a peek inside the fishbowl

23 Sep, 2007

Our day at Westboro Beach – Part two

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Westboro|Misc. life|Ottawa|Yaktivism

Sorry to leave you hanging (part one of this post is here). The girls and I took a trip out to my mother’s (more on that later) and I didn’t have enough time to finish what I started to write.

I’m not sure if you saw the comments in that post, but someone was offended by my description of the three men as being paunchy and middle-aged. I’m not sure what to make of that comment, because I assumed everyone would have understood that I was only trying to give you a visual picture.

(This is why, if you’ve ever read a book or a magazine article, men and women aren’t just described as “men” and “women” but often entire strings of adjectives are used in their detailed descriptions. I think we’re all used to that by now.)

Anway, as I had mentioned, I was sitting on the sand at Westboro Beach, near the water. Emma and Sarah were playing with their sand toys a few metres away. Part way up the beach behind me is this giant tree, with several trunks growing out of the same place near the ground. The tree is a little over halfway to the beachside restaurant. There was a gaggle of teenage girls hanging out under the tree. There were four of five of them, two of them took their clothes off to reveal bikinis underneath. One of them was a very tall athletic-looking black girl, the other was a short Latino (?) girl with long hair. (Remember, I’m DESCRIBING, not offending.) As teenagers (aged 15 or 16? I find it really difficult to peg the ages of kids nowadays) were typically giggly and loud. They were definitely attracting attention to themselves. I had nothing to do so I watched them from under cover of my sunglasses. I found their behaviour utterly fascinating … it was like I was Jane Goodall or something, in the wild, and here I was, observing social rituals of non-human species… that’s how foreign it seemed to me. Plus, I had my own two daughters in mind. Was I ever like this? And would my daughters ever be like this?

They were goofing around, as teenagers are wont to do. One of the girls had a digital camera, and the ones wearing the bathing suits took turns posing for pictures a la America’s Next Top Model. Before long, they decided that the photos would be much better if they climbed the tree. And so they did, sprawling themselves on the tree trunks, pouting for the camera.

They didn’t just attract my own attention, the three men on the patio were watching them too. I saw them raise their cellphones towards them. I don’t have a cellphone myself, but I knew they weren’t raising them high over their heads to check to see who was calling. They were taking photos of the bikini-clad girls.

Ew. Ew. Ew.

And so I watched.

The girls soon realized their photos were being taken. They seemed to joke about it, but also made loud comments directed at the men. With typical teenage bravado they said things like:  “I’m gonna throw this rock at you if you don’t stop it” and whatever is the 2007-version of “you guys are so lame” … stuff like that.  Then they ignored them. Their reaction seemed to be “tee hee – look at me – don’t look at me.” I couldn’t quite figure it out. I’m no shrink, but the Jane Goodall in me felt they didn’t seem equipped to deal with the situation, at all, hence the “be-demanding-but-without-follow-up” kind of reaction. What did I expect them to do anyway, saunter over to these thee big guys and demand the photos be deleted?

The men (did I mention they were paunchy and middle aged?) just kept on taking photos. Once in awhile one of them would lean over and show the other one their photo, and laugh.

Did I mention they were drinking? The patio at Westboro Beach is licensed.

I stopped hiding behind my sunglasses. I was furious. So I stared at those three men, no holds barred.

The teen girls got bored of the tree pose and moved towards the shoreline. They walked past where I was sitting. I had to say something.

“Do you know those guys were taking photos of you?” I asked.

They all started talking at once. One of piped up and said “YEAH, we told them we were going to throw that rock if they didn’t stop!”

“Um, well, they kept taking photos of you, even after you said that. Doesn’t that bother youl?”

Common consensus was yes, they were bothered, and then I thought to myself, but you girls didn’t DO anything about it.

“I have two daughters,” I said, motioning to the girls. “And as their mother, I know I wouldn’t want creepy men taking photos of them.”

Bravado returned. “YEAH, I know! And I bet they wouldn’t like someone looking at their wives like that either. But I bet they’re not married.”

Frankly, their lack of awareness and naiveté was kind of alarming.

We talked about the legality of it. They asked what they could do about it. I suggested they talk to someone at the restaurant.

As we talked I saw the men, once again, raise their cellphones towards us. There was no denying it. This time, I was going to be in the photo too. I felt gross. The words came rushing out of my mouth before I realized what I was saying.

“HEY. STOP. TAKING. PHOTOS,” I yelled. I pointed at them, each word accompanied by its own pointing motion. I was in a rage. “YOU DON’T HAVE PERMISSION TO BE TAKING PHOTOS, SO STOP IT RIGHT NOW.”

