Upskirting. It’s a term that until recently I’d never heard of so, what does it mean? Upskirting is the process of taking a non-consensual photograph of up a woman’s skirt. The images are often then shared on dedicated ‘upskirt’ websites. Gina Martin’s experience of ‘upskirting’ last summer became the trigger for a national campaign to make this practice prosecutable as a sexual offence.
On the 8th July 2017 Martin went to the British Summer Time music festival in London’s Hyde Park where a male festival-goer took a photograph up her skirt on his phone. Martin was unaware that the image had been taken until she saw one of the perpetrator’s friends looking at the image. Although she reported this man to the police at the festival, she was told that as she was wearing underwear the image wasn’t considered graphic so there was nothing they could do. Even more frustrating was that since they had him delete the image, she had no evidence to start a case with. The events of that day would later become the trigger for a national campaign to make this practice of ‘upskirting’ a sexual offence.
Martin started a petition to have her case re-opened and also a campaign to make upskirting a sexual offence. Currently it is an offence in Scotland under the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, however in England, Wales and Northern Ireland the offence is far harder to prosecute. Martin has called for the government to #StopSkirtingTheIssue and is currently in the process of encouraging MP’s to back a bill to make ‘upskirting’ a specific sexual offence. The proposed bill will be debated in Parliament on the 11th May. She has received support from several MP’s and is making phenomenal progress in her campaign. However perhaps what is most telling about her experience and consequently that of others is the reaction to her initial Facebook post detailing what had happened to her.
The post quickly went viral and Martin received a torrent of abuse from strangers calling her a slut, an attention-seeker and a liar. It was even suggested that she was at fault due to her decision to wear a skirt, as if this was some sort of viable justification for the upskirter’s behaviour. What the reaction to Martin’s Facebook post demonstrates is how willing complete strangers were to blame her rather than those at fault. The ingrained societal tendency is to blame the victim rather that the perpetrator, especially in crimes of a sexual nature.
It reminded me how society’s attitude to upskirt photographs of women has been normalised in part by the persistent efforts of the media. Tabloid newspaper photographers in particular lower their cameras in an attempt gain upskirt photos of female celebrities. These images are then used to shame and humiliate women in the public eye on a national scale.
This was clearly seen earlier this year at the BRITS. Holly Willougby pointed out that, “at the beginning of the night we held white roses and walked down a red carpet full of the hope and pride that comes with the #timesup campaign … at the end of the night, cameras were held low to get a photo up our skirts … times apparently up on #timesup.” Following the event, Willoughby posted a collage of four images taken following the BRIT awards of herself, Louise Redknapp, Rita Ora and Abbey Clancy who were all subject to the attempted upskirting.
The contrast of how these women chose to present themselves and the photos paparazzi chose to take clearly shows how the media are complicit in demeaning women. In taking non-consensual photographs of women which are then sold as entertainment, usually accompanied by some sort of humiliating caption they feed into a culture of blaming women for being sexualised without their consent.
Martin’s campaign to change the law on upskirting is the first step in changing societal attitudes towards demeaning and intrusive photography of women, in the everyday and on a broader scale, within the media. If upskirting becomes illegal the law will provoke a societal change that is so badly needed. A lack of morality in order to ‘get that shot’ should never be normalised or approved of.
By Helena Allfrey
If you would like to support Gina’s campaign, you can sign the Care2 petition here https://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/569/552/828/ to ask your MP to support a Bill making upskirting a sexual offence under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003. The Bill will be debated in Parliament on the 11th May.