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Feminspire | April 16, 2014

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I Was Creepshot at Barnes & Noble – Then Shamed For Reporting It

I Was Creepshot at Barnes & Noble – Then Shamed For Reporting It

As a true book nerd, I love Barnes & Noble. Today I visited there and was pleased to find one of the plush chairs back in the corner free. Across from me was a coffee table and matching cozy chair. After a few moments, an older man sat down. White, around 50 years of age with dark hair, his protruding beer belly covered by a casual T-shirt, and he wore glasses. I dislike how Barnes & Noble arranges its furniture so you end up across from strangers, and I wanted to leave, but dammit that chair was comfy.

Immersed in my reading, I jerked up when I heard the unmistakable sound of a cell phone camera going off. The man across from me was looking away and rubbing his grey flip phone casually against his shirt.

The camera click was like a gunshot in the forest, and I was the frozen deer.

I first thought, ‘Oh god, did he just take a photo of me??!! Creepshots are a popular internet theme and I’ve read countless news stories about how ‘this’ is a thing – to photograph unknown women for the purpose of sexual perversion. It’s even all over Twitter.

My pulse sped up and my gut instinct told me that this happened, that this man had photographed me. I froze for a moment, not sure what to do. Quickly I got up and walked away. The towering bookshelves stood between us like wooden soldiers. I tried to get control.

Except I couldn’t.

I felt fucking violated.*

I found my male companion and tried to explain, but either I didn’t explain it well or he didn’t believe the guy actually took a photo. I felt crazy and began to doubt myself. ‘Maybe it didn’t happen…’ When I decided to walk back around five minutes later to see if he was still there, the perpetrator was gone. I searched the store. He was nowhere.

I sat down at one of the wooden tables, not wanting to invite another opportunity for some stranger to sit by me. I wondered, ‘My legs were crossed and I was wearing a skirt. Was that it?’ and ‘My keyhole peasant top shifts around and sometimes shows more cleavage than it should. Was that it?

I wanted to cover myself with my favorite blanket and go unseen.

And then I thought…What the heck was wrong with me? I’M A FEMINIST. Of course it isn’t my fault that rape culture exists and we have these freaking creepers who harass women. I KNOW THIS.

So what’s up with all the internal misogyny? No matter how much we learn, how much we engage in discussions on the topic, how much we advocate for women and the activist work that we do – are we still chained to the patriarchy? I am pretty self-aware, and didn’t think I had internalized oppression like this … but I guess I had. Maybe we all do.

I texted one of my friends who has training in this sort of thing. She quickly texted back and then called, recommending that I file a police report and speak to the Barnes & Noble manager.

I balked … for some reason I felt shame, even though I knew it wasn’t my fault. And the idea of telling someone, someone in authority … well, that made it real. That made me a victim.

I’m not a victim!

And ye t… I am. Many women are or will be.

Stats don’t lie - According to RAINN, one out of every six American women are raped in their lifetime. A sexual assault occurs once every two minute,s and while it is difficult to obtain stats on sexual harassment, any woman can tell you this happens often.  My situation? Just another day in the life of being a woman.

I realized that my friend was giving the same advice that I would have counseled someone, so I decided to speak to the staff at Barnes & Noble.

And … the most screwed up thing happened … somehow this affected me on a deeper level emotionally that I would have thought would be triggered. That feeling of violation resulted in a combination of angerfearshameanxiety that struck me like a viper.

My hands started shaking and I spent the next five minutes in the bathroom to give myself a moment. I didn’t want to report it. I mean, maybe I was wrong? Maybe it’s just all in my head?

Again, that feeling of ‘feminist guilt’ flooded me … this wasn’t me. I’m the girl raised on badass feminists like Xena, Buffy, and Eowyn!

I pushed myself to go make a report, approaching a younger woman at the Customer Service desk. When I told her I wanted to file a report about a creepy man who took a photo of me, she looked shocked. “My manager should know what to do …”

I waited. I fiddled with my phone, running my finger lightly over the smooth case.

The manager approached me. I told him what happened, how I was pretty positive that this creepy man took a photo of me and I wanted to file a report in case this was a regular thing he did.

“Ohhh,” he drawled. “That is creepy. We want all of our customers to feel safe here. What did he look like?”

I explained but added that he had already left. I had not been sure to make a report but decided to do so (not mentioning how it took me a while to get over the anxiety of the issue).

His remark? “You don’t have to [i.e., in a ‘you should have’ tone] , but I wish you had reported this right away so we could have said something. If you see him again in here let us know.”

I was dumbfounded. And feeling a bit guilty. Had I screwed up by not reporting it sooner? No, wait, I hadn’t – forget this! Who is this manager trying to make me feel guilty?

That last bit of anger spurred an additional question. “Oh, but what about the cameras …? I mean, maybe —”

His expression stopped me, and he said that the cameras don’t actually work.

