The Sexist

What Constitutes “Voyeurism” In D.C.?

After a man was arrested on the National Mall for voyeurism after filming up women's skirts on July 4th, some people were like, hey now—that's illegal? It is in D.C.: Voyeurism was made a criminal offense by the Omnibus Public Safety Emergency Act of 2006 [PDF].
Below, the District's rules on putting your "electronic devices" in other people's "private areas":

So: "Electronic device" is defined as "any electronic, mechanical, or digital equipment that captures visual or oral images, including cameras, computers, tape recorders, video recorders, and cellular telephones."

And a "Private area" is defined as "the naked or undergarment-clad genitals, pubic area,
anus, or buttocks, or female breast below the top of the areola."

Here's how not to put those two things together:

It is unlawful for a person to electronically record, without the express and informed consent of the individual being recorded, an individual who is: using a bathroom or rest room; totally or partially undressed or changing clothes; or engaging in sexual activity.

Also, don't do this:

It is unlawful for a person to intentionally capture an image of a private area of an individual, under circumstances in which the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, without the individual’s express and informed consent.

Breaking those laws is a misdemeanor that can draw up to $1,000 in fines and up to 1 year in jail. If you then go on to distribute or disseminate those images or videotapes, that's a felony that can draw up to $5,000 in fines and up to 5 years in jail.

But what if a person's "private are" is exposed in public—and you use an electronic device to snap a picture for your garden-variety Huffington Post nipple-slip feature? Are you looking at jail time? According to D.C. law, "Express and informed consent is only required when the individual engaged in these activities has a reasonable expectation of privacy."

And what's "reasonable" is up for debate. Does Tara Reid have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" when she appears on the red carpet and her breast escapes from her dress? How about a man who deliberately changes his clothes in the middle of the street? How about a woman in the park in a skirt—does she have a "reasonable expectation of privacy" when there's a big old hole in the bottom of that traditionally feminine body-covering? What if she wears that skirt, and then raises her leg at too high an angle as she exits a car? With the July 4th arrest, D.C. police are asserting that filming "up-skirts" is illegal in the District. But questions over consent, privacy—and angles—remain.

Photo by Mr. T in DC, Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

  • Northwesterner

    Skirts, being traditional, are accepted as a reasonable expectation of privacy. There should be no surprise in a weekend where a cop in Oakland is convicted of a manslaughter but not murder that as adults we are often expected to work through gray areas of the law and almost no crime, even murder, is without a gray area. In this case I think the consent to being photographed is what constitutes the crime. If there's a red carpet accident then it's up to the performers on the red carpet to strike a legal deal re: accident photos on that red carpet.

    I think the biggest issue regarding this- #1 don't take any pictures of women's butts in public if you don't have their damn permission! Don't EVER do this. I think that a law should exist disallowing predators from taking up close photographs of women in public without their permission.

    #2- women on bicycles flash me daily. Bikes will be an issue.

  • Emily Nagoski

    Have I told... You lately... That I love you...?

  • Molly Ren

    "How about a woman in the park in a skirt—does she have a “reasonable expectation of privacy” when there’s a big old hole in the bottom of that traditionally feminine body-covering?"

    It took me a minute to realize you meant that it's the *design* of skirts that sometimes results in upskirts, rather than that the cloth was actually ripped or torn!

  • Charlie

    And is this true? I mean, I read it on the internet. There are 1,620 Google search results for this exact phrase so it must be true.

    "In Washington, D.C., engaging in any sexual position other than missionary is illegal."

    And on topic,

    @Northwesterner sez

    "I think that a law should exist disallowing predators from taking up close photographs of women in public without their permission."

    Won't somebody think of the feet? Should it be illegal to take pictures of feet because some people have foot fetishes? [I have read that foot fetishes are supposed to be the most common of all the fetishes. I dated someone with one once.] And Northwesterner, you are being sexist. Let's make this new law apply to everyone.

  • Rossa

    And what about paparazzi who lie on the ground to get those celebrity crotch shots?

  • Erwinn

    @Charlie - Of course, no one should take images of anyone's parts without their consent.

    I would certainly want someone to ask me if they wanted to take a picture of my feet...

  • Northwesterner

    Charlie, I couldn't care less if someone thought my ideas were sexist, literally could not care less.

  • Lisa

    The fact that she was wearing a skirt didn't mean she was "asking for" anything! People should have the basic right to be able to wear what they want and just BE. Lots of people have miniskirts and it's really dumb that people think it's apparently an invitation to be photographed. This is all just a bunch of victim-blaming, what the woman was wearing shouldn't have anything to do with whether the man taking inappropriate pictures or not is "justified". If he would've taken a picture of a random store or something and she just happened to be there and some leg was shown that's not his fault. But the fact that he was taking a picture literally UP HER SKIRT means that he's the creep and clearly in the wrong.