Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Insidious Technology Aiding Peeping Toms

In December, 28-year-old Edward Wainwright was arrested in Omaha after police say he videotaped an undressed 16-year-old girl in a tanning booth. Wainwright pleaded no contest to unlawful invasion. He was sentenced to five days in jail and 18 months probation, and was told he could not possess a camera.

It wasn't an unusual incident, said Sgt. Scott Christensen of the Nebraska State Patrol. He's worked with two local cases involving candid cameras."How many cases are going on that we don't know about — people that just haven't been caught?" said Christensen, a cyber-crimes expert who tracks what he calls the evolution of the Peeping Tom."The only difference is technology is changed now," he said. "They're using infrared cameras."Cameras that can fit in a smoke detector or the tip of a shoe can produce clear, quality video. And they're within many people's price range, some as cheap as $99, said Matt Schott of Jasa Investigative Services of Omaha."The general public can purchase this through any catalog," he said.

Cell phone cameras have made surreptitious photographing even easier. A person ostensibly typing a text message on a cell phone may actually be taking pictures. As a result, many health clubs don't allow cell phones in the locker rooms.

The 16-year-old victim at the tanning salon said she still feels violated. She's scared to use the restroom or even try on clothes at a store.

What is the motivation for spying on someone in a state of vulnerability? Could it be that there is an immense feeling of power in taking advantage of a person's trust in an expectation of privacy that is made all the more addictive by its combination with the thrill of doing something not only illegal, but doing something that is secretive and has the potential at every moment "to be found out"? Are these Peeping Toms so very emasculated that they must prey upon the weak and unsuspecting in order to feel in control and dominant? What rendered these individuals so perversely passive aggressive-for the act of spying on someone who is undressing is at once an aggressive violation of decency and privacy, while also remaining a passive action of simply watching what passess before their eyes with little control of what they see. They are at once in control of the victim at least superficially, and under the victim's control, psychologically. What motivates Peeping Toms? Is the behavior a symptom of a bigger disease? And is technology making it easier for them to use this innapropriate method of handling a psychological dysfunction?

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