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City sets $500 fine for offenders caught ‘upskirting’

Even after acknowledging that there is an even tougher state law on the books, the City Council moved Wednesday to close a local legal loophole that could leave women vulnerable to a form of voyeurism known as “upskirting”: using a cellphone camera to secretly take video or photographs up a woman’s skirt or down her blouse.

Aldermen unanimously approved the crackdown at the behest of two powerful aldermen — Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and Education Committee Chairman Latasha Thomas (17th).

The ordinance would “make it unlawful for any person to knowingly make a video record or transmit live video under or through the clothing worn by that other person for the purpose of viewing the body of or undergarments worn by that person without that person’s consent.”

Violators would face a $500 fine for each offense.

Thomas was shocked into action after charges were dropped against a man arrested in Massachusetts in 2010 for using his cellphone to take pictures and video up the skirts of women riding trolleys.

It happened after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that a state law governing electronic surveillance does not apply to photographing or videotaping unsuspecting victims who are fully clothed.

Burke acknowledged Wednesday that there is already a state law on the books that includes prison time for the same offense.

But, he said, “This city ordinance would give our police officers another tool. And the fines would go into city coffers.”

Burke said the insidious practice of upskirting is “something women in Chicago should be aware of. It’s another example of how women in the City Council can take the lead in making sure women are protected against invasive types of crimes.”

Thomas added, “We shouldn’t wait for the first instance in the city to find out, like in Massachusetts, that there is a kink in the law. Let’s make it quite clear.”

Chicago Police Sgt. John Nowakowski has acknowledged that there’s a state law on the books to prevent upskirting. But he has argued that since there is no local law, there is “really no charge” for police to use.

“We’ve had investigations regarding this, and it makes it very difficult because there’s no specific thing about what the person is doing. When something like this happens, a lot of times the victim doesn’t even know it’s happening to them. We’ve had cases where a woman might be walking up the L stairs and the offender is behind her,” he told aldermen last week.

Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) has accused Thomas and Burke of going through the motions with fines too low to combat a problem exacerbated by social media.

“You can sell this stuff online, make thousands of dollars within moments and then pay a $500 fine? There’s no imprisonment,” Fioretti said last week.

“The ordinance is just a feel-good pat on the back.”

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