SAN ANTONIO – It’s a moment Halie Powell never saw coming, but one that ultimately changed her life and her determination to fight for what she believes in.
Every time she hears of a similar case, like that of a former substitute teacher accused of recording images up the skirts of female students, it takes her back.
While browsing at The Shops at La Cantera in April 2014, Powell felt a hand brush against her.
“I turned around and there was somebody with their arm up my dress recording me,” Powell said.
Powell didn’t waste time in her shock. She chased after the man.
“It was actually a man dressed as a woman,” Powell said. “His wig fell off.”
Bystanders saw what was happening and tackled the man. Another shopper recorded the incident on their cellphone.
“Come to find out I was video number 52 on his phone, so there were 51 people before me," Powell said. “I had to identify my video and see myself in that way, knowing that this person wanted to take that video home and watch it. It was disgusting.”
Powell said her disgust grew deeper when she found out that the man accused of recording the video was let go because a court ruled the state law against improper photography in 2014 was a violation of free speech protected by the First Amendment and, therefore, the law was unconstitutional.
“I knew no matter what I did, he would not be held liable for what he did. He would not be punished. But I could take action and the next person he did it to ... we needed to make it a law that he would get stopped,” Powell said.
She began calling state lawmakers and reached out to the Comal County District Attorney.
With no legal background, Powell said she had no idea how to write a new law, but she took it one step at a time. She even testified about her experience in front of lawmakers at the Capitol.
“I just knew we were going to hit a lot of roadblocks, which we did, and we just had to keep jumping those hurdles,” Powell said, remembering. “But I always went back to this individual, who was told it was OK to do this, and so he probably hasn’t stopped. He’s probably still doing it, and there’s a woman that just caught him, and she needs justice.”
There were several bills aimed at outlawing what has become known as “upskirting.” Ultimately, the bill that Powell personally pushed for failed. But some pieces of legislation were combined and a similar bill passed.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 1317 in June 2015.
Powell keeps a framed copy of the legislation at home as a daily reminder that anyone can push for change.
Every time she hears of another case similar to hers, she takes satisfaction in knowing the violator won’t be headed home to look at the invasive images they violated someone to obtain.
And to the man who was caught recording her, Powell said, “I do hope he gets caught because I don’t believe that he’s stopped. It is illegal now, and I hope that he’s watching this and he hears that. He’ll face his punishment."