Meet Gina Martin, the young woman who made upskirting illegal in the UK

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Gina Martin doesn’t fit into the traditional (and, let’s be honest, conservative) impressions of a ‘law-changer’. She isn’t a politician, she isn’t in the cabinet, she isn’t a lawyer, and she doesn’t own a funny wig (that we know of).

Yet she is indeed a law-changer and a damn successful one at that.

On January 14th 2019, the House of Lords in the UK approved a law that makes upskirting illegal across the country, offenders now face up to two years in prison. Martin and her lawyer Ryan Whelan have been tirelessly campaigning for this law to pass for the past 18 months.

Upskirting, for those lucky enough to not know what it is, is when a perpetrator points a camera up a non-consenting individuals clothing and takes intrusive photos. It is a violation of the integrity of an individual's body and is nauseatingly common all over the world.

Martin and her lawyer Ryan Whelan via Gina Martin

Upskirting is one of many components of rape culture that are often overlooked and underestimated. Upholders of rape culture see it as a ‘laugh’ and will tell you to relax and ‘learn to take a joke’ if you make any noise about it. People will turn their heads if they see someone doing it to you because it’s an ‘inconsequential’ act that isn’t more important than their comfort and convenience.

As a woman, you learn, or more accurately, are forced to learn ‘to pick your battles’; to keep silent in order to protect yourself from bodily or mental harm or other people from the inconvenience of having to decide whether they should intervene or not.

Within this process of picking your battles vile acts like upskirting or someone standing uncomfortably close to you on a bus are usually first ones you let go of because you know it could be, and most probably will be, worse. So you stay silent and gather strength for what’s to come.

But sometimes instead of brushing it off people, brave people who’ve had enough, take perpetrators head on and change things for the rest of us.

Gina Martin is one of those people. After a man took photos up her skirt with his phone in a festival in broad daylight, instead of brushing it off, she reacted.

She made a commotion, grabbed the perpetrators phone and ran up to security authorities. The police were called but they told Martin nothing would come out of her official complaint because upskirting, the practice of taking non-consensual sexual photos of someone, was not illegal.

Then came the second act of Martin’s defiance. She decided that if the law wasn’t on her (and every other victim’s) side on this, she would change it. Thus started her 18-month campaign on making upskirting a criminal offence in the UK.

Up until Martin’s campaign, the heinous act was almost completely legal in the UK. In the rare cases that it got reported, it was dealt with under voyeurism laws which meant perpetrators of upskirting wouldn't get charged because voyeurism laws only protect victims in 'private settings'.

The definition of private setting in this context didn't include an individual's body. If my body is in public, does it mean it's not solely mine? If the advent of technology makes it easier for predators to access my body and provides a new vehicle for harassment, shouldn't the lawmakers be on top of it and protect me?

The current legal system, not just in the UK but across the world, is one that often lets people, specifically minorities, down: it's time it starts protecting us instead. Seeing people Like Gina Martin take matters into their own hands and succeed is a testament to the power of the people and a reflection of the digital society that laws are slowly catching up to.

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