I yelled clear across the beach. I am pretty sure everyone heard me.

They chuckled ”har har” and stopped. I suggested the girls to get out of camera range. They did – more or less – and later on, when they walked back up the beach, I overheard the short girl say she was going to give them guys her worst “cut eye.”

*sigh*

I was – and still am – utterly disgusted by this whole situation. It is legal to take photos of people in a public area, but this kind of photography is morally WRONG. In these digital days, what with Facebook, MySpace, email … it’s impossible to predict where those photos might end up.

My friend and her two children eventually joined us, and Mark finally arrived on his bike. I was extremely happy to see him.

We ordered our dinner, ate it on the beach, and left around 6 p.m. I watched as the men ordered round after round of beer. They were still there when we left.

I still feel angry about this all. I’ve written a letter about this to Christine Leadman (our local councilor) and the Ottawa Citizen.

What do you think?


18 Responses to "Our day at Westboro Beach – Part two"

1 | Marla

September 23rd, 2007 at 3:06 pm

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Have you seen this discussion?

http://flickr.com/photos/sesh00/515961023/

Where it pertains to this situation, is that it has been discussed that in Australia, the case might have legal ramifications in that it’s illegal there for an adult to take pictures of a minor if they’re of a revealing nature – pornography, you know. (I’ve just said that badly, as I ‘m not at my most articulate today – but I do believe it was odious of those men to behave as such, and naive of the girls to believe it ended with cut-eye, whether or not it’s illegal. I’m quick to call the police to sort things out, because after having talks with our local community police liaison as I proceed with starting up a Neighbourhood Watch group on our street, I learned that they’d rather be called than not. As well, the communities with the lowest tolerance for crime have the lowest rates of crime. Nadine and Kate will once saw how quick I was to phone when there was an old guy in the park spending too much time fumbling with his hand in his pocket while watching our kids. They were all set to let it go, and I was all set to have him removed.

There are commenters in the Flickr discussion that are equally accusatory toward the subject of the photos, claiming she must be liking the attention. I would bet that would come in in the discussion of these girls – that some part of them must have liked it. You know – that old women “asking for it” argument.

In the past I’ve been around a similar situation, and I think that you were right to step in as you did, and when I did, I added: “Are you proud of yourself right now?! What if this was your child!?!”

I’m VERY sensitive to this. I live in a neighbourhood where a guy was caught shooting pictures up the skirts of toddler girls in our local supermarket.

And I have run across the street, my then year-old daughter in my arms, to question a guy who was shooting pictures of the two of us from across the street without our permission. When he said he was an amateur photog who entered contests and such, I told him he needed to get a release from us, and that I wouldn’t give permission, as in that case the images would become the rights of the contests, and made him delete the images permanently in front of me or I’d smash the camera and take whatever punishment, because he was such a jerk about it. Yet, I’ve let others shoot us because they asked, gave contact information, gave us permission to use the photos ourselves and told us they’d keep us up to date if the photos were ever used otherwise.

I guess the real issue is, how do we teach our daughters how to enjoy themselves, their bodies, their burgeoning sexuality — but in this case, (and I do think responsible adults have a responsibility to every child, not just their own) to not expose themselves to unsavoury attention and should they need to take an action, how to do so effectively. I hope there’s never a next time, and I’m speaking strongly here: but shame on those guys. I wish I could find them and say that to them. And the girls? Maybe what they were doing was fine, but maybe the setting was inappropriate.

This makes me think – we’d stop some stranger’s toddler from running into the street. We’d stop a pre-schooler from doing something dangerous too. I like to think I’d tell girls like that “What you’re doing isn’t smart.”, and why.

2 | DaniGirl

September 24th, 2007 at 7:59 am

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Coincidentally, I was just reading about the cellphone camera thing in the Citizen (front page, no less) this morning: http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/story.html?id=2d0ad1b5-e1d6-427f-a5a0-4be7323a209a

This is a tough one. I have no idea what I’d do, but I too would have a hard time simply standing by and watching all that go on. I also relate to the girls’ naivité… used to drive my mother nuts how oblivious I was to the possible menace of the world at large.

The worst part is that given the kind of person you’d have to be to be overtly taking lecherous photos of strangers, I’m not sure there is anything anybody could say or do that would make a difference to them.

*shudder*

3 | andrea

September 24th, 2007 at 8:24 am

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Marla – thank you for your thoughtful comments. BTW, I’ve already received a (private) comment in regards to the girls bringing this on themselves. I do think the girls were silly, and perhaps the setting wasn’t the greatest, but I certainly don’t blame them or think they deserved this.

