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Pants to Parliament - upskirt ban campaigner celebrates victory

Her campaign to ban upskirting was rocked after a backbench objection, but now Gina Martin is celebrating victory. She tells Samuel Fishwick how she turned the personal political

Gina Martin. Remember the name. By now, you'd hope Sir Christopher Chope does. "If you're going to block a Bill that I've worked tirelessly to get into parliament for a year, at least have the decency to learn my name and don't call me 'Gina Turner' on the radio," says Martin (26) wearily.

Her year-long campaign to make upskirting a criminal offence began after the police declined to prosecute a man accused of taking pictures up her skirt at a music festival in London last summer.

On Monday, there was a breakthrough when the Government announced it would be introducing the legislation as a Government Bill. But for the preceding 48 hours, there had been outrage.

On Friday of last week, Chope, a Tory backbencher, blocked her proposed Bill, despite the fact that he later admitted he knew nothing substantial about the proposal.

"I was about to do a live interview on ITV News to celebrate when I found out he was going to kill it," she says. She cancelled the appearance and sprinted from the Millbank TV studios to parliament to confront Chope.

"I went manic, I wanted to cry. That's what I do when I get upset. But I couldn't, because this isn't about me - it's about every woman and girl who's messaged me for the last year."

The fallout has gone viral this week. "I could name every MP who supported it, because no one went against it," says Martin - except Chope, of course.

To treat him with a modicum of fairness, the Tory grandee is a pedant on principle, known for unswervingly shouting "object" when he doesn't support the principle of legislation being passed without debate at second reading. "The suggestion that I am some kind of pervert is a complete travesty of the truth," he has said.

"I feel sorry for him," says Martin. "He's a guy who's annoyed at the system, but he messed with the wrong Bill."

On Monday, protesters hung underwear from the door of Chope's Commons office in protest. Martin has been working tirelessly across parties, supported by a long list of allies including the Conservative Justice Minister Lucy Frazer, Lib-Dem MP Wera Hobhouse (who tabled the Voyeurism Bill) and Victoria Atkins, the Minister for Women.

"Other Conservatives threw their knickers into the office. They're all so upset, and I understand," says Martin. "I'm not a Conservative person, but they've all been so amazing.

"They've put all this work in behind the scenes and then everyone went mental at the Conservatives, saying they don't care - and they do."

Theresa May "made it happen". Last week, the Prime Minister called upskirting "an invasion of privacy" and repeated that she wants to see it outlawed, with Government support. "I said to her it's protecting everyone," says Martin, "from 13-year-old girls to Theresa May."

Martin's sympathies for Chope only extend so far. "It's been awful for me the last year on the internet. I've got used to it, that's part of life if you stand up and fight. Chope's had a taste of it - I'm sure it was intense - but it's nothing compared with what I got."

On July 8 last year, Martin and her older sister, Stevie, had paid £80 each to watch The Killers at the British Summer Time festival. Two men stood next to her. One offered her some chips; she accepted. He made a pass at her; she rejected it.

"At some point, he put his phone between my legs, positioned his camera up my skirt and took pictures of my crotch in broad daylight," she says.

"I'm a brave person, but there's something about the invasiveness of someone putting their hand between your legs and taking pictures of your genitals. You don't know where they're going to go. It's almost like you have absolutely no control of your body.

"The invasiveness of him having his hand there and I had no idea. You know when have that dream when you're naked somewhere and you didn't know? I felt like that."

Martin saw the taller man looking at a picture of a crotch - her's - on a phone and laughing. She grabbed his phone and ran to two police on duty at the festival, as The Killers opened with their song The Man.

"I love that song, but I can't listen to it now," she says. The police made the man delete the picture and gave her an escort, but had no grounds to prosecute within the law.

Things got worse. "I had a picture of these two men behind me in a selfie I took. So, I put that up on Facebook, saying, 'Security couldn't help me, the police couldn't help me, the law can't help me'. I didn't know what to do. I was trying to see what social media could do. The police told me to take the message down, because it was harassment. Facebook deleted it; it broke community guidelines."

But it was up for long enough to go viral. "The comments were unbelievable. I became a meme. People tagged their friends in it. They said I should have worn trousers, that I was a slut and a fame whore and doing it on purpose," says Martin.

"They said I was obviously lying and how disgusting of me to take a picture of these guys and put it on the internet. A fair few guys messaged saying that if you dress like that you deserve to get raped."

It shouldn't be overstated how wonderfully normal Martin is. We're in her flat, which she rents with her boyfriend, Jordy, an Australian engineer, who works on the Thames Clipper boat service (they met in a party hostel in Budapest when she was 20, and lived on a boat in Greece for a year-and-a-half). Her rescue tortoise, Gary, plods around the flat. She works as a freelance copywriter and grew up in Liverpool.

Her parents, Roy and Margie, have been supportive. "Dad said, 'You've always had to have the last word; now you have it with the Establishment'."

At 12, she had a birthmark surgically removed, having been bullied about her appearance as a child. "Two boys once strangled me until I passed out on a bouncy castle. I went to the headteacher and they said, 'Kids, they always play'," she says.

"You grow up feeling so terrified of guys. It's inbred in you that you're the weaker one. Not any more, though, because I've nailed this one. They're probably scared of me now."

Has upskirting become more widespread? "One hundred per cent it's happening more. In the past 10 years, camera technology has come on so fast, so have sharing and social media. It's become an 'everyday' assault, rather than a fetishised porn corner of the internet."

Has her moment of activism inspired her to take a more permanent political post? "I couldn't do politics," says Martin. "I can't remove myself from how people feel. I wouldn't be able to put those walls up and make difficult decisions."

Martin's USP is her civilian status. Others have helped give her a platform - TV presenter Holly Willoughby has been "an angel" (Willoughby was upskirted on a red carpet while holding a #TimesUp rose).

"This campaign represents the ability that a regular person has to change things. In the past five years, with #MeToo and #TimesUp, we've been looking at the abuse of power in a realm that's so removed from our own.

"Well, if it's happening to A-list celebrities, can you imagine what's happening to a cleaner in Rotherham."

© Evening Standard

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