Time to Upgrade: Up-Skirts and Expectations of Privacy in Public

Technology is a funny thing, and quick; advances are often made more rapidly than changes in legislation, leaving loopholes that our justice system is frequently unable to close. In Massachusetts today, the court has ruled that current state law does not in fact prohibit up-skirt, creepshot or other surreptitious photography on public transit.

“At the core of the Commonwealth’s argument to the contrary is the proposition that a woman, and in particular a woman riding on a public trolley, has a reasonable expectation of privacy in not having a stranger secretly take photographs up her skirt. The proposition is eminently reasonable, but § 105 (b) in its current form does not address it. [FN17]“

Hollaback! Boston is glad to see that we agree – in that we find it eminently reasonable to expect privacy beneath our clothes in public. Like other forms of sexual harassment and violence, there is a power dynamic at play in this type of photography, a taking of what the perpetrator deems rightfully theirs (be it a phone number, a conversation or a private photo) while the victim is left without a chance to consent.

Unlike snapping a photo of a stranger, intentionally or in the background, where that person is fully clothed and presenting themselves as they see fit in public, up-skirt photography disregards the intent of the subject – getting dressed to keep parts of their body private – to place higher value on the desire of the perpetrator. Like harassment, it’s not a compliment; up-skirt photography is not intended to benefit the subject, only the photographer, while a true compliment would do the opposite.

Like many states, Massachusetts’ laws have not been amended to address the new ways harassers can and do use technology to violate women, but we are hopeful that this ruling will shed light on the issue and motivate work toward legislative updates, and we’re thrilled that Massachusetts lawmakers are already voicing interest in bringing our state laws up to speed.

For more on the larger trend of upgrading up-skirt laws, take a look back at Time’s coverage of the topic last fall, and read up on what other local sources have to say today:

Boston Magazine: State’s Highest Court Says Taking ‘Upskirt’ Photos on the MBTA Is Within the Law

Universal Hub: Victory for camera pervs: Court rules state law doesn’t prohibit taking photos up women’s skirts on the T

Boston Herald: Mass. court: Subway ‘upskirt’ photos not illegal

Boston.com: Speaker DeLeo vows to fix law after ruling says ‘upskirting’ — shooting a picture under a woman’s dress — is legal

Mass Live: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court: Upskirt photos not illegal under state law

Boston Metro: Mass. lawmakers rush to close ‘upskirting’ loophole in wake of MBTA court ruling

We think that up-skirt photography is a violation of a reasonable expectation of privacy, and we look forward to supporting legislative changes to provide protection for victims choosing to report the behavior. What do you think? Do you expect that what you intend to keep private beneath your clothes can be up for consumption when you leave your home?

–The Hollaback! Boston Team


We actively denounce the notion that street harassment is culturally accepted and that victims somehow "deserve" it. Through raising awareness and sharing experiences, we hope to put an end to catcalling, groping, stalking, public masturbation, assaults, racial slurs, and other forms of street harassment. Because we believe we have the power to create a world where we can feel hot, confident, and badass, while still feeling safe!

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  1. […] a week! Between White Ribbon Day festivities, the Massachusetts upskirting ruling and legislative updates, a workshop at Harvard and inquiries leading up to International […]

  2. […] Time to Upgrade: Up-Skirts and Expectations of Privacy in Public […]

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