Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Voyeurism is Allowed Public Spaces?

In Washington state, there has been several news articles about men who have elaborate camera set ups using shoes and iPhones, to look up women's dresses. The most recently publicized case involves Jenifer DeMarre who was at the Seattle Home Show in Feb of 2012 with her husband when a man tried to film up her skirt. DeMarre's husband caught the man and the voyeur was quickly arrested. However, it is taken almost a month for DeMarre to get an anti-harassment order against this man.  Why? 

The story I have been following was written by Denise Whitaker for Komo news in Seattle. Now, I follow Komo on Facebook and I was a bit horrified to read on comment thread one man who wrote:
shes blowing this up so much omg
Unfortunately, the questionable comment above is not a rare opinion regarding these types of events, and other events like. What's the big deal? After all, she was wearing a skirt, right? Easy access. She's basically asking for it.

The idea privacy is changing drastically in our society. Social networks, Facebook, GPS and digital surveillance have all come together to redefine what is often called the public sphere. Some of the problems regarding this redefinition the murky, gray waters of what can be considered public access as compared to what is considered private acts. And this includes issues of voyeurism, and fashion.

Shoe Cameras
In a way, DeMarre was lucky that the incident occurred in a private Facility rather than a public space. Indeed, as I wrote on Facebook when replying to this news story, if this act of voyeurism had occurred in a public space, DeMarre might not have gotten any legal help whatsoever, because wearing a skirt in public doesn't give you a reasonable expectation to privacy.

How do I know this?   First, it is clearly written in the Washington state voyeurism law; the laws pasted towards the end of this post.  But more importantly, I saw this happen myself during Seattle SLUT walk 2011.

For those who do not know, SLUT Walk is an activist movement comprised of people who have been sexually assaulted and raped, and then blamed for that assault because of what he or she was wearing - this is slut-shaming and victim blaming.   I was taking part in the protest, when a man was seen taking photographs of women's underwear, and up women's skirts.  Keep in mind, this was a group of women, and men, most of who had been raped and/or sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Regardless, this man was repeatedly reported to the police who happened to be present at the protest. What did the police do? Nothing. They asked him to stop doing it, but they did not run him off, they did not arrest him, they only offered a firm word and then let him loose, to start filming all over again.

Many of the women were horrified and, rightfully so, angry. The question was this: why on earth did the police not arrest him from voyeurism? Well, because none of us at that protest had reasonable expectation of privacy. We were in a public location, Westlake Square, and having a public protest. As a result, our public space did not allow us to have private expectations.

The irony is this: we now have laws that allow a form of "slut-shaming" for women evening wearing the most tasteful of dress or skirt. It doesn't matter if the woman is wearing fishnet stockings and a miniskirt,  or if she is wearing a full-length skirt that covers all the way down to the ankles–if she is out in public, any guy with the camera on his foot can likely get away with filming her, and there will be little that she can do about.  Even though a skirt that covers a person's intimate areas, and legs, suggests a desire for privacy, just being in a public place can counteract that gesture.

 I write about this today only to make people aware of the conflict in law, social mores, and everyday life. One of the women who wrote on the Facebook post by Komo said: this is one of the reasons I never wear a skirt in public. It is terribly sad that we live in a world that suggests that people deserve to be taken advantage of just because of the close they wear.  Just fodder to think about.

Washington State:RCW 9A.44.115 Voyeurism.

(1) As used in this section:

     (a) "Intimate areas" means any portion of a person's body or undergarments that is covered by clothing and intended to be protected from public view;

     (b) "Photographs" or "films" means the making of a photograph, motion picture film, videotape, digital image, or any other recording or transmission of the image of a person;

     (c) "Place where he or she would have a reasonable expectation of privacy" means:

     (i) A place where a reasonable person would believe that he or she could disrobe in privacy, without being concerned that his or her undressing was being photographed or filmed by another; or

     (ii) A place where one may reasonably expect to be safe from casual or hostile intrusion or surveillance;

     (d) "Surveillance" means secret observation of the activities of another person for the purpose of spying upon and invading the privacy of the person;

     (e) "Views" means the intentional looking upon of another person for more than a brief period of time, in other than a casual or cursory manner, with the unaided eye or with a device designed or intended to improve visual acuity.

     (2) A person commits the crime of voyeurism if, for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of any person, he or she knowingly views, photographs, or films:

     (a) Another person without that person's knowledge and consent while the person being viewed, photographed, or filmed is in a place where he or she would have a reasonable expectation of privacy; or

     (b) The intimate areas of another person without that person's knowledge and consent and under circumstances where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, whether in a public or private place.
 Read the full law here.

What do you think about the changing reality of pubic vs private spaces?  What do you think about slut blaming?


  1. It is a shame that common sense has no bearing in society today. Are there not thousands upon thousands of women willing to 'put it out there' for everyone to see? That someone in a women's business suit comprised of a skirt and jacket instead of pants and jacket could have no recourse for a coworker filming up it is ridiculous. That a person has to prey on those most trying to be private or decorous instead of 'taking advantage' of all that is available for such desires, shameful lack of sense, common or otherwise!

  2. Yes this is really a shame. And it's sad that women have to worry about wearing skirts out in public, having to worry that somebody's going to look up them with a camera phone. Also, it's so common. Go ahead and search YouTube for this, there are one too many videos there.

  3. I watched this story in TV a few months ago. I thought he was arrested right away because what he did was illegal. Sometimes it seems that the law is more concerned protecting the offender instead of the victim. Does not law inforcement have mother, sister or daughter?

  4. Tian, that is a good question. I think the laws are in flux right now because of the new technology available. Rebecca

  5. was there a news article about this on komo or kiro?


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