By Emma Batha
LONDON, Sept 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Fifteen years after a man took a photo up her skirt as a child, film student Hanna Seidel is calling for Germany to outlaw "upskirting" as global outrage grows against the invasive practice.
Seidel was inspired by activist Gina Martin, who spearheaded a similar campaign in Britain, leading to a new law in April criminalising the surreptitious taking of photos or videos under women's clothing.
"Upskirting is not something trivial, it is sexual harassment. A law would send a strong message that this is absolutely not OK – just as it has in Britain," Seidel told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Nearly 90,000 people have signed a petition launched by Seidel, 28, and her journalist friend Ida Sassenberg, 26, calling for a law to ban upskirting which has escalated since the advent of smart phones.
They said photos and videos often landed on porn sites and other online platforms, and in many cases the women were identifiable.
A group of German states are already drafting legislation to criminalise upskirting. Seidel and Sassenberg are pushing to get more states on board.
Germany's justice ministry said it was looking at potential gaps in legislation.
In England and Wales anyone convicted of upskirting faces up to two years in prison and may also be placed on the sex offenders register. Scotland has a separate law.
Activist Martin, who launched her campaign after being upskirted at a music festival, is advising Seidel and Sassenberg.
"It's a double trauma: first something horrible happens to you and then additionally - you're blamed for it," said Seidel who was upskirted at 13 on a school trip, and at 16 at a festival.
"The perpetrator told me that it was my fault because I wore a skirt, so I would have wanted him to do it. That's nonsense. I know that now. But back then it had a big impact on me and my self-determination."
Seidel said she stopped wearing skirts and dresses for years afterwards as it did not feel safe.
"You ask yourself a thousand times, what is he doing with these pictures? How many men look at these pictures and use them ...? I don't want any other teenage girl to feel this way, so I decided to do something about it."
Sassenberg said they had been contacted by many victims of all ages since launching their campaign, including girls targetted by boys at school.
"What shocks me is when it comes to very young girls. The teachers are helpless and just say don't wear skirts. But I think, 'Are we back in the 40s or 50s?'. That really bothers me because they're so young," she said.
Other countries that have passed laws on upskirting include Finland, Australia, New Zealand and India.
The issue made headlines in Spain last month when police arrested a man accused of upskirting more than 500 women and girls, and posting many of the videos on porn sites.
(Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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