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This woman is fighting to make ‘upskirting’ illegal

When no action was taken against the man who took photos up Gina Martin’s skirt, she vowed to change the law

TextAli PatonyIllustrationFlorence Guan

Gina, 25, was at the British Summertime Festival in Hyde Park with her sister, and they’d just pushed their way to the middle of the crowd to watch The Killers.

“The air smelt of beer and barbecues, and we didn’t care that our feet ached and we were starving,” Gina says. “We were just so happy to be together, laughing and drinking wine.”

Gina and her sister didn’t notice the two tall, dark-haired men who had crept up behind them until they offered them some chips. “They started chatting, but over the next half hour or so they became really invasive, asking us personal questions and standing way too close, rubbing up against my leg.”

Despite demanding to be left alone, the two men persisted. “I was furious that they thought it was okay to invade our personal space,” says Gina. But as the stage lights started flashing, she caught a glimpse of one of their phones.

“WhatsApp was open, and on the screen was a photo of a woman’s crotch. As I noticed the thin strip of underwear, the pink mini skirt, the top of the snakeskin boots – I suddenly knew what I was looking at. It was a picture of me, under my skirt.”

The man who had rubbed up against Gina’s leg had used the opportunity to reach between her legs with his phone, take a photo up her skirt, and WhatsApp it to the other man. Instinctively, Gina tried to snatch the phone out of his hands, but she hadn’t anticipated how aggressive he would be.

“I was just running on adrenaline, but he squared up to me, demanding it back and grabbing my arms tightly,” Gina says. “I couldn’t loosen his grip, so I shouted for help. I passed the phone to a girl next to me, and when he rushed towards her, someone shouted “Run!”, so I grabbed the phone back and started running through the crowd. I was screaming to let me through, and I could hear him chasing me. He was shouting “Give it back!”” Gina eventually reached security who separated her from the man and his friend who followed closely behind. Her sister eventually caught up and they waited for the police together.

“She was holding my hands, trying to get me to dance to the music,” she says. “We were missing the concert we’d been so excited to see, but I just couldn’t focus on anything except how violated I felt.”

The men were questioned, but Gina was eventually told that there was nothing the police could do except force the man to delete the photo. “They told me: “If you hadn’t been wearing underwear, it would be a different story.” I was in shock; my brain couldn’t process what was happening.”

Gina’s sister took her home, and she tried to keep busy with support from her parents. But just five days later, the police called to say that her case had been closed.

“This was happening all the time, to hundreds of women, and the way it was handled simply wasn’t good enough”

“Suddenly, I was furious,” Gina says. “How could this sort of harassment take place with no consequences? Pictures of my body had been taken without my consent, and this was not good enough. I’ll never forget my dad saying, “They’ve messed with the wrong girl.” And he was right – he knew I wouldn’t just let this lie.”

Through researching sexual harassment, Gina quickly discovered that ‘upskirting’ was banned in Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and some U.S states – so why not the whole UK?

She started an online petition to have her case reopened, and uploaded a photo of her with her sister, with the men in the background, to Facebook. Within days, it had gone viral and the petition had over 10,000 signatures. And Gina also received hundreds of messages from other victims. The 13-year-old, repeatedly upskirted by her male classmates, who was too frightened to go to school. The woman, upskirted by a stranger on her commute, who was reeling after discovering the photos online. The teacher, who found over 400 upskirt photos on a male pupil’s USB drive – all of different girls.

“Because of these women – these girls – it suddenly wasn’t about me anymore,” Gina says. “I knew I had to do something. This was happening all the time, to hundreds of women, and the way it was handled simply wasn’t good enough.”

A week later, the police reopened her case; proof that when women come together as a collective voice, we can make a difference. She changed the petition to ‘Make upskirting illegal under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003’, and for the past five months, she’s been campaigning to change the law.

“Now, we’re getting so much work done and things are looking very positive,” Gina says. “I’ve visited parliament and am working with a lawyer to get MPs to support the campaign, and get the law amended. We actually have cross-party support, meaning MPs from all three of the main parties agree with what we’re doing.”

Last week, a man called Andrew Macrae, a former vice-president of Live Nation, was spared jail after taking 50,000 photos up women’s skirts. After admitting voyeurism and outraging public decency, he was sentenced to just 20 months imprisonment suspended for two years.

Technically, upskirters can be charged with ‘outraging public decency’, but this is the same charge you’d get if you urinated in public – if you outrage the public, it doesn’t acknowledge that this is a crime, with a victim.

That’s why Gina is specifically targeting section 67 – the voyeurism legislation. “I couldn’t use this as prosecution in my case, as it only protects people in a ‘private’ setting,” she explains. “Because I was at a festival, my body was technically public property. But a woman’s body is no one’s property but their own, and it’s time the law recognised this.”

You can sign Ginas petition to make upskirting illegal under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 here.