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Upskirting victims push to fill loophole in Alabama law

March 3, 2018

Tatum Hollon poses for a portrait, Friday, March 2, 2018, in Montgomery, Ala. In 2017 a stranger photographed Hollon from behind and up her skirt she was wearing. Taking a picture or video of a person's intimate body parts without consent could soon be a crime in Alabama. A bill to criminalize so-called upskirting passed the Senate and moves to the House for a final vote. All U.S. states prohibit photography of individuals in a place like a dressing room where they can expect privacy. More than half also ban upskirting in a public place. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Six months after a stranger snapped a photo up Tatum Hollon’s dress in Walmart, she walked out of her local courthouse feeling robbed of justice. The judge dismissed the charge against the man who took the photo because no law existed to prosecute his actions.

“It felt like I was violated all over again,” Hollon, 36, a stay-at-home mom from Prattville, told The Associated Press. “We came forward and they said, we’d love to help but there’s nothing we can do. And it breaks you.”

Her case caught the attention of Sen. Clyde Chambliss, a Republican and father of three daughters from Prattville, who introduced a bill to criminalize what has come to be called upskirting. All U.S. states prohibit photography of individuals in a private place like a dressing room where they can expect privacy. More than half also ban upskirting and photos of intimate body parts in a public place. Last week, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens was indicted for allegedly taking a photo of a nude or partially nude woman in 2015 and transmitting it in a way that could be accessed by a computer.

Chambliss’ bill would make taking a picture or video of a person’s intimate body parts without consent and with a reasonable expectation of privacy a misdemeanor. If the images are distributed with sexual intent, it would be a felony punishable by up to two years in prison. The bill passed the Senate and moves to the House for a final vote.

Hollon was in Prattville’s Walmart in April 2017 when a man crouched behind her and took a picture up her dress. The next day, Hollon reported to the police because she wanted to protect her 15-year-old daughter in the future, she said as her eyes welled with tears.

Michelle Lunsford, 46, a sales associate from Millbrook, had a similar experience with the same man in Prattville’s Lowes a month earlier. After she saw Hollon post a video of the man on Facebook, the women pressed charges together. Prattville prosecutors tried to use Alabama’s aggravated criminal surveillance law that prohibits photography in private places to convict the perpetrator, but stores didn’t qualify as private.

Barry Matson, the Executive Director of Alabama’s Office of Prosecution Services, has encountered cases of inappropriate photos taken from cameras hidden in shoes or installed inside tanning salons. He said there’s a loophole in current legislation: although child pornography laws protect minor victims, the same safeguards don’t exist for adults in Alabama.

The bill initially received pushback for charging everyone - regardless of their age - with a felony. The legislation was amended to only charge individuals over 16 with a felony. Tim Thrasher, the regional director for Alabama’s Youth Advocate Programs, said he was concerned about harsh penalties for teenagers and suggested education as a deterrent.

The bill also exempts Department of Corrections officers who conduct strip searches or investigations in jails, sparking some concern.

“If they’re acting within the furtherance of their duties, that’s a good exception,” said Brad Ekdahl, Prattville city prosecutor. “If they’re using and making videos for sexual gratification, that’s a different issue.” Situations would be prosecuted case-by-case, he said.

Hollon and Lunsford don’t know what happened to the photos their perpetrator took. Nearly a year later, the women are wary in public. Hollon carries pepper spray and a taser in her purse and plans to get a pistol permit. Lunsford said she tells her 9-year-old daughter to wear shorts under her dress when they go shopping.

“If this bill does get passed, they’re not going to get away with it. That’s my justice,” Lunsford said. “It’s nice knowing our daughters are protected.”

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