Gina Martin reveals what her anti-upskirting campaign taught her about the power of speaking out.
You may have heard of upskirting. I’d heard of it growing up, but I didn’t grasp how awful it actually is until July 8th 2017 when I was at British Summertime Festival and a man put his hands between my legs and took pictures of my crotch in broad daylight. There’s something really unsettling about someone you don’t know having their hand between your legs and silently taking pictures. It stays with you.
After it happened to me, the guy made the stupid mistake of sending the photo to his friend around me. I saw it on one of their phones and snatched it, screaming and crying at him, before hurtling through the 60,000 strong crowd to the police, only to have them tell me there ‘wasn’t much’ they could do. Three days later they closed my case.
I was angry. I was tired. I was completely over having to deal with this shit as some sort of trade off for being a woman, so I threw myself into research and found out that upskirt photos aren’t considered a sexual offence in England and Wales. Yes, really. So, a few days later, I decided that, as I couldn’t prosecute, I’d try to change the law instead.
I launched a petition and used social media to get as many supporters as possible (there are now over 100,000 wonderful signees!). Once that was done, I packaged up that interest and sold my story to the media, challenging anyone and everyone to ask why the law doesn’t cover all instances of upskirting. During a live TV debate, I argued with a police officer who insinuated that sexual assault wasn’t important enough to worry about. I wrote about my experience countless times. I reached out to find a lawyer.
Then, and only then, did I set out a roadmap to Parliament.
For over a year, I have ran this campaign alongside my full-time job. It’s the single hardest thing I’ve ever done but I’ve never cared about anything more. Since I was targeted on that scorching hot day, I’ve hosted Parliamentary events, taken part in debates, drafted new legislation with my lawyer, filmed training videos for the police and have been working closely with the Ministry of Justice and the Government, which has all finally paid off; in June, we tabled a bill that will make upskirting a sexual offence for good. And, on 15 January, the new legislation was approved in the House of Lords.
Now that the bill has become law, it is living proof that one normal person can make a difference – and that’s pretty exciting. I think I’ll probably just get drunk and cry for a week, because I just can’t believe it.
The truth is, you don’t have to accept sexual assault as part of life as a woman. It’s not ‘just the way it is’. You don’t have to brush off the comments and the cat-calling. Using our voices, knowing our stuff and being active for the benefit of the greater good is something we can all do. Whether it’s changing a law, or getting the guy at work to stop with his sexist jokes, using our voice has never been more important or more empowering.
But most importantly? With all of us standing together, it’s never been easier.
Gina Martin originally wrote this piece for us on Monday 13 August 2018, when Laura Whitmore took over stylist.co.uk and transformed it into her very own Speak Up platform – a digital initiative which aimed to shine a light on the day’s most important headlines, challenge the status quo, spark debate, encourage conversation and, above all else, champion women’s voices..
For similarly inspiring content, check out Laura Whitmore’s show on BBC Radio 5 Live, which airs on Sundays at 11am.