Flight Attendants Feeling Turbulence over Passenger Cameras

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A poster calling for refraining from taking non-consensual photos or videos at Haneda Airport in Tokyo

The 40-year-old flight attendant cannot count how many times her photo has been taken without her permission. But when a letter containing a photo that she had no idea was taken arrived at her company, that’s when she felt things had gone too far.

“It scares me that I’m being photographed without realizing it,” she said.

The social problem of nonconsensual photographing or videotaping is particularly rife when it comes to flight attendants, with about 70% saying in a survey that they have been victims.

That has been despite efforts by airline companies to dissuade passengers from such behavior, which has included surreptitiously shooting up the skirts of the women.

The government intends to bolster penalties for “photography crimes,” such as taking salacious photos without permission, with a new bill to be submitted during the current Diet session, but some lament that it does not go far enough in addressing the problem.

Sneaky photos

In March, the Japan Federation of Aviation Industry Unions released the results of a survey of flight attendants in which 38% of 1,573 respondents said they had been photographed or videotaped without permission inside the airplane.

Adding in those who “believe it occurred,” the percentage rises to 71%. Of those, nearly 10% said they were photographed up their skirts.

Airline companies have adopted a policy that if a passenger is discovered taking sneak photos or filming, the flight attendant is to request that the person stop and that the photos or video be deleted. The passenger may also turned over to the police.

However, of those who said in the survey that they are sure they had been photographed, only 22% requested that the images be deleted and 18% issued a verbal warning, while 57% said that they were unable to take action.

“Even if I think I am being photographed, it’s not so easy to speak up because I think, ‘What if they get upset’ or ‘What if I’m wrong,’” said the flight attendant who had received the letter.

Stricter punishment

The aviation industry has high expectations for the new bill in addressing photography crimes.

To date, there has never been a law directly clamping down on the act of nonconsensual photography. Each prefecture applies its own nuisance prevention ordinance or other regulation.

However, such ordinances require identifying the municipality where the act took place, making it difficult to apply in cases of an airplane moving at high speed.

In 2012, a male passenger was arrested on a flight from Takamatsu to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport for filming up a flight attendant’s skirt, which violates a Hyogo Prefectural nuisance prevention ordinance. But the case was dropped, apparently because the crime could not be pinpointed as having been committed over Hyogo Prefecture.

Removing the loopholes is expected to make such cases punishable.

The law will also impose harsher punishment. The maximum penalty under the prefectural ordinances, as prescribed by the Local Autonomy Law, is “imprisonment for not more than two years or a fine of not more than ¥1 million.”

The penalty for the new category of photography crime is expected to increase this to confinement for not more than three years or a fine of not more than ¥3 million.

The revised Penal Code, which unified two types of criminal punishment — imprisonment with labor and imprisonment without labor — into “confinement,” will come into effect by 2025.

Limits to punishment

However, there will also be limits to the punishment for photography crimes.

The law will only cover sneak photography or filming of buttocks, breasts or other prurient parts, as well as underwear being worn. It does not apply to cases in which a person is photographed wearing a uniform or other clothing.

There have been calls for a law that would broaden the scope of criminality, such as for photographing female athletes for salacious purposes.

However, amid the Legislative Council, an advisory body to the justice minister, there are some who stand firm in the opinion that “it is difficult to separate the illegal from the legal when it comes to photographing visible parts of a person [such as a person in uniform.]”

Sakura Kamitani, a lawyer and expert on sexual crimes, said, “The new bill is commendable in that it will uniformly regulate sneak photography across the nation, and make the penalties stricter.

“However, women have great concerns about the types of cases not covered by the bill. It is necessary to increase social awareness that the act of surreptitiously pointing a camera at someone itself is unacceptable.”