Special Report: The voice of voyeur

November 21, 2008 4:40:10 AM PST
The practice of spying on people during intimate moments is called voyeurism and it is a crime. One voyeur from Philadelphia agreed to talk to us if we concealed his identity (he will be referred to as the man or the voyeur throughout the article).

He is someone who, you could say, "gets enjoyment" out of watching unsuspecting, un-consenting individuals in their most intimate moments.

"Maybe I might have fantasized at some point, God, I wish I could turn invisible, just walk in and not be noticed," the man said.

He started in junior high and his hidden habit of sneaking peaks, what he calls "watching," carried on well into college.

'There were times when I would look for windows and see if people were getting undressed in windows," the man said. "There were times when I have sneaked into women's showers. Like said, I would look in people's windows."

He got caught, but never arrested and, for the most part, he always viewed his voyeuristic activities as harmless.

"It's just a matter of practicality for that person even it seems impractical to everyone else. You know for him it's like this is just the quickest and easiest way for me to get something out of life. Make my life enjoyable. Do something to not be in a horrible position all the time," the man said.

This voyeur watched in person, but increasingly, we're hearing about the so-called video voyeur. Norristown landlord, Thomas Daly, is accused of installing tiny, wireless, clandestine cameras inside his tenants' apartments and recording their daily lives for decades.

"Would I have gone to that extent? No. Do I understand how someone else could have? Yeah, I can," the man said.

Clay Calvert is a professor at Penn State University, an expert on first amendment law, and the author of Voyeur Nation. He believes most of us are voyeurs, to some extent. We love to watch reality TV, hidden camera videos are everywhere on the Internet, and more and more people are posting personal videos and photos on websites like Facebook, MySpace and YouTube. The more people are willing to give up their personal information; the more voyeurism thrives.

"I think many people have become exhibitionists in the process and are willing to disclose many pieces of information about themselves including visual images of themselves that in the past we never would have revealed," Professor Calvert said.

Plus, cameras are everywhere with surveillance on the streets, buildings, ATMS, and red light cameras. We are watching each other and more and more, blurring the line between what is private and what we share with everyone.

"Everybody has a secret that they don't want somebody else to know about, but the more we give up facts about ourselves and the more we kind of tolerate, oh, there's a camera there, it's not such a big deal, then we kind of sacrifice some of those facts. We always have to be careful of where we are, I think," Professor Calvert said.

"You never know when you are safe. You never know when someone's watching you," the voyeur said.

Every state has a law targeting the traditional peeping tom who trespasses and peers into windows. Now states are revising those laws to account for new technology. The question is with cameras everywhere and many of us volunteering our secrets, where can you go and know you are safe from the watching eyes of others.


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