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'Upskirt' Ban in Massachusetts Signed Into Law

(CNN) -- Modern-day peeping Toms in Massachusetts, the sorts who get their thrills snapping "upskirt" photos on crowded subways, now have their behavior criminalized.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Massachusetts governor signs ban on "upskirting"
  • Law comes in response to high court ruling saying "upskirting" photos are legal

(CNN) -- Modern-day peeping Toms in Massachusetts, the sorts who get their thrills snapping "upskirt" photos on crowded subways, now have their behavior criminalized.

Gov. Deval Patrick signed a bill Friday, according to his office, making photographing or recording video under a person's clothing -- think down a blouse or up a skirt -- a misdemeanor.

"The legislation makes the secret photographing, videotaping, or electronically surveiling of another person's sexual or other intimate parts, whether under or around a person's clothing or when a reasonable person would believe that the person's intimate parts would not be visible to the public, a crime," Patrick's office said in a prepared statement.

The crime is punishable by up 2½ years in jail or a fine of up to $5,000.

In addition, the law states that "whoever videotapes or photographs, with the intent to secretly conduct or hide such activity, the sexual or other intimate parts of a child" faces a sentence of 2½ to 5 years and up to a $5,000 fine. The law goes into effect immediately.

Victim of "upskirting" speaks out

Lawmakers hastily drew up and passed the bill Thursday, a day after the state's highest court ruled that current laws against secretly photographing a person in a state of partial nudity don't apply to these sorts of secretive shots.

"A female passenger on a MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority) trolley who is wearing a skirt, dress, or the like covering these parts of her body is not a person who is 'partially nude,' no matter what is or is not underneath the skirt by way of underwear or other clothing," wrote Justice Margot Botsford of the state Supreme Judicial Court.

The ruling stemmed from a case against Michael Robertson, 32, who was arrested in 2010. He was accused of using his cell phone to take pictures and record video up the skirts and dresses of women riding on the trolley, court documents say.

Complaints were filed with transit police, who then staged "a decoy operation" to catch Robertson. He promptly pointed his phone up the dress of a female officer, court documents say. He was arrested and charged with two counts of attempting to secretly photograph a person in a state of partial nudity.

Though a lower court ruled against him, Robertson found his case dismissed Wednesday -- and outraged lawmakers got to work.

"We are sending a message that to take a photo or video of a woman under her clothing is morally reprehensible and, in Massachusetts, we will put you in jail for doing it," state Senate President Therese Murray said in a prepared statement. "We will need to revisit this law again and again as technology continues to evolve and ensure that we are providing the necessary protections."

Recognizing how technology plays a part in amplifying the violation is key, victim advocates say. The images can, in no time, make the international rounds online.

"I think there's a fear among people that you could have an 'upskirt' photo taken of you and never realize it," said Emily May, executive director of ihollaback.org, a website that encourages women to share their stories and cell phone photos of harassers. "Your crotch could be on the Internet, and you may never know about it."

States -- and victims -- grapple with 'upskirt' laws against voyeurism

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