T Riders Now Protected from “Upskirting”
Massachusetts legislators outlawed “upskirting,” the act of explicitly photographing women in public without consent or knowledge, one day after the Supreme Judicial Court dismissed an Andover man accused of taking photos up women’s skirts on the MBTA. The ruling left many wondering how this practice could be legal until now.
“We have fought too hard and too long for women’s rights to take the step backward that they did today,” said State Senate President Therese Murray, as reported by the Boston Globe.
Michael Robertson, 32, of Andover was arrested in 2010 for voyeurism after a number of upskirting accusations. His final secretive photos were taken of an undercover female MBTA Transit Police officer.
As frequent riders of the T, Emmanuel students reacted to the court ruling. Criminal Justice major Niki Roth said “It’s concerning that it was legal, because stuff like that can lead to escalated crimes. Most rapists start out as Peeping Toms.”
The SJC ruled that Peeping Tom charges could not be imposed under the previous law, which stated that individuals have a right to expect privacy when partially or completely nude. “A female passenger on a MBTA trolley who is wearing a skirt, dress, or the like covering these parts of her body is not a person who is ‘partially nude,’” said the court.
The ruling is controversial given the implied goal of Peeping Tom laws and the legal complications that arise with new technology like smartphone cameras. The voyeurism law was not written with them in mind, and proposed legislative efforts to ban upskirting have not been completed until now. The spirit of the law is what’s motivating most of the court’s critics.
“There shouldn’t have to be a separate law telling people not to take violating pictures of unsuspecting women, that should be common knowledge,” said junior Nicole Capite.
Robertson’s victory concluded that “in public places like the T, people cannot expect privacy,” as reported by Boston Magazine.
The new bill, enacted on March 6th, makes upskirting a misdemeanor punishable by fines and up to six months in prison. Distribution of the images could lead to felony charges.
While the new law re-establishes the expectation of privacy underneath one’s own clothes, there have been 13 “upskirting” cases brought forth in the past three years.
All charges against Robertson have been dropped following the appeal.
Shannon McMahon is a Staff Writer for The Hub.