A new mother in the UK has started a public campaign to outlaw nonconsensual breastfeeding photos in public places after she says she was photographed by a “creepy” man while nursing her baby.
The Manchester Evening News reports that 32-year-old Julia Cooper was breastfeeding her 9-month-old daughter on a bench in the town of Sale when she noticed a man on a nearby bench staring at her.
“I stared back to let him know I’d clocked him, and that I wasn’t okay with his gaze,” Cooper recounts. “Undeterred, he attached a telephoto lens to his camera and began photographing us. I couldn’t believe it.
“I quickly turned round so my back was facing him and finished feeding my baby. But I couldn’t relax, all I could feel were his eyes and camera lens on me.”
After the feed, Cooper says she confronted the man and asked if he had photographed them.
“He confirmed he had, and refused to delete the photos,” Cooper writes. “He calmly told me it was his right to photograph me as I breastfed because we were in public.”
Cooper then enlisted the help of the park warden, who was also unsuccessful at convincing the man to delete the photos. Finally, Cooper turned to the police.
“Later that day I spoke to Greater Manchester police, and after coming off the phone to check the man had indeed acted with the law as it didn’t sound right, they confirmed that he had,” she says.
The Metropolitan Police’s website states that: “Members of the public and the media do not need a permit to film or photograph in public places and police have no power to stop them filming or photographing incidents or police personnel.”
Upon learning that the man’s actions were completely legal under UK law, Cooper has since started a campaign to change this, arguing that “breastfeeding mothers need more protection under the law from voyeurs.” She wants nonconsentual photos of breastfeeding mothers to be treated the same as “upskirting” (i.e. nonconsentual photos up women’s skirts/dresses), which was outlawed in 2019 — offenders face up to 2 years in jail and being placed onto the sex offender registry.
Cooper started an online petition on Change.org that has raised over 26,000 signatures at the time of this writing.
“We now need to show the Government that this issue is important, and has the public backing to turn into legislation,” Cooper writes. “I refuse to concede to the man that went home with photos of me and my baby, and I hope you will join me in my campaign to update the law and protect breastfeeding women.
“Whether we choose to breastfeed in public, or breastfeed in private, we should have the right to #breastfeedinpeace.”
Here is the template email Cooper is encouraging supporters of the campaign to send to their MP:
Subject: Breastfeeding in public and photographing without consent
Dear MP’s NAME,
I am writing to you as one of your constituents about a matter recently raised in Parliament.
Jeff Smith MP asked the Leader of the House of Commons how it was legal that a man was legally able to photograph a mother as she breastfed her baby in a park in Manchester. He did not receive a satisfactory reply, and has since put down an amendment to the Police Crime and Sentencing Bill 2021 that would make it an offence to take images of breastfeeding without consent.
I am shocked that such voyeurism is legal. There seems to be a glaring gap in protections, which crosses The Equality Act 2010, which protects breastfeeding women from discrimination, The Harassment Act 1997 which only protects victims of persistent photographing, and the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 which currently does not protect breastfeeders who have had images recorded without their consent.
This “grey area” on photographing breastfeeding women and their babies is in urgent need of address. For a woman to be photographed by a stranger during an intimate but completely natural act is distressing and violating. This feels no different to upskirting, which was only made illegal in 2019.
I am asking you to please support the amendment to the Police Crime and Sentencing Bill, that would make it a crime to take images of breastfeeding without consent. Breastfeeding mothers need more protection under the law from voyeurs.
YOUR FULL NAME
YOUR FULL ADDRESS
YOUR PHONE NUMBER (where possible)
Both the US and the UK have broad protections for photography of strangers in public places, but there have been an increasing amount of debate in recent years over how far these protections should go. After a US appeals court ruled in favor of a 40-year-old man who followed women around in large stores to photograph their chest and buttock areas, Tennessee lawmakers responded by pushing to make “offensive” nonconsentual photos illegal in the state.
The New York Daily News last year published an opinion piece titled, “When your photograph harms me: New York should look to curb unconsensual photography of women.” That op-ed was met with widespread opposition from the photography community, particularly among street, news, and documentary photographers who argue that candid photos of strangers is important for both art and news purposes.
Image credits: Header photo licensed from Depositphotos