It might have been prudent to call the neighborhood police. Their satellite office isn’t actually that far away.

Taking photos of people in public is not illegal, but I’m wondering if it could constitute some kind of harrassment.

Dani – Lecherous, yes. That describes it. *shiver*

There’s an interesting article over here about recent cases of voyeurism v. personal privacy.

4 | DaniGirl

September 24th, 2007 at 8:50 am

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Wow, that was an interesting thread on Flickr that Marla pointed out. It also led me to this, which is bang-on topic except from an Australian law perspective: http://photorights.4020.net/

Very interesting topic! But, um, I’d better go back to work now…

5 | DaniGirl

September 24th, 2007 at 8:58 am

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Urh, sorry to monopolize the comments, but I linked to the top of the page instead of this one: http://www.4020.net/words/photorights.php#beach It’s actually ALL quite interesting, but the beach section is right on topic.

6 | andrea

September 24th, 2007 at 9:07 am

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As a photographer I can appreciate that side of the argument. If I’m photographing the beach for an article I’m writing about the beach, I would like to be able to to take photos without someone calling the cops on me. BUT, these guys were clearly NOT photographers, taking photos for professional purposes.

p.s. here’s some Canadian info on photography law: http://ambientlight.ca/laws.shtml

7 | Jennie

September 24th, 2007 at 9:35 am

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Hi Andrea

To be totally honest, I wouldn’t know what to do myself is that happened. I am still (or wishing) fairly young and do enjoy spending time at the beach.

I wouldn’t know what to do if I saw this happening to me. I think that by writing this post, you are creating an awareness that this does happen, be aware.

Thanks for this.

J.

8 | Mae

September 24th, 2007 at 11:36 am

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Andrea, I live very close to you and only found your blog because of your involvement with the Maison Jeanne d’Arc.

Your experience at Westboro beach was unpleasant but at least you were aware of what those guys were doing, as were the young girls.

What I am trying to say here is while you object to someone taking pictures of you and yours in public places you have put yourself and your children into the great unknown of the internet through your blog and flickr.

Through your blog and its links I know all your names. Through an on-line phone directory and some local knowledge, I know your address. I recognize your girls when they are outside playing.

I think this is scary stuff. I am a little old retired lady, not very techno saavy but with lots of time to explore the net. Who else is out there?

You and the other blogging moms should not assume that only your friends and family are reading your blogs and looking at your flickr photos.

9 | VickiZ

September 24th, 2007 at 12:25 pm

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Mae makes a good point. On a somewhat different tack, but also related, this article provides some additional food for thought:

Young people don’t care about privacy
http://lauren.vortex.com/archive/000295.html

10 | andrea

September 24th, 2007 at 12:51 pm

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Oh Mae –

You have no idea how many mommy bloggers ponder the question you’re asking. There has been much hang-wringing … veritable miles of fretful text written on this very subject.

For some, it’s clear cut. They use pseudonyms and don’t share any potentially identifying info. For others, it’s not so cut and dry.

When I started this blog (way back in 1999!) there was no question. The only people reading my posts were friends and family. And then it spread. Today I have hundreds of unique visitors coming here every week. In the past month I’ve had about 2400 unique visitors, not a HUGE number as far as blogs go, but it’s something.

I don’t know exactly who’s reading, but every IP address is logged, and this is something I can take to the police if there’s ever a problem.

So why do I post photos and other potentially identifying info? Good question.

1) Our children are just as likely to be stolen away from us while we’re at the park, or while my back is turned as I load groceries into the trunk of the car.

2) This is VERY unlikely to happen, and I refuse to live my life in such a way that I’m forever fearful and looking over my shoulder.

3) That being said, I know what my rights are, I can defend myself, and I am prepared to defend my children with everything I have. (I am, after all, a highly-trained assassin.)

4) I believe that if I sign my name to my writing it lends it credibility. These are not just anonymous ramblings of some crazy person with a grudge.

5) As a paid writer, one who has also received paid work through the blog, I believe it’s in my best interest to identify myself.

Mae, you wrote:

“…you object to someone taking pictures of you and yours in public places you have put yourself and your children into the great unknown of the internet through your blog and flickr.”

In the situation I described at the beach, yes, I object! It was morally wrong, and absolutely reprehensible of those men to take photos of those young girls. And I didn’t want them taking my photo either.

My feelings regarding people taking photos of my children are similar to what Marla described above. It’s never happened, but it depends on the situation.

