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Germany criminalizes 'upskirting'

July 3, 2020

Taking unsolicited pictures or videos of the area under a person's skirt or bustline is to become a punishable crime in Germany. However, women's rights advocates warn the move is not enough to put an end to the abuse.

A man holding a phone camera under a woman's skirt
Image: picture-alliance/Captital Pictures/R. Gold

German lawmakers on Friday approved harsher penalties for those who film or photograph a woman's neckline or under her skirt without consent. Under the legislation passed by the Bundestag lower house, the crime will be punishable by a fine or a prison sentence of up to two years.

"To photograph a woman under her skirt or her bustline, is a shameless violation of her privacy," said Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht, adding that such photos and videos also violate rights to sexual self-determination.

'Upskirting' — the practice of secretly taking pictures or footage between a person's legs — has previously not been covered by German criminal law in most cases. Unsolicited pictures or videos of the bust and genital areas have only been punished as an administrative offense met with small fines. Not surprisingly, this hardly deterred offenders. 

"That is why we are closing a major criminal liability gap," said Jan-Marco Luczak, legal policy spokesman for Germany's government coalition. "We, as legislators, are taking decisive action against it." He added that such acts of assault are humiliating, hurtful and often have a far-reaching psychological impact on the victim.

Read moreThe war on upskirting in Germany

Should upskirting be a criminal offense?

Lawmakers on Friday also passed legislation which makes it illegal to photograph or film those who have been killed in accidents. Under the new law, the crime will also be punishable by a fine or a prison sentence of up to two years.

Activists: 'Upskirting' is sexual violence

'Upskirting' often occurs in large crowds such as on public transport, at festivals, in clubs and in bars, explained Nils Pickert of Pinkstinks, an organization which advocates against sexism and homophobia. For Pickert, the act should be considered as a form of sexual violence. 

"There are people who distribute tiny cameras in public toilets to watch and film women," said Pickert. These images are then deployed for personal use or to be shared with acquaintances or distributed on the internet, he added.

He described that a common tactic of  "secret photography" is when a person might pretend to be on their cellphone while going up an escalator but in reality they are "photographing or filming your breasts." 

Read moreMadrid man accused of upskirting more than 500 women

'Not enough' 

The issue has sparked increased debate in Germany in recent years, with the rise of tiny cameras and smartphones making it easier to surreptitiously take photos on stairs or escalators. Victims are often unaware they are being filmed or photographed.

"This is a very great symbol for justice, politics and society. The symbolic power should not be underestimated," said Hanna Seidel, who participated in the "Ban Upskirting in Germany!" petition, which collected more than 100,000 signatures. But "a lot still needs to happen in society," she said.

Read moreUK law to protect women from 'upskirting' blocked by solitary Conservative

Some are sceptical the legislation will actually stop people from taking such videos or pictures without consent. 

"I'm afraid we have to assume upskirting and downblousing [footage of bustline] will still be there … sexual violence must be taken seriously and this must also be reflected in the punishment," Pickert said.

Upskirting was outlawed in England and Wales last year, while France banned the practice in 2018.

An app to map sexual violence

mvb/nm (dpa, KNA)

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