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'She Doesn't Know, It Can't Hurt Her': Why Men Take Upskirt Shots

Isolation. An interest in voyeuristic porn. A lack of thought for their victims.

New research commissioned by the eSafety Commissioner and undertaken by the Social Research Centre has revealed for the first time an inside look into men who take 'upskirt' or 'creepshot' photos of women.

Upskirting, defined as photographing or videoing a person's private area without their consent, is a crime in Australia.

And yet, due to the secretive nature of the crime, it can be difficult to arrest and charge perpetrators. It often takes a victim to notice the crime is being committed and either confront the perpetrator or complain to police for an arrest to be made.

The report, Understanding the attitudes and motivations of adults who engage in image-based abuse, released Thursday, brought together interviews with 16 adult perpetrators and 12 stakeholders, including police, defence lawyers, forensic psychologists and men's behaviour change program facilitators.

It found that men who took upskirt shots of women often justified their behaviour by saying the victim wasn't aware of it in the first place, and therefore couldn't be hurt. They also tended to minimise responsibility for their actions, with the report giving the example of "she wore a short skirt so she had it coming."

upskirt
Some men justify taking upskirt photos by arguing the woman did not realise it was happening, and was therefore unharmed. Photo: Getty.

"She's not aware of what's going on, I'm just here, if she doesn't know then it can't hurt her," one psychologist quoted a perpetrator saying.

The offences typically took place in public spaces such as shopping centres, train stations, or public bathrooms.

Unlike many other forms of image-based abuse, the report noted upskirt perpetrators did so for personal sexual gratification, and were less likely to share the images or videos. However, this does not mean images do not end up on porn sites or forums -- a recent case in Spain saw a man arrested on suspicion of upskirting more than 550 women and girls, which police allege he then uploaded to websites were they were viewed millions of times.

Several people interviewed were motivated by power. One man was "quite aroused by people going about their daily business and ... catching them unawares", while another viewed his images as "trophies" and had "ongoing pleasurable feelings" by being able to exact power and control over others.

There were also reports of perpetrators having intimacy and social issues, leaving them feeling isolated. Upskirting, the report noted, was a "distorted and highly sexualised approach" to seeking intimacy or escaping from reality.

Typically, men interviewed for the report had multiple victims. One man would reportedly go to a train station and "film as many people as he could" so long as they were wearing a short skirt, while another had a fetish and "wanted to capture ... any form of underwear".

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Perpetrators would often film victims at train stations or shopping centres. Photo: Getty

Experts were also divided as to whether or not these men would offend again. One psychologist said there was a low risk of re-offending, while another claimed "any remorse they've got are just crocodile tears", and they'd "do it again".

Victims may not even realise they have been photographed or filmed. After arresting a man discovered to have 55 videos of women's private parts last year, NSW Police admitted it would be "difficult to identify" the victims.

“It is probably a slim chance of being able to identify the victims,” a spokesperson told News.com.au at the time.

“The vision is not something we can put out as part of our investigation, it is so inappropriate.

“Unless a female has noticed she has been filmed inappropriately it is difficult for us to identify these people.”

Earlier this year, upskirting became a specific criminal offence in England and Wales following 18 months of campaigning by writer Gina Martin, after two men took a picture up her skirt at a festival in 2017.

“During the 18 months of campaigning undertaken, I received hundreds of messages and stories from those who had been upskirted," Martin said.

“The fact that reports are increasing shows that victims feel more empowered and emboldened to report what has happened to them than before the campaign, which is wonderful – this was just as important … as the law change."

In South Korea, the issue of upskirting oi public spaces has reached such a crisis point that government-paid security guards make sweeps of toilets looking for hidden cameras.

The eSafety report also examined four other areas of image-based abused, including unsolicited explicit photos (e.g. dick pics), relationship-based abuse (including revenge porn) and image-based abuse where it concerned child exploitation, and can be read here.

"The results weren't surprising, given what we know about sexual offenders more generally," Associate Professor Nicola Henry at RMIT University, who was the chief investigator on the report, said at the eSafety conference in Sydney on Thursday.

"The point is, when we're talking about image-based abuse, it's a very, very complex phenomenon. On one end, you have women receiving unsolicited dick pics and showing those images to their friends, and on the other, extreme end, you have perpetrators sharing porn on Facebook to humiliate a person in front of their friends and colleagues."

She said a recent survey of people in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom found 1 in 5 participants reported engaging in at least one form of image-based abuse.

"There's a really high proportion of people engaged in these behaviours," she said.

You can access support and advice for dealing with image-based abuse here.

Contact the author: abrucesmith@networkten.com.au