What You Need To Know About The Laws That Permit Peeping Toms

Boston is known for many things: the Red Sox, tea parties in the bay, seafood, Harvard Yard, and a great accent. The Bay State was known for something else this week – protecting peeping toms.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Wednesday that secretly taking photos up a woman’s skirt isn’t illegal. The ruling ultimately held that it’s illegal to take photos of individuals in dressing rooms and bathrooms, taking photos of people who are clothed in public is fine under the current statute. Although the state legislature has passed legislation to remedy this atrocious loophole, the fact that legislators had to pass a law in order to specifically protect individuals from this type of behavior is troubling.

At the core of the decision in Massachusetts was that while “every person, male or female, has a right to privacy beneath his or her clothing,” the laws of the state did not provide for that privacy protection. This logic comes from the notion that when we enter public spaces we sacrifice certain expectations of privacy. While I understand that we lose certain privacy protection in public spaces, having someone photograph the most intimate parts of you and do God knows what with them isn’t something I’m comfortable sacrificing.

Every major news source has since referred to the act as upskirting (Upskirt: practice of making unauthorized photographs under a female’s skirt, capturing an image of her crotch area and underwear). While a fair definition, the term upskirting also refers to an entire genre of pornography and erotic photography wherein women consent to being photographed and have their image uploaded to the internet. According to the ever-popular Urban Dictionary it’s something laughable and something we all witness and shrug away as something that “just happens.”

What happened in the case in Massachusetts and to tens of thousands of women around the country each year shouldn’t be labeled as the kind of upskirting which can denote consent – it’s sexual harassment.

In the days before the internet and imaging technology, peeping was to “look quickly and furtively at something, esp. through a narrow opening.” In our age of revenge porn and connectivity, so-called “peeping toms” are now able to store, view, and broadcast those images to the world and individuals featured in the videos are often unable to get such images down – assuming they are even aware they exist.

The National Center for Victims of Crime has stated “with all the technology we have, it happens more frequently than we know. Often these cases don’t get to law enforcement because the victim in unknowing.” Though all states have some statute on voyeurism, this is a gray area in the law that lawmakers need to address. As digital technology has become more readily available so too has the number of incidents of voyeurism and states aren’t keeping up with the times.

Individuals have been cleared of wrongdoing in Washington, Oklahoma, and Indiana due to states not protecting individuals in public places from having their most intimate parts photographed or recorded. The case in Indiana was a man who took under the clothes photos of a 10 year-old girl. Although Indiana has since passed a ban on so called “upskirting,” several states still feel that we aren’t guaranteed an expectation of privacy on the public transit.

By requiring that states pass specifically tailored laws that prohibit this form of sexual harassment, it sends a message that, unless lawmakers deem otherwise, that this activity is permissible. This notion is disgusting and extremely disappointing. Massachusetts’ Senate President Therese Murray said after passing legislation to prohibit this harassment, “women and children should be able to go to public places without feeling that they are not protected by the law.”

Should a stranger be able to photograph down your shirt, up your skirt or dress, and share those images with the world? Is this something we’re comfortable with as a society?

In a colorful opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, one man wishes to return to days of corporal punishment and stockade individuals that break voyeurism laws. While I disagree that we need to return to the Dark Ages, our lawmakers need to seriously examine whether or not they believe that we should be able to expect privacy for our most private spaces. It’s a societal expectation that your vagina, breasts, nipples, testicles, etc. won’t be photographed in public places by individuals looking to get-off and yet this week’s case has shown once again that the laws of our land don’t reflect these ideals.

While the Massachusetts legislature should be applauded for their quick response upon finding out about this legislative loophole, it’s unfortunate that existing laws don’t protect us. In our ever connected world where cameras are becoming part of our everyday life, we need to make clear that our most private of parts are not a privacy we are willing to sacrifice despite entering into public spaces. TC mark

featured image – Shutterstock

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