Warning: This article contains descriptions of stalking and sexual harassment that may be distressing.
Users of so-called creep forums are deliberately attending Black Lives Matter protests to film women without their consent, according to videos and screenshots from a private forum obtained by Motherboard.
The news highlights something that some protesters may be unaware of: that strangers may be filming them and uploading footage of them without their knowledge. Though specific types of creepshotting are illegal in some states (such as so-called "upskirt" videos), the news also shows that internet hosting companies have done a poor job of moderating and removing this type of content from the internet. It also shows how brazen some of the people filming women without their consent are, doing so while millions march in the streets for social justice.
"Let's get into how profitable these protests are for us. For one, everyone is in a crowd and not even thinking about us recording them," one user on a creepshot forum wrote earlier this month. "I had to take advantage of a protest we had in our town, and I got 2 solid captures."
Do you have access to any other creepshot forums? We'd love to hear from you. You can contact Joseph Cox securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, Wickr on josephcox, OTR chat on firstname.lastname@example.org, or email email@example.com.
Motherboard is not naming the creepshot forum to avoid amplifying it while still being able to highlight an issue in the public interest. A source with access to the private forum provided the material to Motherboard.
Creepshots are when someone, predominantly men, surreptitiously film or photograph women and particularly zoom in or position the camera onto the target's buttocks, breasts, thighs, or other areas. Creeps often then share these images on dedicated forums or upload them to porn tube sites and social media.
Legally, targets of this sort of harassment may have little legal recourse against their abusers.
"The laws at a federal level dealing with non-consensual and intimate image sharing are flimsy if not non-existent," Joanna McKeegan, senior associate at law firm McAllister Olivarius, told Motherboard in a phone call. Some state laws do protect victims of upskirting, she added. What we're left with is "a series of ineffective laws which have not really kept up with technology and where the offences are."
"In cases like we see at protests, where someone is fully clothed in a public space, and then photographed, but the photograph is presented in a way that is sexualized—it is very difficult to prosecute those cases," she added. As well as laws falling behind, there is the inherent difficulty in finding out who the prepator is, McKeegan said.
"Creeps Lives Matter!!!" another post reads. "I was at the BLM movement a week ago you know [sic] just checking around to see what protesters were about an all that little did I know it was gonna be packed with lovely girls which I couldn't help to film," another adds.
In a video shared with Motherboard, the filmer followed directly behind a woman through a protest crowd, and positioned themselves and the camera behind her.
There is also a multi-jurisdictional issue with enforcement, McKeegan said. You may have a protest in New York City, a victim who lives in New Jersey, the perpetrator lives in Pennsylvania, and the website hosting the content based elsewhere. Which police agency is then responsible for or able to investigate that matter?
If targets can convince a website to remove a piece of content including them, it's better to try and do it sooner rather than later, before other sites then start hosting the content.
Honza Červenka, associate at McAllister Olivarius, said "even though there may not be a clear road forward, I would always encourage victims of these crimes to, if they feel they are able and supported, to go and report it to the police."
"We need statistics; if the police are not prosecuting when they should, we need to have the data," he added.
McKeegan was hopeful that legislation would change to cover creepshots, too.
"I do believe that we will have progress in the laws."