How online creeps just got even creepier
'Creeping' is a new phenomenon where 'creep shots' - photos of the bums, boobs and legs of unsuspecting women and girls - are posted on social media. Radhika Sanghani reports on this sinister online community
“Three creeps of her showing off her thong.”
“Under-desk office #legs #upskirt #creepshot."
“Teen creeping #creepshot.”
These are just three examples of ‘creep shots’. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, a creep shot is a photograph taken of an unsuspecting woman, or girl, which is then posted onto social media, blogs and websites with the hashtag #creepshot. They focus on her body – particularly her boobs, bum, legs and any visible underwear.
Most of these unsolicited pictures are taken in public – whether at the gym, yoga classes (there’s a whole website dedicated to ‘girls in yoga pants’), or just walking down the street. It’s happening all over the world and some of the ‘creepers’, as they call themselves, are UK based.
One Twitter user calls himself the York creeper. His bio reads: “Creepin' on the tidy women of York #MILFS #chav #teens. Get in touch if you want me to repost pics of any girls you know in York.”
It’s vile. But not as vile as the feed of photographs next to it, which I can’t reproduce here. Not because they’re too graphic – most zoom in on a woman’s clothed body, although some are quite explicit and others appear to show young teenage girls – or even because they’re illegal, because they’re not. It's just that they're incredibly unethical.
Many of the shots have been sent in by his 703 followers, with messages such as “blonde in summer dress”, “VPL [visible panty line]”, and “sexy shoppers.” One even reads: “who wants to spread these legs?”
It is, without question, revolting.
These photographs sexually objectify women and turn them into pornography without their consent, or even their knowledge. 'Creepy' doesn't even begin to cover what these people - predominantly men - are doing.
But what makes the creepiness even creepier is that there is a strong online community. This is not just a couple of sick individuals – there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people conferring online and calling themselves 'creepers'. What's more, they don’t just share photos; they share tips.
A subreddit thread on online forum Reddit carefully lays out the rules for creeping and instructs on how to get away with it.
“No suggestive or sexual content featuring minors; NO UPSKIRT SHOTS, this is against the law and forbidden on this subreddit; No photos taken on/in/around school settings or of ‘school girls’ unless you can confirm that they are not minors. Posts that can not be confirmed will be removed.
“Do not post pictures of anyone in a situation where they would have a reasonable expectation of privacy. This includes any place not considered public property, as well as changerooms [sic], washrooms, etc. Sleeping on the couch in your living room? Great, don't post it here. Sunbathing in their backyard? Awesome, don't post it here. This is not a rule, THIS IS THE LAW.”
It is chilling just how clued up the creep shot community are on the legal technicalities of these photographs. But, Dr Nina Burrowes, a psychologist specialising in rape and sexual abuse, says that their behaviour is also a serious sign that they could go on to sexually offend.
“The kind of behaviour they’re doing with creep shots, is the sort I’d expect someone sexually offending to start with,” she says. “This is kind of like entry level behaviour. I wouldn’t say everyone who’s doing this will become a sex offender, but it’s absolutely the kind of behaviour I’d expect. There are parallels with sexual offending.”
She says that it’s particularly worrying just how strong the online community is: “The creep shot movement is normalising all these things: not asking for consent, the sense of community and 'belonging' around your fellow creep shot takers.”
The creepers even acknowledge just how ‘immoral’ they are. The thread reads: “There is nothing illegal about this subreddit whatsoever. We may be immoral, creepy, sinister (some may even accuse us of being 'disturbed') individuals but there is nothing here that breaks any laws.
“When you are in public, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. We kindly ask women to respect our right to admire your bodies and stop complaining. We are no different than paparazzi. Except we celebrate beauty without being paid for it.”
If you know a creeper - get them help
Dr Burrowes thinks this is the most telling part: “They know they haven’t committed an offence – yet. They’re going up to the line of the law and they’re almost celebrating that. They’re happy to call themselves 'creepers' and 'immoral'.”
It shows that the creep shot movement isn’t just another Internet trend that leaves an uncomfortable feeling – like Women Who Eat On Tubes, where people posted photos online of women, without their knowledge - it’s a lot worse.
If I ever chanced across a photograph of one of my body parts with a #creepshot hashtag on it, I'd feel completely sick. Not only would it mean that someone had sneakily photographed me in public, but it would show that an online community of creeps were, well, perving on me.
It's a horrific thought. But the worst thing is there's not much I could do about it. They aren't committing a crime and unless they photograph someone underage, do an upskirt shot or take it in a private place, this is totally legal.
But Dr Burrowes says that doesn't mean we should criminalise creeping - it means we should try and help the creepers before their behaviour gets worse.
“If there was someone in my life taking these pictures I’d be seriously concerned,” says Dr Burrowes. “If your friends are doing this, do you have the courage to say it’s not OK. It’s not normal. These are men who are at risk and they need help. To me, this is how you creep into becoming a sex offender.”