Upskirting isn’t illegal in Germany. These activists want to change that.
Hanna Seidel was 13 years old when she was upskirted by a teacher from another school during a school trip. When she was 16, she was upskirted a second time at a festival.
“I still remember the incident at 16 very well,” says Seidel, who’s now 28. “The perpetrator denied it first and then threatened me and called me a slut.”
Bystanders intervened to keep the man away from Seidel. But when she tried to get help from the authorities, it was a different story entirely. “The police didn’t want to help me with the upskirting case back then — now I know why,” she says.
What Seidel has since learned is that upskirt photography isn’t legally considered a sexual offence under German law. But, she and her fellow campaigner Ida Sassenberg are determined to change that.
The term “upskirting” refers to the practice of secretly taking photos or videos under a person’s clothes without consent in an effort to photograph a person’s underwear and genitals. Per The Times, upskirting is only considered a crime in Germany if the perpetrator “intimately touches” the person they’re photographing, if the images are distributed to others, or if the photos are taken at the subject’s home or in a “specially protected” room.
Seidel and Sassenberg had read reports about British activist Gina Martin’s #StopSkirtingTheIssue petition, which successfully changed the law in England and Wales. Like Seidel, Martin was upskirted at a music festival and subsequently told by police that there “wasn’t much we can do”. When Martin returned home, she discovered that upskirting was not considered a sexual offence under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. In 2019, upskirting became a criminal offence in England and Wales punishable by up to two years in prison.
Following the success of Martin’s campaign, France followed suit and introduced an upskirting law, making the act punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of around £27,000 ($32,600). There is limited data on the prevalence of upskirting due to the fact that many countries still do not classify the act as a crime. But, recent UK police data obtained by the Press Association suggests that girls as young as seven years old have experienced upskirting.
When Seidel looked for a petition that she could sign in Germany, she was shocked that she couldn’t find one.
“How can it be that in 2019, after there was an outcry in the press, politicians still do not act? After a neighbouring country has already acted in such an exemplary way, how can this be ignored?” she says. “Then I took matters into my own hands because I was sick of it and started the petition with Ida.”
The fact that upskirting isn’t considered a criminal offence in Germany means that cases are going unreported. As The Times reports, there was an instance of a Bavarian mayor who “had taken 99 pictures and 27 films of women’s crotches on an escalator in Munich” but was only found to have committed a “petty misdemeanour rather than a crime.”
Since launching their petition on Change.org, Seidel and Sassenberg have gained more than 86,000 signatures. They’ve also gained political support from the likes of Guido Wolf, minister of justice in the Baden-Württemberg region, after they met to discuss the campaign with him at the end of July.
The proposed upskirting bill will now be put to the Bundesrat — German parliament’s upper house —with support from three states. Exactly how long the bill will take to pass — if it does — is hard to determine. German parliament is in its summer recess until September.
Importantly, Seidel and Sassenberg want to keep the campaign a non-partisan issue.
“We consider ourselves as representatives of upskirting victims, potential victims, or every other German citizen who objects against upskirting,” says Sassenberg. So, in order to remain as neutral as possible, they don’t wish to work with just one particular political party.
“I am glad that I no longer feel helpless,” Seidel tells me. “But can actively do something that helps others.”
During the course of their campaigning, Sassenberg says they’ve been in contact with other upskirting survivors who have shared their experiences with them.
“Our message to victims of upskirting is very clear,” says Sassenberg: “You are not alone! It was never your fault! We’ll keep on fighting until there is a law that protects you from upskirting.”