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Creepshots: what are they and why are they still happening? Victims share their experiences

By Monica Athnasious

Apr 18, 2022

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What are creepshots?

The term creepshot typically refers to the act of taking a photo of a person (usually feminine presenting) in public without their consent—unlike typical street photography it is an action loaded with sexual intimidation and harassment. The creepshot itself is, disturbingly, one that often focuses on intimate areas, such as a person’s cleavage, legs and even clothed privates but regularly involves a person’s whole form—most likely that of women and young girls.

Discussion around the matter was at a high in May 2021 when TikTok user @Bailzherb’s (real name Bailey) viral video showed the confronting of a man caught taking images of her and another person without their permission. The video has been viewed close to 9 million times. “We were just told you were taking photos of us?” they ask approaching the alleged perpetrator, further probing him, “Why can’t we see your camera roll if you weren’t taking pictures of us? […] Sir, it’s really weird to take pictures of females in public without their permission so you should never do that again.” They were eventually able to pressure him into deleting the photos in front of them.

Another case showcasing a similar interaction also had a moment of virality on TikTok just a few weeks prior to the above video. Janelle Rodriguez uploaded a series of videos confronting a man who took photos of her at the gym. Her eight-part series—which included a follow-up video countering the misogynistic comments blaming Rodriquez for her choice of attire—amassed around 10 million views at the time. “I see it right there, you’re lying, so delete it right now,” she yelled at the stranger, “how dare you take a picture of me while I’m working out?”

Creepshots are still happening

The impact of ‘creepshotting’ has shown no signs of slowing in the year that has followed these clips—multiple videos have surfaced that repeatedly show the same behaviour repeated since then. An epidemic that often finds itself in gyms and public transport. Wanting to investigate the issue further, SCREENSHOT spoke to a number of people who had experienced the vile act.

Ash, 17, told me his story via Instagram. Just 14 years old at the time and riding the tram during the summer, he experienced a horrifyingly harassing ordeal. “It was summertime and we were all wearing dresses, shorts and skirts. These two really old men started to stare at us and whisper to each other, we didn’t really do anything. Then one of them took his phone out and pretended to scroll through his phone but it was very clear that he was taking pictures of us.” Noticing but too frightened to confront the man, a woman stepped in to defend the group of friends—demanding the man delete the images.

“He kept trying to justify what he was doing by saying that we were ‘dressing provocatively’ and were ‘obviously trying to show off our legs and begging people to look at us’,” Ash continued. The friends went on to say that they were just kids to which one of the alleged perpetrators replied, “You don’t really look like kids since each and every single one of you is dressed like a hooker.” The woman who got involved made sure the images were erased and offered to contact the police.

Another, far too young, example came from a user who went by Moss. “Some friends and I had been wearing skirts in school and some of the boys liked to take photos underneath the skirt while we walked up the stairs,” they recounted, in an act that is referred to as ‘upskirting’—but don’t worry, we’ll get into that in a bit. It’s evident that creepshotting and upskirting can just as easily be done by those in proximity to you and not the classic trope of creepy man lurking in a corner.

Delilah shared the same via Instagram DMs with SCREENSHOT. It wasn’t a complete stranger on the street, but someone I was in a hostel with while travelling (still pretty much a stranger). He got my number from a group chat after and sent me loads of pictures he’d taken of me without me realising and it really freaked me out. That was just one element of his creepiness,” she disclosed.

It’s not just behaviour conducted by men though, others across the internet have noted catching women doing the same to young female-presenting people—conduct that has been concerningly  linked to signs of the work of sexual trafficking predators, a theory that cannot be confirmed by SCREENSHOT. For Libby, 16, their experience was with a woman. “I was out at the mall with my friends. I was feeling pretty confident that day and so I wore a short-ish jean skirt.” Standing in line at the food court, Libby noticed a woman who looked to be in her 30s to 40s take a photo of them—the accidental flash of the camera exposing her crime.

