// 25 February 2009

Emine Saner has a piece up at The Guardian on the practice of “upskirting”, where men take photos or film up women’s skirts in public. Apparently, hundreds of thousands of these invasive images have been placed online, and no doubt there are more stored offline. Just reading about these vile, pathetic excuses for human beings makes me feel sick:

There are endless web forums where “amateur” upskirters can exchange tips on how to get the “best” pictures. One was posted by a man who had made a “cam-bag” – a holdall with a specially made pocket with a hole in it for a digital video camera lens. Another writes: “Never forget to shoot their faces before or after to know which girls the ass belongs to … After the first 50 asses, they look very similar and you lose most of the fun. After upskirting them, either step back and wait for them to turn or step by them and shoot direckly [sic] sidewise.”

I can only imagine how violated the women who find themselves on the receiving end of this practice must feel.

There is no specific law against upskirting, although perpetrators can potentially be prosecuted under the Sexual Offenses Act if it takes place “in a place which would reasonably be expected to provide privacy in the circumstances”, or under the criminal offence of “outraging public decency”. However, while one repeat offender was sentenced to a year imprisonment, another got away with a £500 fine and £500 costs.

As ever, comments on the piece range from women blaming: ‘wear trousers’, to informing us poor womenfolk how we should feel about male abuse: ‘WHAT GOES BY YOU, WONT HURT YOU’ via the inevitable what-about-the-men: ‘I hardly think it compares with violence against men’ and general bemusement:

Up-skirt photographs and the men who take them are both stupid. These photos have no appeal to most men. What can you possibly see that is more titillating than what you can see on a beach or in a strip club?

Most probably nothing. But much of the ‘titilation’ no doubt comes from the assertion of male power and entitlement to women’s bodies that comes from snapping under her clothes without her consent, and keeping that snap for himself (or sharing it with other perpetrators to prove his male prowess). Like verbal and physical street harassment, it is also an assertion of male dominance of public space. When we enter it, we become fair game.

Well if I ever catch a guy upskirting me or any other woman, he’ll instantly become fair game for my boots. In his crotch.

Comments From You

JenniferRuth // Posted 25 February 2009 at 12:04 pm

I used to work in Virgin Megastore about 4-5 years ago. Once, security was alerted to man who had wedged himself under the CD racks and was using a camera to take pictures up any woman’s skirt who passed by. Unfortunately, when security approached he legged it too fast for them to catch him – I never saw him under the racks, but I did see him running out the store and chased down the street by security.

I remember being completely appalled that someone would even have the confidence to do that, right in the middle of a very busy store. A lot of staff members thought it was funny (and yes, those members of staff where male).

It isn’t funny and it isn’t harmless – to treat it as such is to basically tell women that their bodies are public property.

Anna // Posted 25 February 2009 at 12:49 pm

Some of the comments on there have been quite heartening – others, sadly, have been profoundly depressing (Communicationalist, SonofRaj, I’m looking at you).

maggie // Posted 25 February 2009 at 12:49 pm

Well yes, all women should stay at home and never venture out because no matter what they wear there will always be a criticism. Particularly sinister is that they prey on very young women. I’m appalled.

I think that men who do this and are caught should go onto the sex offender’s register.

Sophie Platt // Posted 25 February 2009 at 1:12 pm

It’s always the same on Comment is Free. Any subject concerning women is immediately seized upon and pulled apart by the male commenters. Any overtly feminist posts are shouted or dismissed as ridiculous. I was very saddened by some of the posts when I read this piece this morning. I’m sure they would stand by their views if they discovered this had happened to a mother/sister/girlfriend?

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 25 February 2009 at 1:24 pm

Since many men are incapable of understanding ‘upskirting’ is yet another form of male sexual harassment and enactmen of beliefs in pseudo male sex right to women I have a question for them. Would they consider it ‘humorous’ if hidden cameras were placed in men’s restrooms and then photographs were posted on the internet ridiculing men’s sexual organs? Or would such activity be considered offensive and lewd? (Lewdness is not the correct interpretation but since law is male-defined and male-dominated women’s bodies and rights are invisible.)

