May 19, 2024

Next time you’re in Texas, be mindful of what you’re wearing or who’s around you, because the Lone Star State just reversed their decision on a photography law that formerly banned people from taking photography for sexual gratification in public places. In other words, if a perverted guy takes a photo up your skirt for his own sexual purpose, he’s not committing an offense in the eyes of the Texas Court.
The statute in Texas Penal Code section 21.15(b)(1) stated that “a person commits an offense if the person photographs…or transmits a visual image of another at a location that is not a bathroom or private dressing room: (A) without the other person’s consent; and (B) with intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person.”
It sounded pretty valid; I wouldn’t want someone taking photos of me, without me knowing it, and later using it for their own sexual desires.
Texas, however, changed its mind and decided that due to paparazzi journalists’ and other photographers’ professions, keeping the law in place with its current wording could get them into hot water. Theoretically, any paparazzi could take a photograph that could be interpreted sexually and be charged for it.
Unfortunately, by protecting photographers and journalists, the law also could protect people like Ronald Thompson, who was caught taking underwater photos of young minors at Sea World in 2011, and subsequently tried to delete them before his camera was seized. The 73 photos were mostly of children and were “targeting the children’s breast and buttocks areas,” said Susan Reed, district attorney of Bexar County, Texas.
Although Thompson was initially indicted with 26 felony counts of violation of the Improper Photography statute, the case was sent to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals; there it was ruled that photography was protected by the 1st Amendment as an expressive outlet.
The court also decided that due to the broad wording of the law, and the inability to differentiate between regular street photography and photography with sexual intent, the statute should simply be struck down.
Although I can see the desire to protect photo journalists or paparazzi photographers, I also think that by striking down the law, it creates so many problematic situations of assumed consent. Just because someone isn’t taking a photo of me for their sexual gratification doesn’t mean that I want them to have a photo of me at all! Also, in some cases, paparazzi photos are taken and shared with explicit sexual content, so I don’t think paparazzi are fully innocent in their efforts to do their job.
Anne Hathaway was unfortunately subjected to this during a “Les Miserables” premiere. While leaving her car, paparazzi took photos that showed her vagina. Instead of deleting these photos, however, the photos were sold, released and promptly spread around the Internet. What does Texas plan to do about cases like these that would have been prosecuted under the previous Improper Photography law?
I think this is an issue that will only become more and more common as the destruction of privacy and non-consensual commodification of human bodies continues to become more commonplace in our society. Although I agree that maybe the original law could have found some people unintentionally violating the law, Texas’ decision is not a move in the right direction as far as protecting victims of sexual harassment.

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