Nebraska “upskirting” bill tackles unseen crime

Nebraska Legislature
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Sen. Amanda McGill is working to pass LB1034, a bill that would make “upskirting” a Class One misdemeanor into law.

It was the last thing she expected to have happen.

A woman was standing in line in a Cass County store when a man standing behind her slipped his phone under her skirt and snapped a picture.

If the store owner hadn’t reviewed the security footage later, no one would have seen it happen.

“No one had noticed it had happened at the time it had occurred,” said Colin Palm, the chief deputy attorney in Cass County.

The store owner showed the woman the security footage, and they called police.

But there wasn’t much police or prosecutors could do about it.

“When they (police) sent it over to us, they realized it probably wouldn’t work the way the statue’s written,” said Palm. “They were right. We reviewed it, and our statue just doesn’t go beyond a solitude or seclusion place.”

The woman was a victim of a crime now being called “upskirting,” which is when a person takes a picture or films another person’s “intimate areas that are not generally visible to the public without that person’s knowledge or consent” in a public place, according to a summary of the bill. Specifically, this bill targets pictures taken up a person’s skirt or shirt while they are in a public place. Currently, the only existing law, Unlawful intrusion, says it is illegal to take pictures or film people in places they expect privacy, such as dressing rooms or tanning booths.

Now Lincoln Sen. Amanda McGill is working to change that.

LB1034: The “Upskirting” Bill

“The county attorneys brought it to me, because I’m the only woman on the Judiciary Committee, and I have a history of digging into women’s issues,” McGill said.

She said she hopes to pass LB1034 into law before the end of her term. The bill would make “upskirting” a Class One misdemeanor.

Under the law, perpetrators would face either a $1,000 fine or up to a year in jail. If the “upskirting” pictures are distributed, then the photographer could face up to 50 years in prison. If the victim is a minor and the photographer is 18 years old or older, then the photographer would also be put on the Sexual Offender Registry. LB1034 essentially works to make sure that a skirt or shirt is now considered a place people can expect privacy.

“That’s the biggest issue with ‘upskirting’ is just the trauma, embarrassment, that can come with it,” McGill said.

The bill made it through the committee process, but the process was slowed down by a formal complaint the American Civil Liberties Union filed against it.

The ACLU said the bill did not protect people from distributing “revenge porn,” which is explicit photos taken during a relationship, but shared afterwards to humiliate one of the partners. The ACLU also said the bill could get reporters or other photographers in trouble if they accidentally take a photograph up a person’s skirt. Additionally, the ACLU said “undergarment” needed to be defined more and recommended that people caught upskirting are not put on the sex offender registry.

The ACLU did not respond to phone calls for a comment.

McGill said they have taken some of the ACLU’s recommendations and made changes to the bill, and she hasn’t heard anything else from the Union.

Currently, “upskirting” is illegal in a handful of states across the United States, including Massachusetts, Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington and Ohio,  and all of those laws were passed after an “upskirting” violation was reported.

There are not many reported cases of upskirting in Nebraska, and McGill said this law is meant to be preventative more than anything.

“There haven’t been a lot of cases,” McGill said. “It could be that no one has come forward to report them. There isn’t a database where you can Google “upskirting” in Nebraska.”

Koan Nissen, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln education personal police officer said he has not heard of any reports of upskirting specifically on UNL campus, but he said he still thinks the bill is a good idea.

“I think all of those sexual deviants out there need to be identified and this is a wonderful way to do it,” Nissen said. “I think any bill designed to identify and prosecute sexual offenders – as long as it doesn’t infringe upon the rights of law-abiding citizens – is a good bill.”

An Invisible Crime

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Women’s Center director Jan Deeds said this crime will be difficult to report for two reasons: women may think it is not significant enough to report, and women may not know they have been victimized.

“I personally haven’t crouched down to see what my underpants look like from the floor,” she said. “I don’t know that I would recognize my own underpants and thighs.”

Deeds said she hasn’t worked with any victims on UNL campus, but she said she has heard people talking about it happening.

Jason Hutchison, the general manager of Jake’s Cigars and Spirits, said he used to see people take “upskirting” photos a lot when he worked at the Bricktop, a bar in downtown Lincoln, which is now closed.

“Girls are out there dancing, drunk or high or whatever – just having a good time – and you’d see creepy dudes out there with cameras, trying to take pictures, trying to take shots under skirts,” Hutchison said. “Usually they promptly got thumped.”

But, Hutchison added, the biggest problem was that the women often didn’t they were being “upskirted.”

“I’d say, for the most part, a lot of girls don’t know it’s happening,” he said. “The one’s that do know it’s happening, aren’t welcoming to it by any stretch of the imagination. It’s upsetting to them, and I understand why.”

The woman who was “upskirted” Cass County declined to comment, but Palm said when he talked to his client she was upset.

“She did tell me that she was ‘disturbed by the behavior’ and she felt ‘violated by the actions of this guy,’” he said.

Increased Awareness

Although the crime is very tough to report because it often goes unnoticed, Deeds and McGill both said they hope LB1034 will make people more aware that “upskirting” is happening and that people will report it if they see it.

Deeds said right now the Women’s Center’s approach is based around making sure women and men know about “upskirting” and what they can do if they see it happening on or off campus.

“It is about you and I reporting these things when we see them and knowing that it is a crime … I think will be helpful to the cause,” McGill added. “That’s going to be the best deterrent.”

But for some, a new law shouldn’t have to be introduced.

“It’s a barbaric and outdated thought that you think we’ve grown past. Common decency alone says to not do that – it’s an invasion of privacy,” Hutchinson said. “We all have decency and humanity, and we need to act that way toward other people.”

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