Gina Martin was at the British Summertime Festival waiting for The Killers to play when two fellow festival-goers began acting in a way that made her uncomfortable. In a piece she wrote for BBC News, Gina tells how one of them constantly asked her questions, looked her up and down, and joked incessantly about her with his friend. He even rubbed up against her. Trying to ignore it to enjoy the concert, she turned away towards the stage.
In the corner of her eye, Gina noticed a photo the two were looking at on a phone. It was of a woman’s crotch with a thin strip of fabric over it, and Gina immediately recognised it as being her. She snatched the phone and yelled how he’d taken a photo up her skirt. One of them acted violently back towards her – towering over her, he screamed and pointed in her face, and shook her by the shoulders. Unable to loosen the grip he had on her, she looked at bystanders, pleading for help. When one told her to run, she ran through the crowd crying, pursued closely by the owner of the phone.
The festival staff, taking in the scene of a crying woman being chased by a man screaming “give me my phone!”, immediately formed a protective circle around Gina. The man ran into them, screaming, flailing towards her, and claiming he hadn’t taken the picture.
When the police came, Gina says they were compassionate but explained they couldn’t do anything, legally, about the man’s taking of the upskirt photo, only delete it off his phone.
Five days later when Gina received a call from the police, she was expecting to be offered the beginnings of retribution for what had happened to her. She was shocked when the police told her the case was closed because the man’s behaviour was within the law. Shocked and outraged, Martin took to Facebook to write a post detailing her experience. The post went viral and she created a petition for the police to reopen her case and make upskirt photos illegal under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003. The petition garnered 53,000 signatures.
The campaign was picked up by Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse who brought a private members’ bill to the Commons backing the creation of an upskirting offence, which, after being blocked once, attained government backing on July 15th, 2018. Now, upskirting is illegal and offenders could face up to two years in jail.
The legislation Gina Martin has fought for against upskirting is a huge milestone in the battle against sexual harassment and victim blaming. Legislation like this enshrines in law the necessity for consent in interacting with people’s bodies. The legislation begins the battle against attitudes that make the harassment occur in the first place, an attitude which remains commonplace.
British GQ reported that 1 in 10 men don’t believe upskirting is a form of sexual harassment; when Gina’s post detailing her experiences went viral, alongside support she received hate and victim-blaming, commenters writing that she should have worn a longer skirt, that she should stop looking for attention and lying, that it was her own fault she had been targeted. It is this attitude which condones acts like upskirting and devalues the rights of victims, stealing sexual gratification from them without their consent.
Gina wants it legally acknowledged that upskirting has a victim and is not just a public nuisance. After two years of fighting, Gina’s distress is finally going to be acknowledged in the eyes of the law.
Image: The Independent.