Upskirting and other heinous acts

Upskirting and other heinous acts

Editor's Letter: Sarah Fulford
Christopher Wahl

I love how the smartphone, with its tiny, easy-to-access camera, has turned us all into citizen reporters, documenting weird weather events, dramatic sports moments and, more significantly, police officers behaving badly. But the ubiquity of high-quality cameras has a dark side: it facilitates some unsavoury criminal behaviour. “Upskirting,” the act of photographing under women’s skirts without their knowledge while they’re on stairs and escalators, is on the rise all over the world.

It has become such a big problem in Japan, with its crowded subways, that smartphones there are intentionally manufactured to make a distinct, audible shutter sound with every photo taken—an effort to discourage covert photography. In England, the government is trying to make upskirting a criminal offence.

Serious voyeurs can also buy tiny cameras and hide them in almost anything: wallets, rings, eyeglasses, pens, light bulbs—you name it. Voyeurs plant cameras in department-store fitting rooms, swimming-pool change areas and gym locker rooms. They wait a few hours, or maybe a few days, then return to claim their gadgets inconspicuously. A clever hacker can even turn a stranger’s laptop into a recording device. Police report that the number of instances where someone is being recorded unknowingly is growing fast—and so is the market for such content, which can be sold as pornography.

If this has happened to you, it’s likely that you would have no idea. The technology is so sophisticated that people rarely find out if they’re being watched. When they do, though, it can be traumatic. A few years ago in Illinois, a woman filed a class action lawsuit against a Planet Fitness chain for negligence after hidden video cameras were discovered in one of their tanning rooms. Around the same time, the Johns Hopkins Hospital paid out a $190-million settlement to thousands of patients who were secretly filmed by a gynecologist.

Feature Story

Pete Forde, the subject of this month’s cover story, was arrested in the spring for possessing graphic images of women taken without their consent. The news came as a shock to many people. Forde was something of a man about town. Clever and gregarious, he was a tech entrepreneur who ran a 3-D image-capture company. He was also a generous friend—the type of guy who would lunge to pick up the bar tab. As a voyeur, he used his hacking skills to download nude photos of many of the women in his social circle.

Katherine Laidlaw, a frequent Toronto Life contributor, was the perfect person to write the Forde story (“Inside the Mind of a Voyeur”). In addition to being a smart and dogged reporter, she had unique insight into the case: she knew Forde before his arrest and had spent time with him socially. She had also met some of his victims and writes authoritatively about the world they inhabited together. She vividly depicts the trust and friendship they shared before it all fell apart. And she tries to reconcile her impressions of him with the disturbing facts of the case.

In the course of reporting her story, she repeatedly reached out to Forde for an interview. At first, she got no response. But then something surprising happened: he agreed to meet with her, to answer her questions and to allow Toronto Life to photograph him. Katherine’s description of their conversation, at the end of her article, is remarkable. It’s a rare case of a man accused of a sex-related crime speaking honestly about what he did and why. It’s one of the many reasons I think you’ll find her story as absorbing as I did.

Sarah Fulford is the editor of Toronto Life. She can be found on Twitter @sarah_fulford.