June 24, 2021

Text: Sanne Alofs

Shoe Sneak Up

The Party Dress is a tricky garment, isn’t it? With the wind blowing up, glaring eyes or unwanted peekers. Just like the creepy act of the shoe sneak up, a camera hidden inside a shoe. Or a phone of a stranger all of a sudden upside down, a little too close to your legs. Some people do everything to get a glimpse. Garment spoke with Florence who turned a horrible experience into an encouraging petition to change the law. 

 

Florence Mbuyi, is trying to turn a recent bad experience into something that could help other girls, women and future generations. Taking a picture underneath a person’s skirt, known as upskirting, is not a punishable offense in the Netherlands. It happened to Florence, while upskirting is clearly a form of sexual violence, to Dutch law it is something not explicitly illegal. A person following her home and without shame taking a picture underneath her skirt was handled by the Dutch police as something ‘’She could do nothing about’’. The police told her not to worry, since she could do nothing about it since the picture wasn’t being uploaded online. This resulted in a frustrating attempt to report the event which seemed harder than it should have. She started a petition trying to make upskirting illegal and the law less vague. In the last two years, upskirting has become a punishable offense in the UK and in Germany, through these kinds of petitions. 

Garment Talks with Florence

What impact did the upskirting event have on you?

‘’It’s such an invasive act that completely took me by surprise. Although I rationally understood that it was wrong to direct these feelings at myself, I did feel a lot of shame and guilt. It was difficult to get over that but I realized that the man who did this is the one who is supposed to feel ashamed, not me.’’ 

 

Did this experience make you feel less comfortable wearing dresses and skirts?

‘’In the first days I was definitely spiraling, telling myself that I had to give up skirts for the summer now. But I eventually decided that there was no way I would let creepy men impact my clothing choices.’’

 

What made you decide to take action and start the petition?

‘’After I tried to file a report and the police rejected the request, I was talking to my little sister about the whole situation. She did some research and found out that upskirting has become illegal in Germany through a petition. That’s when I decided to start my own.’’ 

 

Can you talk about your reporting experience at the police station?

‘’My boyfriend came with me, for emotional support and since I don’t speak Dutch. Only after we finished giving a very lengthy and detailed description of the man and the incident, the police officer told us that we wouldn’t be able to file a report. They explained that it was only illegal to take upskirting pictures if they were uploaded online. It was literally said to me that the man ‘wasn’t doing anything with the picture’. That felt like a slap in the face. To me, it seemed absurd to question that taking such a picture without consent was an act of sexual violence. I expressed to the police officer that it was obvious that the picture was being used sexually to which they simply responded ‘maybe’.’’

‘’There was no way I would let creepy men impact my clothing choices.’’

– Florence Mbuyi

 

What else than making it illegal do you think can contribute to these things not happening in the future? 

‘’There is a lot to unpack in order to prevent things like this. First of all, there seems to be a very high tolerance in our culture, to the overstepping of women’s boundaries. In addition to that, the bodies we inhibit are seen as inherently sexual. In the summer the street harassment feminine presenting people experience becomes so much more extreme, simply because we want to dress according to the hot weather. A lot has to change in our culture and it’s necessary that men start calling each other out on predatory behaviour.’’

How do you feel about your petition being signed many times?

‘’I’m very overwhelmed by the attention this is getting. My goal is to reach 20.000 signatures, as I’ve heard that’s the amount necessary for petitions to be picked up by ‘the Tweede Kamer’. At the current rate I’m very confident we’ll manage that.’’

 

What would be your all-out badass outfit if creeps and harassment like this wouldn’t exist?

‘’I really like to be expressive with my clothing so I’m not going to restrict myself in what I wear. I’d say that occasionally I do wear badass outfits. For instance, I got these knee-high platform boots, with a short skirt, it’s just such a look. In an ideal creep-free world I could wear outfits like that without drawing in unwanted attention and harassment. But the thing is, when I got upskirted my outfit was actually relatively ‘tame’. My skirt went well over my knees. So, I don’t think it even matters what I wear, how tight my top or how short my skirt is. Predators are going to be predators.’’

 

All sexual harassment cases or events shouldn’t be condoned by anyone. Want to take action yourself? Sign Florence her petition: https://www.change.org/p/dutch-lawmakers-let-s-make-upskirting-a-punishable-offense-in-the-netherlands-upskirting-illegaal-maken? 

This petition advocates for a less vague law, specifically about upskirting, such as §184k StGB, in Germany and the Voyeurism (Offenses) Act 2019 in the UK. This way, victims have a direct path to legal action and the perpetrators can be prosecuted in every case. 

Amnesty International released reports in June of 2021 with shocking numbers, although the saddest part is that it didn’t surprise people as much as it should. One out of ten female students had intercourse without consent. Rape also happened with one percent of the male students according to the research done by I&O for Amnesty International. Not to mention the numbers about other unwanted sexual harassment which happens with 9 out of 10 students.

 

According to Dutch law, upskirting is only considered a criminal offense if the pictures are uploaded online. This legislation is highly flawed for multiple reasons. First of all, because it is simply impossible to trace back whether the pictures have been uploaded online or not. In most cases, upskirt pictures end up on porn sites without the victim ever being aware of it. Secondly, to say that upskirting is only an offense if the pictures are being spread online, is to say that it is okay to take such pictures if it's for personal use.

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