'I could see a hand holding a phone below my dress with a flash light' - the realities and effects of upskirting explained
Sarah* was standing on an escalator in a department store in Dublin when she felt a strange brush behind her leg. When she turned around, she was faced with a man holding a camera to his chest, and the flash turned on.
Sarah (37) is a victim of 'upskirting', defined as the act of taking a photo up someone's skirt without their consent.
"On the escalator I felt something touch the back of knee. I assumed it was a fly and leaned down to brush it away," Sarah told Independent.ie.
"As I did that, I caught sight of my reflection on the side of escalator and I could clearly see a hand, holding a phone below my dress with a flash light shining directly upwards.
"I froze for a moment, then turned around to see who was behind. The man quickly pulled his phone to his chest, but the flash light was still shining."
What followed next was shock and confusion as the realities of what had happened began to sink in.
"I stared at him for a good 30 seconds, he looked at me and shrugged as if to say 'what are you looking at me for' so I turned away. My head was racing, trying to figure out if what I thought was happening was actually happening.
"I turned back around and said 'If you’ve taken a picture I want you to delete it. Now. Please.' He just looked me straight back I the eye and said 'no' with a shake of his head."
Shaken and confused, Sarah turned to nearby staff for help. She said the incident left her feeling "exposed".
"The security in the store were great and encouraged me to report it to prevent it happening to anyone else. The guard I spoke to was shocked which made me feel a little comfort that this isn’t something they commonly hear. They were very understanding and sensitive to my feelings.
"I went home and immediately wanted to change. I love wearing dresses, but I felt exposed. I put on full length trousers and a baggy t-shirt. I felt more comfortable covered up.
"I was extremely restless for the night with thoughts of how many pictures he could have on his phone that other women didn’t know were taken, had he uploaded them to a laptop and put them online. It’s awful to think people might be exposed online without their consent or knowledge."
According to the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC), upskirting in Ireland isn't uncommon, but reports of it are low.
"It's something that’s mentioned from time to time, but it's not something we're seeing a massive amount of chat about on the helpline," CEO of the DRCC Noeleen Backwell told Independent.ie.
"It's part of a bigger piece of concern for us - it's part of what we call image based sexual abuse. That's anything where an image is created, used or sold where their privacy is invaded without consent or the image is shared, causing offence or harm."
In the UK, upskirting is making headlines as campaigners call on the government to make it illegal - something the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) say they are in support of.
"We would be fully supportive of the big movement in the UK at the moment. Like all things, the challenge often is that the perpetrator thinks it's nothing. They minimise it and make it a joke," Cliona Saidlear from RCNI said.
"They're signs of rape culture and we should stand by people and never laugh about it. There's new forms of sexual violence coming about as technology gets better, such as cyber based sexual harassment, and it's important we get on top of that and make sure the law is capable of dealing with it.
"It's important the law clearly defines things like upskirting and what it is."
The Department of Justice confirmed that they are working on progressing a bill to update the current legislation around online harassment – including the distribution of upskirting images.
"The Department of Justice is currently working on legislation which will broadly give effect to the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission in their 2016 report on Harmful Communications and Digital Safety," a spokesperson told Independent.ie.
"The recommendations address laws on online stalking, online harassment and the distribution of intimate images without consent. Earlier this year, the Government agreed that it would accept a Labour Party Bill and focus on amending it rather than introducing a separate Government Bill."
*Names have been changed to protect privacy