Massachusetts Court Says It’s OK to Take Upskirt Photos of Unsuspecting Women

Massachusetts Court Says It's OK to Take Upskirt Photos of Unsuspecting Women

Are you familiar with the word upskirt? It means to take photos up a woman’s skirt without her knowledge. It’s illegal, right?

Wrong.

On Wednesday, March 5, Massachusetts’s highest court ruled that Michael Robertson didn’t do anything illegal when he used his cellphone to snap pictures up women’s skirts. How can this be?

Here’s how: the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) overruled a lower court’s charges when the MBTA transit police arrested Robertson, now 32, in August 2010. They’d set up a sting operation after receiving numerous reports that Robertson was using his cell to take photos up women’s skirts. He was facing more than two years in prison if convicted.

His female lawyer came charging in to his rescue by saying that he had not broken any laws. He had taken photos of female riders on the Boston transit, but the way the law was written, it is only a crime if the women were nude or partially nude. Being a creepy voyeur of women’s underwear was apparently just fine.

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Thankfully, after this ruling, Beacon Hill lawmakers stated that they are determined to update the wording in the state’s law to catch up with technology. Right now the Peeping Tom laws protect women — or anyone — from being photographed in dressing rooms or bathrooms when nude or partially nude.

But it’s a free for all for clothed people in public areas.

The court said, “A female passenger on an 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,’ no matter what is or is not underneath the skirt by way of underwear or other clothing.” The court also said that according to the state’s law on voyeurism, the wording does not specifically say there is to be no photographing, videotaping, electronically surveilling people that are fully clothed, and it doesn’t cover upskirting.

Robertson has not been available to comment on the ruling, but I’m sure he’s pleased. The SJC has been flooded with calls from people demanding that the law be changed to include creeps like Robertson.

District Attorney Dan Conley said, “What we have is not that the Supreme Judicial Court is saying this is OK; the statutory language just didn’t quite fit the conduct.” The court was forced to literally follow the letter of the law.

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It’s reassuring to know that New York, Florida and Washington have passed laws that deem it illegal to invade a woman’s privacy by taking upskirt photos.

“It really is a form of sexual harassment,” said Gina Scaramella, executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. “It’s a violation for the person who is unknowingly getting their body photographed. People wear clothing for a reason and having someone violate that privacy is a real problem.”

I’m glad there are people like her fighting to protect women.

“We believed that the statute criminalized upskirt photography, but since the SJC found otherwise, we are urging legislators to act with all due haste in rewriting this statute in protecting commuters’ privacy,” Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley told the Herald. “Everyone — man or woman — should have a right to privacy beneath their own clothes.”

In the past three years, MBTA police have investigated 13 of these voyeuristic upskirt cases.

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Robertson’s lawyer had argued that he only photographed what he saw in plain sight. He didn’t actually place his camera directly up a woman’s skirt. Oh pullease. Robertson held the camera to his waist and took photos of a woman without her knowledge. It’s pervy no matter how you argue it.

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