Tech by VICE

Inside the Private Forums Where Men Illegally Trade Upskirt Photos

After being pushed from social networks, a large community of self-described “shooters” have continued to share photos and videos exposing women on closed-off, dedicated forums for years, including illegally swapping upskirt clips.

by Joseph Cox
May 8 2018, 5:50pm

Image: Shutterstock

Warning: This article contains descriptions of stalking and sexual harassment that may be distressing.

Social media companies such as Reddit have continually cracked down on so-called creepshots—revealing, close-up images of women taken without their consent, often in public. But communities dedicated to sharing the images, including ‘upskirt’ videos which are often illegal in the US, have formed their own private forums to trade offending pictures and clips away from the terms of service of social media networks.

Motherboard gained access to one of these private forums and found thousands of threads, many containing upskirt images of potentially underage girls wearing school uniforms, women shopping, and women on public transport, with the photographer often stalking the target for extended periods of time.

“Upskirt pictures are a form of nonconsensual pornography and its victims suffer the same kinds of harms as anyone who has their sexual privacy stolen from them,” Carrie Goldberg, an attorney focused on sexual harassment and revenge porn cases, told Motherboard in an email. “The impact varies from person to person, but we’ve seen people that feel they aren’t safe anywhere, that they can’t trust anyone and that something (their privacy) has been ripped away for others’ sick gratification,” she added.

Motherboard found that one popular private site, called “The Candid Forum,” contains:

  • Around 4,300 individual threads in a section dedicated to upskirt videos.
  • Upskirt photos and videos of young girls in school uniforms, seemingly taken without their consent. A query for ‘schoolgirl’ with the forum’s search function returned around 1,000 individual threads, although not all of those specifically contain upskirts.
  • People posting offending material sometimes also deliberately include other photos showing the faces of the targeted women, meaning they may receive further harassment.
  • Other self-described “shooters” uploading material taken at universities, places of work, and coffee shops.

Katelyn Bowden, the creator of anti-image abuse campaign group BADASS, or Battling Against Demeaning & Abusive Selfie Sharing, told Motherboard in an email: “It’s all in the same category—sharing images of people without consent.” Bowden said BADASS includes victims of this kind of nonconsensual image-spreading in its members.

The Candid Forum launched in 2011, but is still highly active today with over 220,000 members sharing, commenting on, and ‘liking’ material on the site.

“Love this!” one forum member commented on a set of upskirt images of a schoolgirl on Monday.

“If an image gets popular a victim will often be contacted by sick ‘fans’ who often attack victims with vicious slurs."

At the time of writing, it is not possible to create a new account on The Candid Forum, and typically only registered users can view the site’s content (it appears new visitors can see a thread or two before they are asked to login and blocked from viewing other threads.) But a source who said they were concerned by the forum’s material provided Motherboard with valid login credentials for it.

Although most of the posts don’t detail where a specific photo was taken, Motherboard was able to find what country, state, or specific location some of the women were located in based on clues in the photos themselves. One woman was in a UK supermarket, another group of young women were outside a particular honors college of an American university, and several sets of photos and videos showed upskirts of young schoolgirls on Sydney public transport. Another of this user’s posts from last year appears to show the photographer reaching out and physically lifting up a young woman’s school skirt in public, exposing her further; other posts joke about members having the restraint to not sexually assault their targets.

“If an image gets popular a victim will often be contacted by sick ‘fans’ who often attack victims with vicious slurs,” Goldberg, the attorney, said.

Motherboard contacted one university where photos were taken. A spokesperson agreed some of the photos appeared to be from that location, but the university did not provide a statement in time for publication. Other photos were explicitly marked as being of girls on holiday in Rome, a woman in Whole Foods, and of women in New York City.

Got a tip? You can contact this reporter securely on Signal on +44 20 8133 5190, OTR chat on jfcox@jabber.ccc.de, or email joseph.cox@vice.com.

Much of the upskirt material shared on The Candid Forum is illegal in the US.

