Upskirting is defined as the act of taking a photograph or video from a position that allows someone to look up another person’s skirt or dress without their permission. It’s often overlooked and dismissed as a joke, despite the fact that it is a form of sexual harassment. This is not shocking, as many forms of rape culture are not taken seriously by society. This patriarchal society gives men the confidence to commit such heinous crimes as they know that they’re more likely to get away with it.
As women, we should trust that laws are put in place to help in time of need, right? Unfortunately, no. It wasn’t until 25-year-old Gina Martin, after experiencing upskirting at the British Summer Time Festival, learned that there wasn’t a law to protect her from her perpetrators. So, she decided to campaign, and as a result, upskirting became a criminal offense in England and Wales in April 2019.
The Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019
Upskirting was already a sexual offense in Scotland (since 2010), was not one in England and Wales till last year. This is sadly the reality of the society we live in. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Gina Martin and her lawyer Ryan Whelan we now have The Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019.
Under this new act, upskirting perpetrators face up to two years in prison and being placed on the sex offender’s register in more severe cases. The most common places that upskirting has occurred have been reported to be shop aisles, schools, and other public spaces. Moreover, the age range of the victims has been as young as school children.
So, why was upskirting not a crime in England and Wales sooner? In fact, many countries are still yet to class upskirting as a crime.
It’s not uncommon for countries to disagree on varying forms of sexual harassment. Take stealthing, the non-consensual removal of a condom, which is considered a crime in the UK. However, in Australia, there’s no criminal law that identifies it as one. When big, influential countries can’t even seem to agree on what is classed as a sexual offense or not. It makes it more difficult for the victims, particularly their mental health. As some people choose to use these different laws and the absence of laws to undermine and invalidate what victims are going through. No victim should have to face uncertainty like this.
Reality of campaigning
Gina Martin’s online campaign, a successful one, demonstrates persistence and hope. Her recent TED talk offers an honest insight into the harsh reality of her campaign journey, where she faced many setbacks. Most notably, Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope objected to the bill from passing through the House of Commons.
It’s important that the issues women face receive cross-party support and are not disregarded. Despite, Chope later admitting that even though he blocked the bill, he supported the upskirting ban. It’s not enough. It’s not enough to only show verbal support when you are in a position of power. Actions speak louder than words.
Nevertheless, the House of Lords backed the bill, which was finally passed in April 2019. The campaign that started in 2017 was finally met with success 18 months later.
How to be a good ally
What Gina Martin has accomplished is that of historical significance. One that gives hope for young girls and women. Hope for more progression in the near future. Inspired by her, France and Germany also followed suit and introduced an upskirting law. She has since released a book, Be the Change, documenting the many challenges she faced during campaigning, the role of social media, and white privilege, to name a few. She is also an ambassador for UN Women UK.
However, many men have responded with anger at what she has accomplished and viewed it as a personal threat to their position in society rather than a victory for women’s safety. As a result, she has faced intense online abuse from men that includes being sent rape and death threats. The patriarchal society we live in is one all men benefit from. This is regardless of whether they contribute to the oppression of women or weaponize their privilege for their own selfish needs.
If you want to use the phrase not all men how about we use it like this. Not all men are calling out their friends when he says something to a woman, he would never say to a guy. Not all men are looking up these phrases learning what rape culture really is, how misogyny really operates. And no, not all men are perpetrators of course they’re not but all the ones who aren’t should be solving this with us.Gina Martin
Gina Martin credits her lawyer Ryan Whelan, who worked pro bono and is as good an ally as it gets.
Communities that are oppressed should not be left alone to dismantle what has been built against them. Use your privilege to assist.Gina Martin
Women have a long way to go before equality is truly achieved. The way in which women face inequality is in itself not equal either. Women of color face intersectional experiences of discrimination. Therefore, it’s important to acknowledge our privilege(s), educate ourselves, and not speak over other women who have to overcome different obstacles. Additionally, this fight for freedom is one that can be achieved sooner with the support of men.