OKAY BARNES & NOBLE, I SEE YOU. Way to decorate the place with fake cameras. Cool.

I left. He didn’t apologize. He didn’t make a report. He didn’t offer me any options (did I  want to file a store report? did I want to take any action?).

My friend called back to check in right after and I began laughing from the ridiculous of it all. Did I honestly just experience the patriarchy in action? I mean, first the violation, then my male companion doubting me, and then the male manager expressing no remorse and taking no action … are you serious??

I’m not quite like Xena, Buffy, or Eowyn – I don’t use a sword. But I do wield words. I wrote this because it’s a form of empowerment for me, but I also wrote this for you, Gentle Reader.

Should you ever have someone (woman or man/friend, family, student, etc) approach you because they felt violated (harassment, assault, rape), remember this story. It’s not easy to approach someone when you’ve been made to feel victimized. Don’t brush off their concerns or make them feel worse about the situation. Words are powerful. Be careful how you wield them.

Most especially, as I reflect on this event I realize how much more I have to go when it comes to deconstructing the patriarchy. Although I consider myself a feminist who understands these terms and concepts, I realize how much I have internalized the oppression. It’s important to identify this …so I may eradicate it.

But ultimately, regardless  of all the reflecting that I do … I’ll always wonder if a creepshot of me is floating around the internet.

Written by Niki Messmore
Originally posted on HESA Hero (In Training)

  • Nikki

    As a journalist, I know that there is no law against taking photos of other people on public property. The line becomes fuzzy because Barnes & Noble stores aren’t private property.

    It’s a violating feeling to have a photo taken of you without your permission. You don’t know what the camerman will do with. You don’t have any say in it’s use. It’s really just not OK.

    But then comes the argument of First Amendment rights. Should the right to photograph public property only be awarded to journalists? Or is it a right every citizen should enjoy. I vote the latter.

    Still, that doesn’t address the issue. We can’t prevent people from taking photos. But we can teach our boys and educate men about respect.

    • Lauren Slavin

      But there is also a reasonable expectation to privacy. Like how people can take photos of celebrities, but not use telephoto lenses to zoom into their homes. And that’s also for regular people.

    • Nooch

      Barnes & Noble stores are not public property. They are private property that the public sometimes has access to. Barnes & Noble can prevent you from taking pictures of any of their property and often does.

      • Kim willay

        They can only tell you that you cannot take pictures

        They cannot detain you. They cannot arrest you.

        They simply can tell you that their rules prohibit photography on their premises and escort you off if you continue to take pictures after having been warned.

        So, if a guy creepshots you, you can tell a manager who can then tell that guy to knock it off and that is ALL you can do.

        Meaning, you CAN still get creepshotted and you are not allowed to grab their camera, strike them, have your boyfriend “fight” them, etc.

        Again, as a woman, understand that if men can look at you and like what they see that some may also snap a picture.

        If you are ok with a guy checking you out in jeans, accept he may take more than mental picture.

        If you do not like them ogling you in yoga pants, wear a shirt that covers your butt so you can be comfy AND avoid this.

  • Laura Sullivan

    This happened to me on a bus once! So weird. What gets some people off is beyond me.

    • Kim willay

      The same men who check out your curves at the bar are now taking pictures of what they see.

      That is all that changed.

      Have you ever dressed up a little sexy to go out and meet men?

      Of course you have. I have.

      Have men checked out your butt and your smile?


      Now men can take a picture.

      So stop acting like only now is the first time ever that a man has looked at a woman’s butt.

      It’s just pictures have been added to leers.

  • shannachu

    While I disagree with the way the manager handled it, there’s not a lot he could have done. Even if they could have used the cameras (fake cameras are actually a pretty popular thing–my neighbours have one on their porch), they could only tell you to go to the police about it. They don’t know exactly what he looked like, only his basic description, and they can’t deny service to every creepy-looking guy with glasses. If you feel really bad about it, the only people who can help are the police, and they’ll probably dismiss it.
    Aslo, I’m not at all trying to say you ought to feel complimented (it’s creepy and invasive to take pictures of anyone w/o permission), but they may have been taking a picture because they liked what you were wearing (a terrible approach, but there’s a chance) or a picture of themselves and then felt embarassed by the loud noise.
    I understand how you could feel so violated and unhappy, but there’s a lot that could have happened. I’m very sorry for your awful experience.

    • T

      If you acknowledge that there’s not much the manager could have done, in what way do you feel they handled it incorrectly?

      Also: this would depend on local ordinances, but it largely is not a crime to take a picture of someone, even without their consent. Even if it was, a camera sound happening near someone isn’t grounds to search someone’s phone (nor should it be).

      • Kim willay


        The moment you grab their camera YOU are violating the law.

