The term creepshot typically refers to the act of taking a photo of a woman or girl in public without their consent. The creepshot itself is, disturbingly, one that focuses on intimate areas, such as, a person’s cleavage, legs and even clothed privates. Early this month, TikTok user @Bailzherb (real name Bailey) posted a now-viral video confronting a man for taking images of her and another person without their permission. The video has been viewed over 8 million times. “We were just told you were taking photos of us?” they ask approaching him. They probe him further, “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 the same thing went viral on TikTok just a few weeks prior. Janelle Rodriguez uploaded a series of videos confronting a man who took photos of her at the gym. Her series has amassed around 9 million views in total. “I see it right there, you’re lying, so delete it right now,” she yells at him, “how dare you take a picture of me while I’m working out?” Scary. Do you know what’s even scarier? If they both didn’t notice. What if they still had no idea what had happened? How could this possibly still be legal?
Sort of. It’s complicated. An element of a creepshot, specifically coined as upskirting, was finally made illegal in the UK in 2019. So, what is upskirting? 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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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 you will be unable to turn off the camera shutter sound. This is supposed to act as a social deterrent to taking creepshots. Wow, that’s great right? No. Not really. Unfortunately, while the 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, 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 Janelle Rodriguez to fend for themselves, with little to no support or justice; that’s if you even catch them. What about the women 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.
To say that the last week has been difficult and triggering for women in the UK, and across the world, would be an understatement. What started off with International Women’s Day, a day supposed to celebrate progress and the strive towards gender equality, quickly turned into tragedy. And men, I’m looking at you. We need to have a serious talk.
The devastating disappearance and murder of Sarah Everard, in which a serving Met Police officer has been charged, has sparked global outrage, and understandably so. Last week was also the first time many of us heard about Blessing Olusegon—a black woman whose body was discovered on a beach last year. The case, which still hasn’t been resolved, received a noticeably smaller amount of coverage than Everard’s, interest in it only resurfacing after her death.
In a response to Sarah Everard’s case, Met Commissioner Cressida Dick said that what happened “is thankfully incredibly rare.” Yet, Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, reportedly told BBC Radio 4’s Today that “since when Sarah first went missing, six women and a little girl have been reported as being killed at the hands of men.” This comes at the same week as the World Health Organization revealed that one in three women globally have been subjected to physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. One in three—making it around 736 million women globally. Let that sink in.
Thousands of women have shared their own experiences of assault, harassment, being followed home, or abused. And on Saturday 13 March, images of police officers pinning women down to the ground resurfaced all over social media, following a vigil that was held in London’s Clapham Common to honour Sarah Everard and all other victims of gender-based violence. If we learned anything from the past week, it’s that in 2021, women are still not being taken seriously. Our concerns, our safety, and our wellbeing are not seen as a priority.
These events have sparked a huge discourse online around the safety of women worldwide, and the role that men play in it. As women started sharing their concerns, fears, and personal experiences, my social media was flooded with an array of responses from men. Some were reposting infographics about how they can be ‘better’, while others, who are normally very vocal about social issues online, stayed silent. Ironically enough, to my knowledge, some of the men in both categories mentioned had previously displayed questionable behaviour towards women. Either they are completely unaware of this fact, or chose to blissfully ignore it.
Outside of my own echo chambers, #NotAllMen started trending on Twitter as men quickly jumped to defend themselves (and so did some women too). Many who used the hashtag accused those speaking up of misandry, and trying to spread a politicised ‘agenda’.
Here is the thing though—you don’t need to go to the extremes of abducting someone or murdering them to be complicit in the violence towards women. I can sit here and list countless stories about me or my female friends being followed home, grabbed by strangers, tackled to the ground, harassed or assaulted. So many women can. But I can also share experiences I know many will not take seriously, or consider to be a ‘big deal’, that contribute to this culture of violence and abuse. Like being coerced by men I’ve previously dated, whom I’ve trusted. I did it, so you would count it as consent, right? Or how many times have you heard other men say that speaking about consent ‘mid-action’ ruins the mood? Because I have lost count, and I am tired of it.
Just last week, my best friend was on a work Zoom call with a male client who thought it was appropriate to compliment her smile in a follow-up email. This may seem like a harmless comment, but it’s not—predatory behaviour begins somewhere. She ignored the comment and responded saying that if he has any more concerns or questions over the work matter, they can discuss via call. “Don’t tempt me with your number,” he answered back.
In this case, this man knew exactly what he was doing—he is double her age, has a more senior position, and he is her client on top of that. But he made the decision not to back down after his initial comment was ignored. Every single time that a person gets away from something without any accountability, it snowballs. Locker room talk, objectifying women as a ‘joke’, your friend mistreating his girlfriend, or speaking about women with a general lack of respect. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, these are minor—but it always starts small, and then it escalates, until it’s too late.
There have been alleged reports that prior to Sarah Everard’s disappearance, the officer charged with her murder had already been accused of indecent exposure. Of course, that does not even begin to compare to the horrific experience Everard had to go through, but this person allegedly previously displayed predatory behaviour, and got away with it. Whether it was not acted upon fast enough, or completely overlooked, it led to a catastrophic, irreversible consequence.
Everyone knows someone who has been harassed, assaulted, or raped. Yet it seems that nobody knows an assaulter. But these people are around you; they are in your circles, at your workplace, they might even be your friend or family member. And until you start having these conversations, you won’t know. If you don’t believe me, just look at the recent statistics published by The Guardian last week: 97 per cent of women aged between 18 and 24 have been sexually harassed or assaulted.
Yes, men suffer from sexual assault, harassment, and violence too—no one is denying this. While the numbers of women reporting their sexual assault experiences are significantly higher, it is crucial to mention that many men do not report theirs, due to factors like people not taking their experiences seriously, downplaying the severity, or simply telling them to ‘man up’. It is truly a huge issue, and as a society, we all need to do better.
But what you seem to forget is that all of these factors that are in place are only there because of the patriarchal system we live in—the one that men created in the first place. And it’s up to you to dismantle it. Until you do, none of us are truly safe. Not men, not women, not transgender, queer, or non-binary people.
When women call out these negative experiences, the goal is not to create some kind of ‘man-hating’ agenda—we are not your enemy here. We ask that you truly listen and take all of our concerns, allegations, and reports seriously. Because until you do, we are not safe from abuse.
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