• Devyn Molina

Gina Martin: how one woman single-handedly made upskirting illegal in the UK

After being a victim of upskirting at a music festival in 2017, Gina Martin made it her mission to change the law and continue to spread positivity through activism and her new book.

Images courtesy of Gina Martin's Instagram.

Just three years ago at the British Summertime Music Festival, Gina Martin was blissfully dancing to The Killers, when she noticed a man had taken a picture from her under her skirt and then proceeded to share it with his friends. Rightfully furious about what had just transpired, she grabbed the phone, demanding that he delete the picture immediately. The festival security and eventually the police were involved in the matter. However, to Gina’s chagrin, all the police were able to do at the time was to merely check to see if the man had deleted the salacious, upskirt picture.

After discussing the incident with her friends, she was shocked to hear that many of them claimed they’ve seen it happen numerous times at other public places. Feeling extremely violated and absolutely powerless, Gina set out with a plan. Although she had no idea how she was going to go about it, it was right then and there that she decided she was going to make the practice of upskirting or when a person takes an invasive photo of someone up their skirt without that person’s consent, a criminal offense in the UK.

In 2017, she launched #StopSkirtingTheIssue campaign which was meant to bring awareness on upskirting and get as many people as she could to talk about it. She even created a petition in order to make upskirting illegal under the Sexual Offenses Act of 2003. With her tenacity, her call to action to the government, started to gain some traction but the process was definitely not going to be easy:

“I would say the hardest part about changing the law was the political process. I don’t feel like political process or politics at [Parliament] in Westminster is set up for working people to understand. I think it’s very gatekeeping, academic and elitist. Therefore, learning about it was hard, not only because I didn’t feel comfortable there and that it was so complex, I was a regular person being thrown right into those walls trying to force some change.”

Gina teamed up with a lawyer and spent 18 painstakingly long months fighting for her progressive and gender-inclusive bill to be passed. With no legal or political experience of her own, in February 2019, Gina, clad in bright pink and red suit, went to Parliament to fight for her bill once again. As of 12 April 2019, if an offender takes an inappropriate photograph under a person’s skirt without their consent or knowledge, they can face up to two years in jail in addition to being placed on the sex offenders’ list.

However, with any political change, comes controversy and backlash to follow. Although Gina was over the moon excited that everything she had worked so hard for had finally come into fruition, she couldn’t help but have a hard time dodging her haters. She recalled: “I received backlash during the campaign and after the bill was passed. I received trolling and rape threats from men anonymously for about a year. One of the worse ones that came after the bill was passed was where I was very graphically told to be raped by multiple people, so that was difficult.”

Months later, Gina announced that she was in the midst of writing a book titled, Be The Change: A Toolkit for the Activist in You, which would serve as a guide on how to be an activist, whether it was locally or on a global scale. Using the knowledge and experience she gained from her campaign, the 28-year-old wanted to inspire and empower others to make a change.

Image courtesy of Evening Standard.

“When I first wanted to change the law on upskirting, so change section 67 of the Sexual Offenses Act and make upskirting a specific sexual offense, I googled how to change the law, and nothing came up. I realized everything I read was really complex and academic and written by bright, brilliant people that have been in the industry for a long time. [T]herefore when they wrote and communicated about politics or law, it was hard to understand.”

When the internet had failed her in giving her the information she needed, she was inspired to write her book: “I don’t think you have to be an academic to know when something’s wrong. I wanted to create a resource that was super accessible and for someone that’s just starting out and hasn’t even thought about this and just gives them a really supportive place to start.”

Since the release of her book, the activist and journalist has garnered praise and an overwhelming amount of positive feedback. She has said that women are constantly messaging her on Instagram, telling her how much her book has inspired them to become an activist and enact change all over the world.

Gina very enthusiastically replied: “I’m really glad the book is doing so well. I’ve received a lot of nice and lovely comments about it. There’s been our law change in [the UK] that’s acted as a skeleton a law change in Gibraltar as well as France and in Germany as well. There are two young activists who used my book as a starting point and my campaign as a template to run a law campaign to make upskirting illegal in Germany as well. I’m really proud of them and that’s one of the reasons I do this, to make stepping stone for others.”

The activist, journalist and environment lover’s life has completely transformed since changing the law and she clearly shows no signs of stopping. Utilising her Instagram platform to engage with her followers and continue to bring awareness to other pressing issues, Gina was awarded with Equality Champion of the Year at Stylist’s Remarkable Women’s Awards this year. Not to mention, she was named one of TIME Magazine’s Most Influential People.

She constantly gracing many publications and continuing to win awards for her activism work. While she has no plans to change any other laws just yet, she wants to continue the fight towards inequality of the sexes and marginalized groups.

“I’m not really sure what I want to accomplish activism-wise in the future. I try not to look to far ahead. I do know that what I want to achieve is kind of general.” She paused for a moment, reflecting on her achievements thus far before concluding, “I really want to bring some kind of moral clarity to political situations. I feel like we see politics as so separate to our morals and our values but actually politics is where we put our morals and our values into action to create progressive and positive change in society.”