Would the police move swiftly to catch the culprits and would the law enact the maximum penalty against such offenders? Just a hypothesis because of course ‘upskirting’ is not male sexual violence but just ‘harmless fun.’

‘Upskirting’ is on a continuum with the mainstreaming of pornography and now normal representation of women and girls as men’s and boys’ dehumanised sexualised commodities.

Equally male power clearly asserts itself by using that old chestnut ‘women are to blame because they dress inappropriately’ or ‘women are to blame because they use their sexuality to arouse men and cause them to lose control.’ Oh the excuses and justifications are endless – anything but holding men and enactment of masculine behaviour accountable and responsible. Good that Object are given more than a ‘soundbite’ because this issue is not new since it has been around for more than five years. I blame The Sport as one of the primary promoters of this latest piece of misogyny.

Princess Rot // Posted 25 February 2009 at 1:28 pm

I have noticed that among newer phones and digital cameras the shutter sound cannot be turned off or down, even if the phone itself is on silent. My LG even has an unmissable red laser-like like light that flashes during film mode, and it cannot be switched off. I wonder if this is a response from manufacturers to upskirting and invasion of privacy?

sianmarie // Posted 25 February 2009 at 1:35 pm

i don’t know what to say. that’s just awful, really horrible.

Laura // Posted 25 February 2009 at 2:06 pm

@Princess Rot – it may well be. The article says: “In Japan, upskirting is so rife that all mobile phones sold now make a sound that cannot be turned off when a photograph is taken.”

How incredibly depressing :-( But I hope it works.

chem_fem // Posted 25 February 2009 at 2:11 pm

Cameras on mobile phones can be so invasive. I was knitting on the train home late one night and the guy sitting on the other side of the train from me was trying to take a photo. i assumed it wasn’t sexual rather to show his mates the weird woman knitting on the train, but it really freaked me out. I wouldn’t have known he was doing it had he not acted so suspiciously.

Anyone trying to take a photo up my skirt can have one of my needles stuck up his nose.

Anne Onne // Posted 25 February 2009 at 2:48 pm

Upskirting is like pissing in someone’s coffee. It doesn’t physically harm the recipient, and the victim won’t even know about it in most cases, but if they do, they’ll feel betrayed, humiliated, disgusted and ashamed. The aim in both cases is to assert power over someone by doing something they are unaware of. In this day of mainstream pronography, is any pathetic misogynist really so deprived of porn that upskirting is essential? No. It’s not wanting any sexual gratification, but wanting gratificaiton at the expense of the dignity of that person right there, because all she exists for is to be seen as a sex object.

If you think there’s no harm in it, then you won’t mind someone pissing in your coffee, will you, since it doesn’t really matter. The truth is, small acts like these, even acts we don’t notice are wrong because the person doing them does them for the power trip. For the fact that they can degrade someone else. We don’t tolerate people pissing in coffee (and it’s not only because of hygeine, since most people’s urine is sterile) because it’s an act of disrespect that would horrify someone if it was done to them. Upskirting should be the same.

I second maggie: This is a sexual offense, because you’re using covert means to gain access (in this case visual) to parts of a person’s body that they have no intention of showing you. People who feel they have the right to do this to someone won’t stop, and deserve to be seen for the twisted individuals they are. There is no excuse for this sort of behaviour.

Women have every right to go about their everyday lives without being photographed without their permission, especially when this involves secret cameras aimed under their skirts. If we wanted photos of our underwear taken, we wouldn’t bother wearing anything over them. The fact that we do is a hint that we expect privacy. We expect that what is under our clothes remains hidden unless we choose to show it. And that our bodies are not photographed without our permission.

If we wanted pictures of our underwear disseminated on the net, we’d bloomin’ take them ourselves.

