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Manchester women: filmed by voyeurs and harassed online

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Manchester women: filmed by voyeurs and harassed online

Maddy Laing and Phoebe Collin had not seen the camera pointed at them as they walked down a busy Manchester street last April.

It was a warm spring day and the women were dressed in brightly colored cycling shorts, oblivious to the fact that someone was recording voyeuristic videos of their bodies using a device situated below waist level.

“It’s disgusting,” Collin said, as Laing played the footage. “You can see they are moving closer and further away from our buttocks.”

Whoever took the high-definition video was shameless. The perpetrator appeared to be only a meter or two away, recording them primarily from behind and then walking around to capture their faces, which are clearly recognizable.

They felt violated. “We had no idea they were filming,” Laing said. “We kept thinking, ‘How come we didn’t see them?’”

But what was even scarier was how the couple found out about the video.

Laing said he received an Instagram message from an anonymous person with a link to the footage. The message said: “Hello, it’s you right?” They later located Collin and sent him a similar message, saying they had found the video online.

“That’s what scared us: being found on social media,” Laing said. “We still don’t know who they are.”

Laing and Collin contacted police but there were no repercussions.

“They said they couldn’t really do anything. They just said to let them know if it happens again,” Collin said.

The perpetrator appears to have filmed the couple, seen here looking at the footage, from just 1 meter away. Photograph: Joel Goodman/The Guardian

The video is one of hundreds aimed almost exclusively at women wearing tight clothing and short dresses, taken in towns and cities across the UK without their knowledge.

On Friday, as scrutiny of this growing problem intensified, police urged women to report the behavior, saying they were “very much against it if we don’t get that intelligence, that information, coming from the victims and the communities themselves.” “. .

New powers have been put in place to allow police to more easily apply for a stalking protection order (SPO) for victims.

OPPs were introduced in 2019 as a means of stopping bullying behavior at an early stage and can ban perpetrators from entering specific areas, prevent them from contacting the victim and, most importantly, prevent them from recording images from them.

The Home Office announced on Monday, the first day of National Stalking Awareness Week, that police will no longer have to meet the criminal standard of proof – beyond a reasonable doubt – to apply for an order to protect people. victims. Courts will now compare applications to the civil standard – on the balance of probabilities – which should make it easier to take action in cases where the evidence is the word of one person against another.

What makes Laing and Collin’s story particularly unpleasant for the women who were in Manchester on Saturday night is that it is not at all unusual.

At the popular Printworks venue, Ella Gobson, a promoter, said there was an altercation the previous weekend when a man saw his girlfriend being filmed by another man with a camera.

“It was just a guy alone, realizing he was filming the ceiling. Her boyfriend saw it and said ‘why are you filming her?’

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“In the end the guy made him delete the videos. It happens all the time,” she said.

At Deansgate, the scene of many of the surreptitious videos that can still be seen on major social media platforms, this behavior was at the forefront of women’s minds.

“I was thinking about it before I got here, when I was getting ready,” said Faye Lambie from Coventry, on her friend Abbie Rose’s 24th birthday. “It’s disgusting.”

Rose added: “I was worried about coming here. It really sucks, you just want to be able to relax without being sexualized or objectified.”

Violet Wray, a student, on a night out with her friends Mia Boyle and Sylvia Zacharczyk, said her fear was that if she was filmed, “she would be on the Internet forever.”

“It is an invasion of privacy. It makes you not want to go out,” Zacharczyk said.

Sisters Aya, Fatima and Jude Mohammed, and their cousin Athar Ahmed, said that while filming in public is not illegal, it was clear that the people making the videos were cynically seeking to “victimize” the women.

Fatima said: “He has an idea in his head and he is choosing a certain moment to portray the women in a specific way, for example when they are drunk or alone. It leaves women vulnerable; “You don’t know if a woman could be hiding from someone.”

Ahmed said: “There is no excuse.”

The group had little faith in the police’s ability to address such a widespread problem, but they said part of the answer was reporting it. “A change is needed in society,” said Fatima.

Aya said: “You should name and shame your friends if they share these videos.”

Ahmed added: “It’s like the transport slogan: ‘see it, say it, ordered.'”

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