“Upskirt pictures have been illegal for a long time, in New York they’re covered by our Unlawful Surveillance law, and distributing them when you know that they were captured unlawfully is also a crime,” Goldberg said. In other words, the law impacts not only how the images were taken, but potentially in how they are shared as well, possibly impacting The Candid Forum’s members or the website itself.

Part of that law reads that a person is guilty of unlawful surveillance when, “Without the knowledge or consent of a person, he or she intentionally uses or installs, or permits the utilization or installation of an imaging device to surreptitiously view, broadcast or record, under the clothing being worn by such person, the sexual or other intimate parts of such person.”

Just this week, authorities arrested a man near Boston for allegedly taking upskirt images while in a Walmart.

The forum also includes many so-called creepshots, which are typically of clothed women taken in public, and are generally legal, albeit invasive.

On top of upskirts often being illegal, some The Candid Forum users appear to know they are photographing potentially underage girls: In their forum signature, one member complains that their images have been re-uploaded to a jailbait site. “Jailbait” is a term given to images where the subject appears to be close, and potentially under, to the legal age of consent.

THE RULES

The Candid Forum itself is highly organized, with a strict set of rules that members are told to follow.

“In order to help protect the forum, its shooters and avoid unnecessary attention/drama, it’s now required that photos of sporting events do not include any identifiable information on the subjects,” a 2015 post from the site’s administrator ‘Darth Voyeur,’ who uses a picture of Darth Vader as their avatar, reads. The information Darth Voyeur tells people to remove includes any school names on jerseys, or having the school name anywhere else in the photo. Administrators for the site did not respond to a request for comment.

But as mentioned, Motherboard was still able to identify victims’ locations, and the source who provided Motherboard with a forum account said they have been reporting particular sets of images to schools and universities where the pictures were seemingly taken. The source said they flagged one set to the University of California San Diego (UCSD); after that, UCSD warned students in an email about someone taking upskirt photos on the campus, according to a local media report. The offending user on The Candid Forum who posted photos from UCSD seemingly deleted their account.

“The ONLY material you should post in there should be sensitive material, such as co-workers, events etc."

The site also has strict rules on how data must be uploaded: one copy sent to a file sharing site from a list of approved hosts, and another as a backup. Users typically upload their videos, sometimes gigabytes in size, to the file sharing service MEGA and then post links so other members can download the clips. Competing upskirt and creepshot sites even successfully send each other Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests when footage is ‘stolen’ from one site and shared on another without permission, judging by threads on The Candid Forum. Another forum for creepshots requires users to pay to access some content, with “premium tier” access for $10 or a “superior tier” pass costing $20.

The Candid Forum also has a locked-off section which allows “the paranoid to share their content where no one but shooters can view it.” Motherboard was unable to gain access to this part of the forum.

“The ONLY material you should post in there should be sensitive material, such as co-workers, events etc,” Darth Voyeur writes in one post.

STILL UP

The Candid Forum’s domain registrar is GoDaddy. GoDaddy did not respond to a request for comment on whether illegal activity such as upskirts violates its terms of service. The site is also protected by internet security firm Cloudflare, meaning it is not possible to see which web host is providing services for The Candid Forum.

“While we can't comment on any specific user without their permission, it's our policy to work cooperatively with law enforcement to discontinue service when the customer is determined to be in violation of law,” a Cloudflare spokesperson told Motherboard in an email. “That said, terminating a customer wouldn't actually remove their content from the Internet since we aren't a host.” The move would publicly reveal where the website is being hosted.

Although not in the same business as GoDaddy or Cloudflare, other services have kicked upskirts from their platforms. Reddit’s policy does not allow images or video of intimate parts of a person’s body “if apparently created or posted without their permission and contextualized in a salacious manner (e.g., ‘creepshots’ or ‘upskirt’ imagery.)” Twitter has a similar approach to upskirts.

“We feel that any ‘pornography’ that doesn’t involve explicit consent should be criminalized,” Bowden, the creator of BADASS, said. “Websites who host or encourage this form of victimization should be held accountable.”