On 15 January 2019, the House of Lords approved a ban on upskirting, one that was previously blocked June 2018 by MP Christopher Chope – at the time, the sole objector to the bill. It’s a ban that was tirelessly campaigned for by Gina Martin, who, at the British Summertime Festival in London 2017, became the victim of what will legally be a sexual offense after Royal Assent.
Overjoyed by the result, Martin said of the new ban, ‘it means agency over your own body, and the power to be able to take things into your own hands and get justice when your body is treated as if it’s public property. I didn’t have that opportunity when it happened to me.’
‘Agency’ truly encapsulates what this bill will mean. Upskirting is an act of violation and, more importantly, a tool for humiliation. Like catcalling, it is a method of sexual intimidation where a man invades the space of a woman to assert an entitlement over her body, as Martin says, as if it is ‘public property’: I see you, and I can say and do whatever I like to you. It is most certainly a gendered issue too. Take Daily Mail headlines such as ‘New Year Revellers celebrate 2019 in drunken mayhem and a LOT of flesh on show’, where the focus is primarily on women who not only don’t realise that their bodies have been exposed, but who also don’t realise that they are being photographed. Deceit is a huge part of this particular brand of ‘journalism’, and it is the same with upskirting: a part of the thrill, almost, of the crime is its surreptitiousness, the act of deceiving a woman by taking an obscene photo of her unaware.
Furthermore, photography without consent is widely considered violating in and of itself. Take the ‘Afghan Girl’, less commonly known by her real name, Sharbat Gula, and criticisms of the UK’s excessive use of CCTV: to have your very image stolen and used outside of your control is disconcerting at the very least. For this stolen image to be deliberately sexual should undeniably be seen as assault, technological voyeurism. Like ‘creepshots’, and the once infamous and, for many women, creepy and disturbing ‘Women who Eat on Tubes’ project, upskirting is a malicious invasion of women’s privacy, some of whom are even as young as ten. It’s about time that the men who do it face justice.