Is it getting easier to be a voyeur? What to watch for to keep yourself safe

Is it getting easier to be a voyeur? What to watch for to keep yourself safe

CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - With the recent arrests of peepers at a Target in West Chester and a Kroger in Butler County, FOX19 wanted to investigate how easy it is for people to use not just their phones, but also some incredibly small, high-tech spy devices to sneak an illegal peek.

“I remember when I was in high school, boys would do that, only they didn’t have cell phones -- they had mirrors on their shoes,” said Libby Van Hook, who spoke to FOX19 with her husband, Bob, about the subject.

These days, it’s about what else might be hidden in any shoes -- tiny cameras that can do a lot more than just look. With video and sound designed and marketed for security, the cameras can be used by voyeurs to steal a person’s privacy.

When asked to help define things like “upskirting” and “downblousing” in his own words, Bob Van Hook suggested the following: “Taking pictures of unmentionables -- unaware ladies.”

These voyeuristic views may be happening more than you think. In one security video reviewed by FOX19, a man took an incredible risk at a Target, sliding his cell phone under a woman’s skirt. She was oblivious.

Cameras can come in many different packages, such as a small pen camera offered on Walmart’s website for under $20. It’s a lot smaller than a phone camera. There are even cameras on the market about the size of a quarter -- and smaller -- that can easily be slid into someone’s shoelaces.

“From now on, when I’m shopping, I’m going to be (watching for that),” says Libby Van Hook.

RELATED | Police investigate reports of upskirting at Target in West Chester

Cameras can be found in eye glasses, pocket watches, picture frames, light bulbs, coat hooks, and even smoke detectors.

“I don’t think most people realize, how small and capable, and how cheap this technology is, and how easy it would be, to hide it in such a way that you could do this kind of thing,” said FOX19 Tech Guru Dave Hatter, adding devices like those give the creeps a cheap way to peep that’s virtually unnoticed. “It’s sick and pathetic, but that’s where we’re at today."

There are always people who figure out a way to take technology intended for something good and put it to bad use, says Hatter.

Hatter said so many people are distracted with their faces buried in their phones, it’s no wonder things like this can happen.

“This obviously crosses a line into a much weirder place, where, if you’re out in public, you have no expectation of privacy, but you also then do not have an expectation that someone is trying to look up your skirt,” said Hatter. “Because obviously if you walk up to someone in a Kroger and try to get that close to someone, it’s going to be a little weird.”

Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana all have some sort of voyeurism law on the books, with varying degrees of offenses, depending on what you’ve done. The penalty is roughly 180 days in jail max and up to a $1,000 fine. If you share the image online, or if it involves a child under the age of 15, the penalties go up substantially.

There are phone apps which claim they can detect the electronic RF signals in hidden cameras near you. Prices start around $5 for those apps but the reviews from those who’ve bought and tried them are not great.

You could also buy separate RF detectors, these are handheld devices, which can tell you if a hidden cam is nearby. Prices here range from around $100 to $130.

Police suggest the following to keep yourself safe:

  • Be especially observant if you’re in a large crowd.
  • Watch for anyone standing unusually close to you.
  • If something doesn’t feel right, walk away and always call police.

Voyeurism rises to the level of a fifth-degree felony if the victim is a minor. Otherwise, police say there are three levels of misdemeanor voyeurism:

  • The first, commonly known as “peeping Tom,” where a person is spying or eavesdropping on a victim for sexual gratification is a third-degree misdemeanor.
  • The second degree misdemeanor is to trespass and videotape or photograph a person who’s nude.
  • The last includes upskirting. It’s a first-degree misdemeanor to tape or photograph someone through their clothing or under their clothing with the purpose of viewing the body or undergarments. Offenders tend to repeat their offenses because the behavior is highly-addictive.

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