Arranging cameras stealthily is no different from lifting up someone’s skirt to take a photo: in both cases you’re actively trying to photograph something you have no right to, which isn’t even visible. I have a feeling lots of people think one is less wrong than the other, but why would that be so? Using artificial means to make something visible when you can’t see it (whether it be a mirror, careful crouching or lifting up a skirt) and photographing someone’s intimate regions without permission are the same no matter whether the action you take is stealthy or obvious. It’s not more active to lift a skirt than it is to place a secret camera in your bag, or position yourself at floor level. In fact, Upskirting by stealth is worse in that it shows a degree of premeditation, and occurs without our knowledge. We can’t take recourse, and nobody around us is aware it is happening, so there is no social pressure in such a situation.

And to those thinking that women should just put on a pair of trousers (so they can take pictures as soon as we bend over, I bet!), how about you actually think about putting the blame on those pathetic individuals who do this?

Or, let’s reverse the argument: How about all men whose trousers are baggy and worn low deserve to have pictures stealthily taken should anything be exposed. Or men with shorts or kilts on have pictures taken from below, and posted online for mockery or for sleazy creeps to fantasize and threaten rape over. Geez, saying that women who wear skirts deserve to be photographed against their will or knowledge, or raped is exactly like saying that men who wear their trousers low, or wear shorts deserve to be raped, photographed and ridiculed. No difference. And, strangely enough, it doesn’t seem to happen to men, either.

No excuse.

Anna // Posted 25 February 2009 at 3:16 pm

It’s got profoundly depressing with all the ‘but what about the menz’ comments – ‘well, once, I was wearing a kilt in a bar, and this drunk woman tried lifting it up to see if i was wearing underwear’.. oh, welcome to our world! you think noone ever does that to women in bars? sheesh.

The Boggart // Posted 25 February 2009 at 3:23 pm

@Laura Woodhouse and Princess Rot

It’s true that “upskirting” is the reason why mobile phones are now required to make that “shuttering” noise on taking a picture. Apparently there is also a booming black market trade in the old silent models.

More generally, I think that this could be useful in raising awareness about women-blaming in rape/sexual assault situations. This sounds weird (and is probably a long shot), but I think that since “upskirting” is such a new phenomena, it might allow people to examine their own prejudices relating to sexual assault in an impartial environment. For example, most people are likely to say it’s ridiculous that women should have to constantly wear trousers to avoid this, but might be the sort of person who wonders what a rape victim was wearing when attacked. In my opinion, such cognitive dissonance cannot last long.

Lauren O // Posted 25 February 2009 at 4:29 pm

I love the comments that say, “Wear trousers.” When I leave the house, apparently I need to foresee all possible ways that I could be violated and then prevent every single one. If it doesn’t occur to me that a man might come up with something creative like a hidden camera, that’s my own fault. I also apparently need to regard every single man as someone who’s going to sexually harass me…but feminists are the ones who hate men, right?

Sabre // Posted 25 February 2009 at 4:37 pm

The problem is that wearing skirts is still seen as some kind of invitation, i.e. if you REALLY wanted to cover up you’d wear trousers or shorts. It’s good that mobile companies are doing something about it though, I’m impressed.

The kilt thing doesn’t help. Whenever I see a guy in a bar/club with a kilt he’s intent on flashing his pants or arse as some kind of courting technique, which probably contributes to the idea that skirted women want to do the same. (Obviously not all kilted men do that.)

I am a bit uncomfortable with people saying they were ‘completely violated’ (as in the Guardian article title) Yes it is a violation and I don’t want to trvialise other peoples’ experiences, it is a horrible thing, but I would imagine physical assault or rape to be far worse violations of body and soul.

If I see anyone on the tube or in public using their phone where I think they might be taking a picture of me, I get my phone out and subtly pretend to take a picture of them. I can sometimes guess what they were up to by whether they react to this. I know it’s not a perfect solution but it makes me feel more in control at least.

