They are usually solitary, rather infantile individuals with insecurity issues. Most of them are over the age of 30 and were brought up in a morally repressive environment, made to feel guilty and ashamed about sex.
With time, they develop obsessions and compulsive behavioral patterns that afford some relief from the anxiety that eats away at them. They are known as “upskirters,” because they use cameras to film women’s private parts in crowded areas.
Teresa Vaquero, sexologist
Some of their videos or photos end up online, where they can be viewed on porn websites alongside other categories such as threesomes or bondage. And they get millions of hits.
In recent weeks, the Spanish police have arrested three men in Madrid for upskirting. None of the three could be described as having acted spontaneously; rather, a certain amount of planning was involved. The route was worked out, cameras were carefully concealed, and hours were spent stalking their prey. All this planning, as well as the return trip to review the footage back home, is not only a ritual but part of the fantasy, according to experts who deal with such cases. They are on an erotic adventure, and the element of uncertainty makes it that much more intense. Until they are caught, that is.
On September 7, a 35-year-old man was apparently shopping at a street market in the Madrid neighborhood of Aluche. Wearing sunglasses, shorts and sneakers, he looked almost like a teenager. In one hand he carried a bag that hung level with his knees. At one point, he made the mistake of getting too close to a middle-aged woman, arousing suspicions that she passed on to a couple of local police officers.
The officers located the man and when they approached, he tried to run for it. But realizing he was trapped, he clutched his bag to his chest and told them there was nothing in it. The officers looked inside and found a shoebox with a small hole on one side fitted with a small GoPro camera. The man then openly confessed that he was filming women. He had, he said, spent the morning doing so, and had a spare camera and a memory card in case he ran out of space.
He was arrested for violation of privacy and handed over to the National Police, who requested a warrant to search his home. But the judge did not believe the crime to be serious and the request was denied.
“It becomes an obsession,” says the sexologist Adriana Royo, author of Falos y falacias (or, Phalluses and Fallacies), who links this behavior to paraphilia – defined as “a condition characterized by abnormal sexual desires, typically involving extreme or dangerous activities.” “In many cases, they say it is something they can’t control. They are aware of the shame and they have feelings of guilt but they say they can’t stop themselves. It is not always pathological though; we all have a bit of a voyeur and an exhibitionist inside us, as our Instagram use suggests, but it becomes pathological when it involves anxiety, a persistent obsession, a breakdown in close relationships, emotional maladjustment or difficulty in maintaining emotional or sexual intimacy with others.”
Adriana Royo, sexologist
Teresa Vaquero, a sexologist and psychologist, agrees that the pleasurable part is not confined to the actual filming. Planning it and fantasizing that the women who are filmed are joining in the game can also be arousing. Vaquero adds that it usually involves people who don’t like themselves very much. “Often they have not had a normal relationship with love and respect,” she says. “They are very insecure and have hang-ups related to their penis. And they never dare [to approach women in a normal way] – in this respect they are like 12-year-olds. They are not usually violent, except when they are anti-social or have mental health issues.”
A 53-year-old man was arrested in August for the same obsessive behavior after he had spent at least a year relentlessly scouring the Madrid Metro in search of women to film. Unlike the other individual, his arrest was the result of a police investigation into almost 300 online videos that had been obviously filmed in the Spanish capital. He was uploading them with an anonymous user profile, had 3,519 followers, and his videos were shared more than 1.3 million times.
The investigation turned up more than 555 victims, all women, including some who were minors. He would often film them on public transit, then follow them for as long as he could. Gradually, he got braver and came nearer, filming his target’s legs and also their faces.
In this case, the police were able to search his home, where they came across hours of footage. Subsequently the man, who was originally from Colombia, was sent to prison. The police published a press release branding him “one of the biggest predators on women’s privacy,” making him the first “professional upskirter” to be unmasked in Madrid.
“This was the arrest on the Madrid Metro of one of the biggest predators in terms of the privacy of women. He recorded videos up skirts and dresses (#Upskirt) and published them on pornographic websites. He would do this on a daily basis and in a compulsive way.”
Another arrest was made in August, this time involving a 44-year-old man who was roaming the Retiro Park armed with two video cameras attached to his collapsible bike. The cameras were in full view – one on the handlebar and the other on the fork holding the front wheel to the frame.
A couple sitting on a bench noticed he was acting suspiciously and reported him to a mounted police officer. He had spent that day taking footage of women and couples lying out on the grass. The images confiscated by the police showed that he would approach his targets slowly, come level with them, then suddenly speed away.
Down at the police station, the man remained calm. He called a lawyer. That same afternoon, the police requested a search warrant. The request was granted and the police were able to seize laptops, hard discs and pen drives from his home, where he lives with his parents. In the early hours of the morning, the defendant said goodbye to his parents and was bundled into a police car along with the storage devices filled with his stolen secrets.
English version by Heather Galloway.