        The moment you tell your boyfriend to confront the guy? HE is now committing assault and possibly battery if HE grabs the camera or touches the guy.

        You cannot go to the cops because some guy was looking at your butt in yoga pants just like you cannot tell them some guy took a picture of your butt in yoga pants.

        Either dress differently or accept the same men who can check you out may like it enough to take a picture.

  • shannachu

    They aslo may have been taking a picture of something around you, and then got embarrassed by the sound. Hopefully, they weren’t taking pictures of you–this situation sounds like there’s a lot that could have happened.

  • Stella

    This is just emennsley depressing. I’m so sorry you experienced this.

  • dcn8v

    It’s infuriating and debilitating all at the same time. Glad you worked up your nerve to say something to the management, and I hope that it will be easier next time. Because, and I hate to say this, we all know there will be a next time. Especially because if you’re anything like me, you’ll replay the scenario a million times in your head and think about what you could have done, could have done differently. Maybe next time, you just move the chair- Barnes & Noble can’t tell you where to look, dangit! Or maybe you can pull out YOUR camera and take a pic, and say something like, “Well, there’s another one to enter into the Barnes & Noble creeper database!” Give a pointed look and walk to the manager with your evidence. Good luck to you.

  • R

    i had no idea this was a “thing” — a guy did this to me at starbucks, but i really had no idea how to prove it, because his camera was on silent. but he was definitely holding it up in a picture taking angle and miming picture taking actions. if anyone has a solution for reporting this in the future, it would be appreciated!

    • Kim willay

      There is nothing you can do.

      You also dont even know he took a picture.

      Again, the same men who can look at you and your smile and your bosom and your butt can now snap a picture.

      So, really what has changed?

      Certainly a man has checked out your butt in jeans before 2013.

      It is just now that a few may snap a picture.

      I accept it can happen and I dress in a manner that does not show a ton of skin and if I do, I accept the same men looking at my legs MAY take a picture.

  • Vantiri

    I’ll tell it to you like I see it, I think it’s dumb to try to deconstruct a particular gender’s influence; the ‘patriarchy’ as you call it… now think about this: I’m NOT attacking you regardless of what you may feel- but to me, the idea (and intent) of deconstructing the influence of a gender BECAUSE of that being their gender seems a bit sexist!
    I DO however COMPLETELY Approve and encourage your use of restraint and thinking things through… Exactly how a guy would respond to a threat: monitor, verify, and accertain exactly what it is BEFORE moving against it! (and I should know, being a guy based in honor myself!)
    I DEEPLY Like your candor and openness, by the way- If I were to see you in that store I’d think “ok, pretty girl (don’t know her age- don’t care!) hopefully she’ll have a happy life and good relationships, enjoy her book, and I’d (and do) utter a thanks prayer to the Lord (yes I believe in Him) for her gifts”.
    You said you like Buffy… so do I, anyway, it’s not just guys who abuse either (and sometimes it gets REALLY SICK (intragender), back to the reference to Buffy- if you want an example of a girl abusing another girl watch the season 6 episodes; all the way, once more with feeling, and tabula rasa… one story reflecting Tara’s opinion after her girlfriend abused her was (and is): to those who wield by cnwinters.
    Of course Buffy herself gets abusive in the same season… to find out my opinion on the characters: go on google and look up; Vantiri (you want to read the livejournal) (I’ve got a whole speach on Willow and my views on her)!

  • Vantiri

    Nikki Messmore: incase you aren’t familiar with a guy’s approach to an offensive situation, it is pretty close to what you did: self restrain, check, verify, monitor, then and only then move!
    To attack one gender’s influence (or them in any way) for only having that gender stinks of sexism by the way.
    If this fellow did this for perverse reasons, it’s on him- not you! If you told the reality of the situation, then you’re innocent… to put it another way, celebrities seek seclusion because they’re oftentimes followed by crowds almost always including bad fans (perverts)! Is it their falt that bad stuff comes up on the media about them? Most certianly Not! (these ‘fans’ are jerks! (girls and women would sometimes use an even more insulting term, that I’m not going to say or write)
    A bloke who’s weak-minded loses his wits to his passions in a situation, one worthy of respect keeps his wits about him! (In this case and any case of honor the gender reference is irrelevent!)
    So you have a pretty appearance, so what? You just want to go about your buisness (read your books and such)!
    As a common taste we both have (btvs) points out; sometimes it’s not the guy who’s abusive, and sometimes it’s intragender abuse which is worse! (for intragender abuse think ‘Willow and Tara’ (buffy series) episodes of Buffy season 6; all the way, once more with feeling, and tabula rasa!) (because Willow uses magic to ‘roofy’ her girlfriend before sleeping with her it’s clasified as Rape!)
    Mind you I love Willow’s character deeply but that was a very offensive act!
    A good story to read in that series is “To Those Who Wield” by cnwinters!