Social Networks

It’s in your hand: smartphone cameras and sexual harassment

In the shadow of #gamergate*, here’s a refreshing story of empowerment and focused anger. And another way your smartphone is your friend.

Imagine you’re walking down a city street, minding your own business. You notice a guy following you. As you enter a store, you feel a hand groping your butt. What do you do?

If you’re 28-year-old Julia Marquand of Seattle, it’s like the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“There was absolutely no reason for him to be standing that close, and absolutely no chance he just bumped into me on accident,” she said.  

She yelled at the man, who “nervously” apologized before quickly walking off, she said.


Marquand, the owner of Seattle Wags Dog Training, walks almost everywhere. She said not a day goes by that someone doesn’t yell out something inappropriate to her or make a comment about her body.  

“I get harassed on a daily basis, and it’s getting old,” she said.

So when she saw the man later near Westlake Center, a downtown Seattle shopping mall, she took his picture. And yelled at him again. He apologized and begged her not to take his picture.

There was a reason for that.

Failing to interest the Seattle Police Department in a mere groping, Marquand posted a photo to Twitter and a photo and story to Facebook.

It was her FIRST tweet:


What happened next?

The Twitter-shame worked. It led to a story in the Seattle Times and an interview on KIRO radio. Then Marquand started hearing from other women.

Women who recognized the man because he had groped them, too.

SPD investigators were Twitter-shamed into action, too, and realized that the photo looked like a 36-year-old level 3 sex offender who was wanted by the Department of Corrections for violating parole.

Aside: Level 3 offenders are considered to have a high risk to re-offend. They usually have one or more victims and may have committed prior crimes of violence. They may not know their victim(s). The crime may show a manifest cruelty to the victim(s) and these offenders usually deny or minimize the crime. These offenders commonly have clear indications of a personality disorder.

Sunday’s violation landed him back in jail.

Prior to this incident, the suspect in this groping had been convicted of fourth degree assault (grabbing a woman’s butt, 2003) and third degree assault (grabbing a woman’s breast, 2012) as well as “harassment-domestic violence and violation of a protection order.”

Ask yourself: what would you have done? And what if Marquand had not pursued the digital commons when rebuffed by the police? The guy would still be on the streets, more than likely.


1. Keep your head.

Marquand did not take a photo in the heat of the moment, although I bet she might should there be a next time and her phone is in her hand.

Instead, she had time to think about what had happened. She kept an eye out for him and was surprised to see him. When she got close enough for the photo to have detail she started taking pictures. She was in a public place, in daylight — a situation she decided was reasonable risk.

2. Your smartphone is a powerful recording device. Use it.

iPhone 5Learn how to quickly access your camera.

On an iPhone, look for the camera icon in the lower right of the lock screen.

Tap there and swipe up to reveal the camera.

When you’re finished, press the home button to make the lock screen reappear.

This would be a good time to have sound muted.

It would also be a good use case for Google Glass.

3. There’s power in digital networks.

Marquand set up her Twitter account in order to share the word about her experience. Think about that for a moment. Gutsy.

But she was still thinking things through.

The event happened on Sunday; she tweeted Monday. And she included the Twitter accounts for Seattle media that might be interested. Generally speaking, people don’t take actions like this lightly. Libel (defamation of character) is a serious risk: the injured party can file a lawsuit.

Digital networks led to old media which led back to digital networks.


In 1991, Susan Faludi wrote Backlash: The Undeclared War on Women. Anti-feminism backlash, she wrote, arises when women are making gains, when there is an “increased possibility” of equality.

If you read the comments on the first Seattle Times story, you can experience modern backlash rhetoric firsthand.

Yet it feels like we are approaching a tipping point regarding how women are treated in the U.S. — at work, socially — and portrayed in media.

This week, U.S. Supreme Court blocked a Texas law that severely restricted the number of abortion clinics in the state.

Last week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella backpedaled/flipflopped after advising about 8,000 women that they shouldn’t ask for a raise.

And #gamergate has brought the issue of online misogyny to mainstream media.


I dream of a world where these words represent ancient history.

* #gamergate

A complicated hashtag that grew out of a discussion of game industry journalism and morphed into death threats against women. Some journalists frame it as a battle over the future of gaming culture.

However, journalist Jenn Frank has stopped writing about the game industry. Brianna Wu, a game developer, fled her home after death threats. And then there’s pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian:



By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

12 replies on “It’s in your hand: smartphone cameras and sexual harassment”

This is cross-posted at The Moderate Voice. That comment thread has been hijacked by a defender of #GamerGate, who is a critic of Anita but won’t call her by name.

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