Emily // Posted 26 February 2009 at 1:26 pm

I’ve just spent a year and half in Japan and yes, all Japanese mobile phones and cameras make a noise because so many pervy salarymen think clicking up ladies’ skirts is fun. Last summer a man was caught – by an African guy living in Japan – looking up women’s skirts courtesy of a mirror on his shoe. The African guy chased him, got him in a headlock and called the police. It was very satisfying to see this man publicly humiliated for what he did, being lead off by the police, plus it renewed my faith in men when we saw the African guy interviewed about why he went after the perv.

There are also women-only carriages on trains in Japan, and don’t even get me started on knicker-nickers! My friend had all hers opinched when she was a teenager. Her mother called the police, and my friend had to endure giving a middle-aged man a full description of her missing pants!

I’m sorry to say that the man who went after the perv ‘renewed my faith in men’ here, because I’m certain most men think this kinds of behaviour deserves a kicking. However, looking at some of the male comments on this Guardian story – the Guardian, remember, whose readership supposedly includes the cream of crop brain-wise – my faith has dwindled anew.

Laura // Posted 26 February 2009 at 9:35 pm

OK, so I need to wear trousers.

But if I do that I’ll be helping create an abortive society.

I’m confused. My poor female brain can’t handle it.

And yes, this is appalling, and anyone who I catch trying it on is getting a good hard kick in the balls.

And I know this isn’t the main point, but I really like wildlife photography and it pisses me off that I’m going to have to put up with the shutter sound for the rest of my life because some sad bastard can only get off by photographing women’s underwear.

Karen // Posted 26 February 2009 at 10:54 pm

Hi, I have to wear trousers for my job but I have to admit I haven’t worn a skirt out for the last 8-10 years because when I last did, I got assaulted. We shouldn’t have to feel like this but the chances of me ever wearing a skirt outside my front door again are pretty slim. Too many pervs with their “no harm done, just having a laugh” as they humiliate someone mentality.

Morgan // Posted 1 March 2009 at 1:46 pm

When I was about 12/13 a boy on my school bus did this to me when I stood up to leave the bus. I was a very shy child and have had anxiety problems my whole life and his continued harassment often worried me to the point of tears and skipping school. I wanted to wear trousers to school because of this and other incidents with male students, but that was not available as an option at my school until you were in year 10 (15 years old I think). The boy was older by 4 or 5 years. Looking back, the worst thing was his female friends laughing and encouraging him.

At the time I wouldn’t say I was a feminist because I was not really aware of any of the issues and was very much still a child unconcerned with the adult world. His actions made me feel ashamed and now I realise I should have told someone. A teacher or parent could have at very least told him how he was being inappropriate or tell him off in some fashion.

Thankfully this was the height of what I now understand to be his sexual harassment of me. I wish I’d had the confidence to stop him as I believe he will not have changed. I hope no other woman will question herself because of him.

If I ever see someone doing this they will be receiving a speech containing six years of disgust and anger. And then they’ll get a kick in the crotch. ;)

marge // Posted 2 March 2009 at 8:32 am

This is really disgusting! I really feel bad for the victims of this crime. I just don’t see how someone could do this to a woman. Where is decency today? I don’t worry about this crime because I haven’t worn a skirt since my skirt was pulled up by a drunk guy in a bar, back in the 90’s. As horribly embarrassing and humiliating as that was, I think it would be worse to have someone take a picture up my skirt and share it with anyone who wanted to see it. I just can’t understand someone would so deeply humiliate a woman!

Vanessa Robinson // Posted 3 March 2009 at 8:01 pm

I find hurtful the attitude that ‘If you wore a skirt you were asking for it’ men don’t expect to choose their clothing as protection against sexual assault.

I have had this happen to me once, I was 16 at the time and I suppose to an onlooker, sexually ‘mature’ but that in no way means that I wanted or was ‘ready’ for being treated as a sex object. Yes, I was wearing a skirt but it wasn’t with the slightest intention of attracting male attention; it was a hot summer day and (coming from a family that dresses fairly conservatively) I was just brought up more used to skirts than trousers. Whatever I may have appeared, on the inside I was still very much a child. I had only gone out to buy candyfloss at the fair and I left feeling violated and helpless (very much the same as I have felt after being physically assaulted recently only at least now I had the confidence to make a fuss at get the guy removed from the premises).

