers asked him to turn over his phone. He later agreed to surrender the phone, but in a meeting with troopers on May 30, told them he'd lost it at a lake.
About a week later, he notified troopers that he'd backed up data from his phone to his laptop. But after analyzing the laptop data, authorities found about an hour of activity was missing from the day of the meeting.
Authorities also found that Brauer, after learning of the allegations against him, had made multiple internet searches on how to delete images and how to “completely wipe a phone,” according to the affidavit.
Under Oklahoma's peepingTom law, if caught with upskirt photos, Brauer would have faced a misdemeanor charge with a maximum punishment of one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
“I think the photo itself ought to be (a felony). Not to put people in prison, but you need to get people on the radar to determine exactly what kind of a threat they are and charging with just a misdemeanor doesn't do it,” Prater said.
While many states have similar laws, murky wording has led to a handful of legal reversals.
Last year, the conviction of a Georgia man who admitted to taking an upskirt shot of a woman at a grocery store was thrown out after the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled he hadn't broken the law.
Brandon Lee Gary, who had formerly worked at the grocery store, had recorded videos up the woman's skirt but was found not to have violated the state's invasion of privacy law because the incident was happening at a public place.
In May, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill into law making it illegal to take upskirt photos. Those convicted of the crime now face prison time and a fine up to $10,000.
In response to the court ruling, lawmakers quickly drew up and passed a bill outlawing the practice. Those convicted of the crime now face up to 2½ years in jail and a fine up to $5,000.
While Brauer was not charged under Oklahoma's peeping Tom laws, he was charged on Tuesday in Oklahoma County District Court with a felony charge of offering false or fraudulent evidence and destruction of evidence, a misdemeanor.
He was booked into the Oklahoma County jail on Thursday morning.