Peeping Toms click to techno snooping

Peeping Tom, spying, peephole
Peeping Tom, spying, peephole

Women and girls are being spied on in the toilets of shopping malls, fastfood restaurants and cinemas and even while napping in their lounges or showering in their own homes.

The modern incarnation of the old-fashioned Peeping Tom has exploded in New Zealand as digital cameras have become ever smaller, encouraging more perverts to think they can get away with covert filming.

A man who appeared in court last week charged with spying on women in malls across Auckland is just the latest in a sorry tally. In the past year, 72 people have been charged with making illegal intimate visual recordings.

That number is in sharp contrast to seven years ago when just 12 people were charged with the offence. Before that there were no such charges.

Experts say the charges laid against these men after women catch them and complain are just the tip of the iceberg - often police recover hundreds of videos the perverts have taken of women who never knew they were filmed and whom police cannot identify.

Auckland man Ian Frazer, 42, pleaded guilty in March last year to secretly filming up women's skirts at Westfield Albany after being nabbed by a security guard at the Farmers store.

He was found with up to 250 short videos, many of them painstakingly collated by him and given sexually explicit titles. Frazer said he did not regard the videos as offensive because the women had no idea they had been filmed.

Judge Nevin Dawson disabused him of that notion, saying: "It's not a mitigating factor that they didn't know, if anything it's aggravating."

He sentenced Frazer to 100 hours' community work, six months' community detention and 12 months' intense supervision.

Frazer had used his mobile phone to make his stash of recordings.

The mobile phone, with its increasingly sophisticated cameras, has been the equipment of choice for many of the new breed of voyeur.

In Christchurch Sean Robert Trimble, 43, carved peepholes into a changing room partition at The Warehouse store in Hornby to video an undressing woman with his phone. His excuse was that he had been egged on by workmates. He received 175 hours of community work.

For Maurice Hemi Williams, 27, it did not even take that much preparation. He simply reached under a woman's skirt to take a photograph with his phone at the Northlands Shopping Centre in Christchurch.

He stopped to check the photo as he walked away, and when he saw it was blurred, went back to the same woman and took three more pictures. Security guards caught him and he was jailed for a year.

But some had far more elaborate preparation. A 47-year-old sickness beneficiary from Hamilton, who cannot be named, was found to have concealed a miniature camera in the shaver socket of his bathroom, with a lead extending to his bedroom.

Martin Cocker, executive director of NetSafe - a non-profit organisation which promotes the responsible use of the internet - said there were "hundreds of video capture devices that are small enough to be hidden" which are used to secretly record people.

"The size of cameras and equipment used to capture video, the ease of which it is captured and edited, certainly means that [secret recording] is enabled by the technology more so now than before," he said.

"There are people being filmed that have no idea and will never have an idea they've been filmed."

Cocker said some would find themselves on secret trading sites of covert films.

"I would suspect that most people who record them, capture it first for their own use but the internet provides them with the opportunity to share and trade with like-minded individuals. Some of it will be traded later," he said.

Detective Senior Sergeant John Michael of the Online Child Exploitation Across New Zealand (Oceanz) unit, said while covert spying was "not common".

People should be aware of its potential "particularly in crowded places such as streets, escalators and pedestrian crossings".

"Changing rooms and public toilets are two other areas where cameras can be easily concealed and intimate visual recordings produced," said Michael.

"A commonsense approach should give most people a gut feeling about what does not look right," he said.

Despite the rise in the number of charges, Michael said there was no data around the age of the victims and "we cannot say that the making of these recordings goes hand in hand with sexual abuse either".

While women and girls were the most common victims, there had been cases of men and boys being filmed.

Sunday Star Times