If I saw someone taking photos of my girls without my permission, at the park or from the sidewalk across from the schoolyard I would certainly object. Especially if the camera they were using was a cellphone. If I was approached by a professional photographer, with credentials I could check, and was asked to take photos of my children I might consider it…. but it ultimately depends on whether or not I can control the use of the image.

I have been uploading photos of the girls since they were born. A new issue that has arisen for me is that have become more aware of this than ever before. I am going to have to start asking them for permission to post their photos. They have a right to privacy too.

I’d love to hear other bloggers weigh in on these topics.

11 | porter

September 24th, 2007 at 7:15 pm

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This is such an interesting post and the comments are equally interesting.

I think I was most interested because I felt a bit of shame as to what I would have done had I been a teenager in that situation. The reality is I don’t think I would have done much more than those girls did. I didn’t have enough confidance or self awareness to know that I could and should do something, that I shouldn’t allow something like this to take place.

I think young girls and women receive far more messages that show this type of behaviour (from the men) is simply the way it is.

Good for you for yelling out to those men, but I commend you even more for your discussion with the girls. You asked them if it bothered them, you expressed how you feel about the behaviour (by using your girls as the example) and offered them something they could do/answered a question they had about the situation.

12 | andrea

September 25th, 2007 at 8:17 am

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“…this fear of a pedophile finding your child’s picture online, and then stalking your child for evil purposes, is nothing more than an urban legend. It has never happened. I can also tell you from the thousands of pedophiles I have worked with, even among the most extreme of them, it is unlikely that such a thing ever will happen. It is simply not how they work. They do not need to go through elaborate heists to get children, they are around kids every day. Even the ones who might consider an abduction, are going to base it off a child they know, or one they have access to based on geographic location, nothing else. Your child is not the only cute little kid out there, and even among the extreme, they will find victims based on how easily they can get to them.”

from this article.

13 | DaniGirl

September 25th, 2007 at 11:45 am

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Wow, Andrea, you are getting some *interesting* comments these days.

I really like how you responded to Mae’s comment. As someone who struggles with exactly the same issues, I’d respond in pretty much the same way.

It *is* easy to forget that the Internet is a public place, because we often establish a cozy rapport with most of our commenters and regular readers. But I think, too, that as mothers our radar is always on and always filtering what we write and what we post… at least, I like to think mine is.

Ironically, you are the only person I can recall coming across in three years of intensive mommy blog reading who has ever had any issues even remotely relating to safety and security. I’ve seen bloggers do some cruel and nasty things with pictures, and there have been some spurious personal attacks that crossed way over the line (not to a mommy blogger, though, and certainly not to her children).

I think that article you quoted is bang on, and very much tied to the same fear that makes us afraid to let our seven-year-olds walk to school by themselves. There is no threat, but society perceives a threat and imposes it on us.

I might have to blog on this topic myself…

14 | DaniGirl

September 26th, 2007 at 8:22 am

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At the risk of completely monopolizing the comments, I saw this today, and immediately thought of this thread:

Orkut is apparently “stealing” images of kids from Flickr. I haven’t read all the links yet, but you can see more here: http://babyblogorama.net/?p=839

15 | guest

October 2nd, 2007 at 3:30 pm

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Taking such photos is not illegal and surprised all don’t know this. I don’t get why the kids are labeled differently from the men either and I find the ethnic tagging non-descriptive but racist.

16 | The Moffman

October 22nd, 2007 at 10:20 am

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I feel I would be remiss in my duties as today’s serial fishbowl commentator if I let “guest” have the last word in this discussion.
Illegal or not, I think most right-thinking people, particularly those with children, would agree that this aptly described lecherous behavior is completely reprehensible.
And while I’m sure that they were congratulating themselves and reveling in their cleverness among their like-minded drunken friends, how do you think they would react if one were to somehow find out who they are and let them know that their bosses and families are going to find out what they were up to? I’m sure they’d be tripping over themselves with apologies and explanations of why they shouldn’t be exposed for the cretins that they are.

17 | The Muffinman

October 25th, 2007 at 1:48 pm

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Perhaps a burka is a good idea after all? I can only think of one reason for wearing a bikini and thats for sex appeal.

Why does “The Moffman” think loosing your job and marriage is fair punishment?

18 | When the very nice turns very sour >> a peek inside the fishbowl

July 4th, 2014 at 5:57 pm

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[…] Little did I realize that all of this beauty and reverie was soon to be ruined by three paunchy, middle-aged, idiots. (Continued here.) […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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