I am also frustrated by the attitude that if you have ever worn a bikini then that gives universal consent to your underwear being photographed. I have had sex; that does not mean that I have consented to receiving every penis that anyone in the future wishes to insert into me. Specific context is always key in matters of consent.

Danielle // Posted 21 July 2009 at 8:24 am

A new “gadget” shop that has just opened in my local shopping centre, although they sell a lot of cheap tacky stuff rather than the high-tech gadgets I was expecting.

Anyway, they had the inevitable hen-night/ stag-do section, including a walking stick with a strategically placed mirror near the bottom. It was called the Dirty Old Man’s Walking Stick, or something along those original lines.

So yeah, it’s just comedy, apparently. Makes me sick.

Sarah // Posted 18 March 2011 at 10:54 pm

I remembered this post following a conversation with my boyfriend this evening and I felt the need to re-visit it. My boyfriend is currently skiing with friends and one friend in particular posted a load of photos on Facebook in the last few days including one shot of a woman from behind wearing extremely tight trousers. This guy had tagged my boyfriend and other male friends on the photo. I messaged by boyfriend to ask him if he thought taking and posting this picture was acceptable, it was clearly taken without her consent. Although my boyfriend said he could see where I was coming from, he also said that if someone had taken the photo of me he would be flattered/ proud and that i was over-reacting. Unfortunately as he is abroad at the moment this conversation was brief but I’m so surprised by his reaction I’m really unsure where to go from here when he gets home.

Hannah // Posted 21 March 2011 at 1:35 am

I don’t know the details of your relationship so it’s not up to me to speculate too much, but it really does not sound like your boyfriend did know where you were coming from if he was able to dismiss your concern so lightly!

If you get the chance, maybe you should go into the thought experiment he proposed a bit more, asking how he’d feel if a male stranger had taken a photo of you and was perving on it with his friends. This brings into it the extra layer of his possessiveness towards his girlfriend, but hopefully you’ll be able to get him to see it from your (and most other women’s) perspective…It might be easier when he’s home and not competing to be the manliest man in the group along with his friends.

I would be really upset if my boyfriend responded in that way. It’s not for anyone else to decide whether your offence is an ‘over-reaction’, especially not when as in this case, it sounds absolutely justified. Good luck!

Angelina // Posted 21 March 2011 at 1:17 pm

Sarah – dump him! That’s where to go from here.

I bet if someone took a ‘compromising’ picture of him, he wouldn’t like it. And if someone took one of you, I don’t think he’d be proud either. He’d probably see it as his ‘property’ being violated.

You’re not over-reacting, he’s under-reacting.

Kit // Posted 21 March 2011 at 1:53 pm

@Sarah – he would be flattered/proud on your behalf? That’s “nice” of him… I’d be wary if my SO felt like that. It’s wrong on a load of levels, but for one I wouldn’t be able to trust they weren’t doing the same with me to take part in that kinda thing with their mates :/

Sarah // Posted 22 March 2011 at 7:33 pm

My problem is that we usually agree on issues like this day-to-day (although now it’s got me thinking). I’m still really surprised by his reaction to me challenging the behaviour. I think the issue is not that he doesn’t “get” it but possibly he is ashamed that he allowed himself to be involved with it and that he got caught out. His saying he would be proud to have his girlfriend objectified by others doesn’t really ring true to me but will be something we need to talk about clearly. Or perhaps a few weeks away with morons has altered his brain chemistry. I’m not trying to make excuses for him, I’m just trying to understand what is going on his head.

Jacqueline // Posted 23 March 2011 at 2:11 pm

Sarah, as you say, a few weeks away with morons won’t have helped!

He probably does just feel ashamed after getting caught, and is fronting it out. It is difficult to go against the crowd, and he might be afraid of his mates ridiculing him. But yes, a ‘clear’ talk. Definitely. You owe it to yourself.

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