Calvin Klein was recently hit with backlash for a controversial ad featuring an upskirt photo. The Instagram post, published a week ago, has received more than 2,500 comments, with some calling it “disgusting” and “pornographic.” Photographer Harley Weir told the Associated Press that despite the controversy, she is "really happy" with the response; model Klara Kristin took to Instagram to say, “I love this photo.” Even if we lived in a world where models weren’t habitually exploited and taken advantage of, not every 23-year-old would brave saying, “I think the ad is creepy, and I’m willing to risk never working in this industry again to assert that.” 

Both parties may have defended the photo, but the ad doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If Calvin Klein didn’t mean for the ad to be creepy, it missed the mark. And if the company meant the picture as a cheeky flirtation with creepiness, is that any better? Have our corporations always been this honest, or has this campaign simply dropped any pretense to say, “Here’s that disgusting ad you always wanted, you dirty bastard?” If the Calvin Klein ad is a playful nod to your inner-perv, what are the realities of this fantasy?

 

Take a peek: @karate_katia, photographed by @harleyweir for the Spring 2016 advertising campaign. #mycalvins

A photo posted by Calvin Klein (@calvinklein) on May 9, 2016 at 3:45pm PDT

Upskirt photos are a form of street harassment and a growing international problem. In Japan, they’re such an epidemic that no phone in the country can disable shutter sounds to curb creeps from taking stealth photos. Last year in Oregon, 61-year-old Patrick Buono took upskirt photos of a 13-year-old girl in Target. He was arrested, but acquitted on all charges. Judge Eric Butterfield said Buono’s behavior was “lewd” and “appalling,” but “from a legal point of view … he didn’t do anything wrong.” You may think that most people would agree that Buono committed a gross invasion of a child’s privacy, but the law didn’t take that hard line. In many states, it’s still not entirely illegal to take similar photographs of people without their consent.

California-based attorney Marc Tran told Complex that when it comes to upskirt photos, the problem is that they’re “not necessarily permitted,” but they aren’t explicitly banned. “There’s no affirmative law thing, but it’s a lack of action that breeds these situations.”

Still, upskirt photos cause harm on individual and systemic levels. “It is useful to remove the shroud of technology and boil the harms down,” Tran wrote in Hastings Women’s Law Journal last year. “Without the help of a miniaturized recording or image-capturing device, a perpetrator could only reach the same result by lifting a woman’s gown or placing his face squarely between her legs, which is unequivocally recognized as a violation of privacy.”

For a person whose picture is taken non-consensually, it’s a violation that may cause physical and emotional stress and trauma. Furthermore, street harassment can evolve into physical violence. “Like street harassment, an act of voyeurism may escalate to something more harmful than a single photograph taken without permission,” Tran wrote. “The harms of upskirting are not simply a one-off violation, and are better understood as a snapshot in a potential progression of violence.”

Enabling creep photographers normalizes the invasion of women’s privacy, and might even encourage it. Tran described one situation that stuck out during his research: A man on public transit knew it wasn’t illegal to take upskirt shots, and placed an iPad—a fucking iPad—between a woman’s legs to take a pic.

Tran explained that some predators are emboldened by the attitude, “I’m protected by the law, or rather, the lack of laws protect me.”

He added, “The existence of upskirt photography sends a message to women: Hey, you’re not safe in this public space…You’re not safe even when you think you’re safe.” If women are treated as if they have no reasonable right to privacy, we’re treating their bodies like public property, enabling their dehumanization and in turn, their mistreatment. Tran called our inability to take a definitive stance against upskirt photos a cultural frustration. “It’s 2016—why is this a thing?” he asked, exasperated.

So, let’s say Calvin Klein decided to run this ad even after discussing its micro and macro implications. Shouldn’t the onus be on each person to know better than interpreting an ad as a wink to creeper shots? That’s the thing—taking sexy pics is fun when it’s consensual, but should be explicitly called out as bad when it’s not. Calvin Klein relied on the assumption that everyone’s moral compasses would be aligned, but they’re not. When the law itself is murky and has little power to protect victims, even tongue-in-cheek upskirts exist in the same gray area that allowed Buono to violate a 13-year-old without consequence.

You might ask, “How much could one ad possibly contribute to women’s harassment?” But isn’t any amount too much? We could argue that ads have relied on exploiting women for decades, but the question remains: Don’t we deserve better?