When Gina Bell discovered that a man following her around a church festival was secretly videotaping up her dress, there wasn’t much prosecutors could do about it.
That changed today, however, when Ohio became just the second state in the country to enact a law that specifically protects women from being clandestinely filmed in public under or through their clothes.
The legislation boosts penalties for surreptitiously filming up a woman’s skirt or down her shirt, practices known as “upskirting” and “downblousing,” to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, from the previous 30 days and $500 fine. California, where a similar law went into effect Jan. 1, has the same punishment.
Several other states, including Alaska and Missouri, also have laws outlawing video voyeurism, imposing fines up to $1,000 and a year in jail, according to data from Connecticut’s state Office of Legislative Research.
Many other states have laws that prohibit taking pictures of people in private places such as dressing rooms or restrooms, but they offer only limited protection against video voyeurs in public places, as Bell learned earlier this year.
‘Not a Victimless Crime’Bell was waiting for a carnival ride at a church festival with her baby daughter when she became spooked by the man behind her.
“As I crouched down to put the baby in my stroller, I saw a video camera sticking out of his bag, taping up my dress,” the 34-year-old former kindergarten teacher recalled.
The man who photographed Bell, David Bartolucci, pleaded no contest to voyeurism and possession of criminal tools and served 10 days in jail. He was also ordered to spend 30 days in home detention, serve 200 hours of community service and enroll in a therapy program.
Bartolucci had secretly photographed 13 women that day and had unknowingly filmed his own face, which police used to identify him, police said.
Bartolucci’s attorney, John Luskin, says his client was under the influence of alcohol.
“A lot of people think what’s the big deal,” Bell told ABCNEWS’ Good Morning America earlier this year. “The guy’s sweeping a camera under your dress. It can happen anywhere. To those people I want to say, That’s not how the victim feels. This is not a victimless crime.”
A Bigger Deterrent
Ohio state Rep. Ed Jerse, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said the Internet made video voyeurism a more serious crime. As people surf the Web, a woman’s privacy “could be violated millions of times,” he said.
He hoped the stiffer fines and jail time would discourage other would-be video voyeurs.
“People will say this isn’t something to fool around with,” he said.
There are dozens of sites devoted to upskirting and video voyeurism on the Web, many charging subscription fees to viewers.
“This is a big money thing,” said California State Assemblyman Dick Ackerman, a Republican who sponsored his state’s legislation against video voyeurism.
“Your wife, or your mother, or your sister could be a victim,” he said.
ABCNEWS.com’s Oliver Libaw and The Associated Press contributed to this report.