Voyeurism (voi-YUR-ih-zum) refers to deriving sexual pleasure from looking at the naked bodies or sexual activities of others, usually strangers, without their consent (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Because a degree of voyeurism is socially acceptable (witness the popularity of sex sites on the Internet), it is sometimes difficult to determine when voyeuristic behavior becomes a problem (Arndt, 1991; Forsyth, 1996). To qualify as atypical sexual behavior, voyeurism must be preferred to sexual relations with another person or indulged in with some risk (or both). People who engage in this behavior are often most sexually aroused when the risk of discovery is high—which may explain why most are not attracted to such places as nudist camps and nude beaches, where looking is acceptable (Tollison & Adams, 1979).
Again, people inclined toward voyeurism often share characteristics with people who expose themselves (Arndt, 1991; Langevin et al., 1979). They may have poorly developed sociosexual skills, with strong feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, particularly as directed toward potential sexual partners (Kaplan & Krueger, 1997). As the common term peeping Tom implies, voyeurism is typically, although not exclusively, expressed by males (Davison & Neale, 1993). They tend to be young men, usually in their early 20s (Dwyer, 1988; Lavin, 2008). They rarely "peep" at someone they know, preferring strangers instead. Most individuals who engage in such activity are content merely to look, keeping their distance. However, in some instances such individuals go on to more serious offenses, such as burglary, arson, assault, and even rape (Abel & Osborn, 2000; Langevin, 2003).
This behavior more typically includes peering into bedroom windows, stationing oneself by the entrance to women’s bathrooms, and boring holes in the walls of public dressing rooms. Some men travel elaborate routes several nights a week for the occasional reward of a glimpse, through a window, of bare anatomy or, rarely, a scene of sexual interaction. A new form of voyeurism has emerged in which small, technologically advanced video cameras are used to surreptitiously invade the personal privacy of many unaware victims. It’s perhaps best described as video voyeurism.
Small, affordable video cameras are increasingly being used to invade and record some of our most private moments. These images might then be displayed on the Internet or on someone’s DVD player. High-tech video devices—hidden in such locations as smoke detectors, exit signs, ceiling fixtures, and gym bags—make it easy for unscrupulous individuals with either a penchant for peeping or an eye for a quick buck to victimize people by secretly recording them.
Both local and national media report on a proliferation of various forms of video voyeurism, which include hidden cameras or cell phones in such places as bathrooms ("bathroomcams"), shower facilities ("showercams"), locker rooms ("lockerroomcams"), and bedrooms ("bedroomcams") and under working women’s desks ("upskirtcams"). Cell phones with video and still photography features have added another disconcerting dimension to the proliferation of video voyeurism. For example, a male school teacher in Florida was recently arrested and charged with using a cell phone, placed under a bathroom stall, to record images of minors and adults using the bathroom facilities (UPI Newstrack, 2011). In another similar case, an employee of an Illinois hardware business was charged with unauthorized videotaping via a video camera found in the store’s bathroom (Nagle, 2011).
People who use "voyeurcams" do so either for their own sexual gratification or for financial gain. Technological advances in video equipment, together with the Internet, have allowed the emergence of a disturbing new financial market in which unethical entrepreneurs sell secret video invasions of privacy either for home DVD viewing or for viewing at pay-per-view websites. The number of both unauthorized and authorized occurrences of voyeuristic Internet video displays has exploded. The multiplicity of websites that appeal to video voyeurs are set up on a pay-per-view or subscription basis, and a person can log on to watch the activities of people, often attractive women, who may not know that they are being watched.
Unfortunately, many embarrassed and angry victims of video voyeurism have discovered that they have little legal recourse when secret videos are marketed by unscrupulous entrepreneurs based in foreign countries where the legal codes allow them to function without fear of legal reprisals. Currently all states, with the exception of Iowa, have some legal prohibitions pertaining to video voyeurism. However, vague legal wording, in conjunction with the dramatic increase in legal video surveillance since 9/11, has rendered these state laws difficult to interpret and enforce.
We hope that states will become increasingly effective in prosecuting high-tech video voyeurism and that the general public will become more aware of this serious form of personal privacy invasion. Furthermore, as we become more knowledgeable about the potential for this invasive process, we can be more aware and careful in situations where we might be victimized in this fashion. For example, when changing in a gym or health club, be on the lookout for clothes bags positioned so that they might allow secret video recording. A Missouri youth-group leader was recently convicted of producing and possessing child pornography obtained via secretly taping young boys in various settings (e. g., showers and bathroom facilities) with a video camera he had hidden inside a backpack (Mann, 2011).
It is difficult to isolate specific influences that trigger voyeuristic behavior, particularly because so many of us demonstrate voyeuristic tendencies in a somewhat more controlled fashion. The adolescent or young adult male who displays this behavior often feels great curiosity about sexual activity (as many of us do) but at the same time feels inadequate or
insecure. His voyeurism, either while physically present or by means of hidden video cameras, becomes a vicarious fulfillment because he may be unable to engage in sexual activity without experiencing a great deal of anxiety. In some instances voyeuristic behavior is also
reinforced by feelings of power and superiority over those who are secretly observed. Critical Thinking Question