The Sex Crime of Voyeurism

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Voyeurism is often defined as illegally recording another person, often for sexual gratification. The actual definition varies by each jurisdiction in accordance with the state’s definition of the crime. The consequences of being convicted of this crime are often quite serious.

General Background

Discussions of voyeurism usually center on the spying of another person while he or she is dressing, using the bathroom, engaging in sexual activity or engaging in other activities that would usually be considered “private.” Usually, the voyeur is invading another person’s privacy in order to receive this sexual gratification. The victims do not know that they are being watched, photographed or recorded. They also have not consented to such actions. Relevant laws that may come into play during prosecutions of this nature may be a statute directly targeted at voyeurism, invasion of privacy laws or “peeping tom” laws.

Types of Voyeurism

In traditional terms, a voyeur was often viewed as a “peeping tom.” This individual would look through another person’s windows or doors in order to try to catch them undressing or engaging in other private activities. However, modern technology has escalated the ability of voyeurs to get even more intimate moments captured. Voyeurs may place hidden cameras in dressing rooms, bathrooms or other areas in order to see up victims’ skirts or to see them partially nude. Voyeurs may place web cameras in places where people are showering or changing. Some voyeurs place these devices in public facilities while others place recording devices in their own home for such deviant purposes.

In addition to the easier ability to capture such private acts on film or photo, the ways that voyeurs distribute their findings has also changed. They may upload films anonymously to the internet where they can forever remain, continuously invading the victim’s privacy.

Expectation of Privacy

One legal issue that often comes up in these types of cases is the expectation of privacy. This legal concept has been fleshed out repeatedly in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. Generally, in order for the prosecutor to successfully prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the suspect committed every element of the crime, he or she must show that the victim both subjectively and objectively had a reasonable belief in the expectation of privacy where he or she was seen or recorded. Locations where there may be a reasonable expectation of privacy may include in private offices where there is a door that can be locked, in locker rooms and in bathrooms. However, videos or photographs taken while in common areas in a workplace may not meet this definition.

Legal Consequences

On the criminal level, a person convicted of a crime related to voyeurism may face the conviction of a misdemeanor or felony, based on state law. The circumstances determine the degree of criminal conduct, such as the age of the victims, the number of victims and how the victims were recorded. A conviction may result in a jail sentence, requirement to pay a fine, probation and court-ordered counseling. Additionally, the offender may be required to register as a sex offender due to mandatory registration requirements.

In addition to any criminal consequences, an offender may also be sued for invading the victim’s privacy or causing harm to his or her reputation. Due to the serious nature of the consequences that an offender faces, it is in his or her best interest to consult with a lawyer familiar with sex crimes in his or her jurisdiction.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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