No More Skirts

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If you were a woman wearing a skirt or a dress in Massachusetts four years ago, a man would be allowed to take a picture up your skirt and not be convicted of voyeurism.

Massachusetts recently passed a law that specifically makes “upskirting” a crime. The term “upskirting” refers to someone using a camera to take a photo under a woman’s clothing.

The issue came to surface after several incidents were reported about strangers discretely taking photos up women’s skirts or dresses on public transportation in Massachusetts. In response to the string of complaints, the police set up a sting operation to catch one of the perpetrators in action. ImageA police officer went undercover on a trolley dressed in a skirt and caught Michael Robertson in 2010 attempting to take a picture. Robertson was charged under the Peeping Tom Law, but his case was dismissed after his lawyers claimed that the law only applied to an individual taking a picture of a person who is fully or semi naked. Unfortunately “upskirting” was not technically breaking this law so the case was dismissed and Robertson was not charged.

To close this loophole, Massachusetts law-makers drafted and quickly passed a law in early 2014 that explicitly addressed the issue of “upskirting”. Massachusetts was not the first state to face this issue. Several other states have already passed laws against “upskirting” to avoid having perpetrators get off on a technicality.

Why are these laws only being addressed now when voyeurism has been an issue for centuries? Men, and even women, have tried to sneak a peek at their neighbor undressing or bathing. Before modern technology these “peeping Toms” had limited resources and resorted to using binoculars, disguises, or simply hoping that their neighbor was careless enough to keep the blinds open. Nowadays individuals can discretely place cameras in all sorts of items and crevices and have an unlimited feed of naked or semi-naked persons. The meaning of “privacy” is almost diminished if we consider how easy modern technology has made it to snap a photo of an unsuspecting victim. Even though the law is always playing “catch-up” with technological advances, acts of voyeurism that have already been around for a while should already be addressed in the law.

In fact, “upskirting” is the tip of the iceberg for policymakers. A quick web search of upskirting brings up sites dedicated to pictures of women’s bottoms, and others dedicated to “down-blousing” and public groping. Millions of non-consenting women are being paraded on the internet without their knowledge, and will continue to be if the legal definition of voyeurism does not include all forms of “peeping”. A woman can feel violated even if the picture is not of her nude or semi-nude.

The fact that this is even an issue in 2014 is a sign that society has accepted these crude acts. I hope that the recent decision of the Massachusetts court will catalyze other states to reconsider their Peeping Tom laws.

Be it clothing or the law, lack of “coverage” should not justify victimization of any woman. 

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One thought on “No More Skirts

  1. This is an interesting post, particularly because I was not aware that this form of sexual harassment is so prevalent. I am truly surprised that such a law was not passed long before now. While passing a law against “upskirting” is an important first step, it is up to law enforcement (and societal norms) to create change. If there are websites dedicated exclusively for sharing such pictures, I wonder whether steps will be made to take them down.

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