Upskirting – a sexual offence?

There are cases where boys at school are “upskirting” girls (or also female teachers), and there are calls to make this a sexual offence… as an episode of Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour recently informed me.

Upskirting is when someone uses a camera (typically a mobile/cell phone camera) to photograph (or film) up someone’s skirt. It happens not only in school amongst pupils, but through to adults and into work-places also.

The Radio 4 Woman’s Hour show covered the topic of the issue in schools although I felt that it was given a limited perspective. “It’s wrong, therefore make it a punishable crime” seemed to be the only point.

The very act of looking up someone’s skirt has long pre-dated mobile phone cameras and their use in schools, I know this for a fact because during my very early school years I was a very cheeky boy and recall seeking to pursue girls I liked and getting a look at their knickers. Shock horror.

Due to my age at the time being six or seven this also raises the point that such a behaviour does not necessarily begin as a sexual one, and how do you define it as such?

I do now wonder where I “learned” this and other kinds of behaviours towards members of the opposite sex from. Based on other such silliness I drifted into (because that’s what I always thought these things were) I suspect I had picked up on my step dad’s behaviour towards my mum. I was barely two years old when they got together; too young to be consciously aware of what a young “courting” couple would be getting up to, but nevertheless within a close enough vicinity for it to have an impact on me, perhaps.

It wasn’t until my teenage years that I noticed my step-dad’s “perverted” attitudes regarding young women, attitudes that made me cringe with awkwardness and thus taught me how I didn’t want to behave. “Perverted” is a strong word and I think it labels a whole spectrum; just like my own early silly behaviour, I thought my dad’s to be the same; never sinister, never setting out to do anyone any harm, just a form of humour; we still laugh about it to this day. And this is the thing; there is a time and a place for humour and in some forms and in the wrong places and at the wrong time humour can be offensive, hurtful, belittling, demoralising or degrading.

I was never in trouble over my “silly behaviour”; as I recall, the girls I chased around the school knew my game (remember the game kiss-chase?) and it seems unlikely a teacher was ever told. Had I been called up about it I would have been the one to be made to feel ashamed and made to think about my actions.

Now in my own adult years I wonder a fair bit about those early years and what impact they had on me and the way I perceive women and relationships. In many ways my attitudes have (thankfully) matured, but it seems not everyone’s do; some people seem to never grow out of certain behaviours, while others grow into them. Decades later I look back through all of this, and this is why I think the Radio 4 show failed to question a lot; they focussed on the perspective of school girls, but they didn’t consider the mentality of young boys and why they’re not being more considerative towards their fellow female students; surely if they have respect from an early age it is more likely to stay with them.

“Sexual” harrassment in schools doesn’t happen only to girls though. At my high school some of the girl’s bahaviour (from what I observed) was worse than the guys. In fact, in this modern age with mobile phones in schools, I wouldn’t put it past some girls to upskirt other girls in an act of bullying and belittlement. The issue as anything new is just that these things are being recorded and then shared, making what would have been an incident prolonged, more “permanent”, and witnessed by a much wider audience.

Schools obviously gave up on banning mobile phones in schools, which was just starting to happen in my last couple of years at high school. What hasn’t taken place is an increase in respect nor have acceptable behaviours been reviewed and implemented. It’s not so much about making certain things an offence, because this seems by its very nature to criminalise and I don’t think this is a healthy stance to take towards school children or teenagers learning their place in the world. I think there needs to a clear and tough stance on good and respectable behaviour and that anything outside that should perhaps be addressed swiftly; not let pass so that things can escalate.

When mobile phones were new things amongst students it was only the “fortunate” few that had them at first; kind of like a badge of honour. Increasingly parents were put under pressure to provide their children  with them and typically one would have been given one under strict guidance – having a mobile phone was a responsibility. Now that everyone has one that responsibility has slackened whereas these kinds of offences demand that responsibility is regained, not just towards looking after the phone itself, but being mindful of what it can and should be used for, looking after each other and treating each other with kindness and respect. A tall order perhaps; but underlying issues will not be addressed without this. Just as drivers can expect a ban for dangerous driving, perhaps mobile phone users should have their privileges revoked, but this would be a whole new type of policing; unless we police ourselves.

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