The Washington, D.C., region is suffering from a spike in upskirting incidents, according to an investigation by the News4 I-Team.
Upskirting, the covert and illicit photography beneath the dresses and skirts of women in public places, is becoming simpler and more pervasive because of the spread of phone cameras and other small electronic devices that can be used to secretly snap photos.
The I-Team’s review of three years of court records in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., show a 70 percent spike of upskirting and other unlawful filming and photographing cases between 2015 and 2017. The cases include a recent series of arrests for illicit photography in shopping areas, Metro stations and at least one prominent federal government office in Maryland.
Metro Transit Police said they have responded to multiple cases of illicit photography of women in recent months, including a Forestville teenager arrested and accused in August of capturing upskirt photos of dozens of women at various stations. A victim told police she felt a hand run up her skirt during one of the incidents.
Metro Transit Police said victims are potentially increasingly vulnerable because they are increasingly distracted by phones and tablets, reducing their situational awareness.
“The world we live in today is very technology based,” Metro Transit Police Officer Erin Cooper said. “We don't think of our surroundings as much. We've lost our sense of personal space."
Loudoun County Sheriff’s deputies arrested a man for an alleged upskirting incident at a Target store in Sterling, Virginia, in June. A victim in the case saw the man snap the photos, police said.
The I-Team investigation also uncovered a case of upskirting inside an administrative building at the NASA Goddard campus in Greenbelt, Maryland. Juan Pablo Cortes Santos pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge in the case. According to an affidavit obtained by the I-Team, Cortes used a pen equipped with a camera to take illicit images of a colleague in the office over the course of two months. The photos captured images inside the clothing of the victim, according to the affidavit from federal agents. “(The victim) was seated at the head of the table and Cortes was seated perpendicular to her right holding the recorder pen against his leg with the lens pointed toward the victim,” court filings from prosecutors said.
“You feel victimized, but you don’t feel like you have much recourse,” said Shelley Lebel, who said a man captured illicit photos inside her clothing as she ate dinner outdoors at a Baltimore-area restaurant several years ago.
“I’m not surprised this has gotten worse,” she said. “The technology has gotten better.”
Metro Transit Police Chief Ronald Pavlik said female riders should remain aware of their surroundings while traveling on the rail and bus systems.
“Always keep your head on a swivel,” Pavlik said. “If someone is near you, where are this person’s hands? Are they above their waist? Or below their waist? If below the waist, they could be up to no good.”
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.