I could tell she was panicking. She put her phone down and acted like she was doing nothing. My friends rushed over to me and told me she was taking pictures of me and my outfit. Another guy around my age had come up behind me and was whispering to me saying he saw that woman taking pictures of me. I didn’t know what to do so I just said ‘It’s okay, it doesn’t matter’. The guy who saw it confronted her and all the woman had to say was, ‘Look at her outfit, she had it coming’. I was wearing black boots, a jean skirt, a black tank top with a flannel [shirt],” Libby revealed.

The impact of being blamed for their harassment affected some of these victims for a while post the incident. Ash stated that he stopped going out as much and began purchasing baggier clothes in an attempt to feel ‘safe’. “But then I realised, it doesn’t matter if I’m wearing something short or not, I still do get photographed without my consent, no matter what I do. It’s not about what we wear, it’s about the sick minds that photograph or videotape us,” he further elucidated. Libby shared the same sentiment, “There was nothing wrong with my outfit.”

Worryingly, though it hasn’t slowed, Ash believes it happens a lot more when you’re younger and not enough is being done to stop it. Libby felt helpless, like there was nothing they could do about the many possible images of her on another person’s phone—Ash showed signs of the same feeling, “I do wish that we had contacted the police now though. I wish he got what he deserved but I feel like even if we did, they wouldn’t [have done] much.”

Are creepshots still legal?

Sort of. It’s complicated. And it depends country to country. For now, we will focus our attention on progress in the UK. An element of a creepshot, previously described as upskirting, was finally made illegal in the UK in 2019. So, what does it technically involve? 

Well, the UK government defines it as “a highly intrusive practice, which typically involves someone taking a picture under another person’s clothing without their knowledge, with the intention of viewing their genitals or buttocks (with or without underwear).” A popular location for upskirting that is mentioned is public transport, with figures showing girls as young as 10 have been victims. This is an environment that I, and many of my peers witnessed or experienced ourselves travelling to and from school. If you were getting a double-decker bus, you were always wary of a creepy pervert at the bottom of the stairs.

Upskirting being made illegal is down to an incredibly strong-willed woman, who campaigned for the bill, Gina Martin. Martin, who was a target of upskirting, decided enough was enough and worked tirelessly to get it passed in Parliament. In January 2019, she took to Instagram to say “18 months ago a man stuck his hand between my legs and took photos of my crotch without my consent. 18 months ago I discovered it wasn’t a sexual offence and decided I was going to try and change the law for us […] I managed to change [that] and enact the Voyeurism Offences act.” Potential offenders of such a crime can now receive up to two years in prison, with more ‘serious’ perpetrators being put on the sex offenders register.

 

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A post shared by Gina Martin (she/her) (@ginamartin)

Other countries are taking alternative actions to help reduce the rise of creepshots. I’m sure many of you have heard by now that when buying a mobile phone in Japan, thanks to local regulations, you will be unable to turn off the camera shutter sound. This is supposed to act as a social deterrent to taking creepshots—that is how often it happens. Wow, that’s great, right? No. Not really.

Unfortunately, while intent is there, there is large evidence of people trying to get around it. While researching information about this rule in Japan (it’s not a legal requirement) I came across a sea of websites, Reddit threads and Google searches all asking “how do I turn the shutter off on a Japanese phone?” That many people want to know, huh? What’s even more disturbing is that on the first page of Google, when searching ‘creepshots’, a website appears that is dedicated to the uploading of creepshots from around the world.

While Gina Martin’s bill passing is a win, creepshots (apart from upskirting) are largely still legal. It leaves women and girls like TikTok users Bailey and Rodriguez as well as young people like Ash, Moss, Delilah and Libby to fend for themselves, with little to no support or justice; that’s if you even catch them. What about the young kids who don’t know someone has taken a picture of them? Maybe we shouldn’t even be calling them creepshots but what they are—assault.