Law and Society

Voyeurism: The Silhouetted Crime in India

Introduction

Voyeurism is a type of disorder in which there is an interest in achieving sexual arousal by just watching the unsuspecting and/or non-consenting persons undress or engage in any form of sexual activity. Voyeurism can be described as a form of paraphilia, which involves the practice of the individual acquiring sexual gratification or deriving sexual pleasure by observing another individual’s private or sordid activity. Duhaime’s Law Dictionary defines Voyeurism as, “the secret viewing of another person in a place where that person would have a reasonable expectation of privacy, for the purposes of the viewer’s sexual arousal”.

Voyeurism has been provided ample opportunities to increase its purview in a completely new fashion. In the jet era where the technological advancements are being considered as a boon for society, however it is proving out to be a bane for society by aiding the perpetrators in the commission of crimes. Out of all the significant technological advances made till now, the most indispensable invention is the creation of the internet. In the present scenario, internet has massively contributed to the commission of voyeurism. The concept of ‘electronic voyeurism’ has also been given birth because of the aforementioned medium. A male voyeur is commonly labelled as a ‘Peeping Tom’ or ‘Jags’.

According to NCRB’s latest statistics, voyeurism is highest in the metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai. There were 1393 cases of voyeurism in 2018 while 1090 cases of voyeurism in 2017. Maharashtra tops the list of voyeurism cases, among the States, with 252 cases followed by Madhya Pradesh with 163 cases. There has been a dramatic increase in the number of stalking incidents recently, with 9438 stalking cases being reported in 2018, while a lower, yet still alarming, a figure of 8145 stalking cases being reported in 2017.

Connection of the Frenzied Mind with the Offence

Earlier, voyeurism did not have its own classification as an offence but rather it came under the offence of breach of peace or public indecency, however, it is now likely to be defined as a criminal act. The onset of a voyeuristic mind has been found to present itself in the early or mid-teenage years, however, DSM-5 states that it occurs in those who are above 18 years of age. Further, males are found to be more engaged in these voyeuristic activities than females. The voyeur does not seek sexual contact with the individual that they are observing. Voyeurism might not necessarily progress beyond fantasy, but the potential is always present for it to cross the lines between fantasy and reality.

Voyeurism is a crime in India where any man who watches or captures the image of any woman, who is engaged in a private act. The women have a right to not be observed or seen by anybody. The main element that must be present to constitute voyeurism is that the person does not have the consent of the other party. If a woman believes that she is being watched by someone, it is a clear breach of privacy. There are very few cases which discuss the need for stringent rules regarding this wicked offence in India. The government has worked towards making the lives of the Indian women better by introducing schemes such as Ujjwala Yojana and Swachh Bharat but the lives of the Indian women have still not become safer. India ranks 133 out of 167 countries in Women Peace and Security Index, 2019. The government needs to consider the issues regarding the safety of women as a prime agenda.

Electronic Voyeurism Culture

Publishing and distributing imagery and videos of the incidents of rape is an offence in India. Electronic technology is growing by leaps and bounds, and the whole world is available at the fingertips of an individual in just milliseconds through the medium of the internet. Offences such as cyber-stalking are successfully breaching and invading the privacy of the people. Activities like sending unsolicited e-mails, obscene pictures, intimidating messages, and threatening come under the domain of cyber-stalking. Under the wide domain of cyber-stalking, voyeurism has evolved and found a new place under it. With the advancement in video and image capturing technologies, observing and peeping into the individuals’ engagement in private acts, in the public and private spaces, through surreptitious means, has become an easily achievable and common occurrence. The aforementioned occurrences can be illustrated through highlighting incidents such as placing of cameras in the changing rooms of malls or public toilets where the individuals generally expect a reasonable degree of privacy and of being unwatched, and where their bodies may be exposed. Voyeurism is an act which blatantly intrudes into the expectation of privacy that all individuals harbour. A fair presumption of privacy entails that the victim enjoys a reasonable expectation of privacy and the expectation to not be detected through any medium, and such an expectation operates in both public and private spaces where the victim might engage in any private/personal activity. Voyeurism is an offence that has found its way paved forward through the aid of technology.

Legalities

The legal aspect of voyeurism in India has not been given much importance, however, it was introduced in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 through the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013, which relates to sexual offences. The amendment was the result of the conflagrated outrage in the Nation after the brutal gang-rape case in 2012. The offence of voyeurism has been added under Section 354C of IPC. The provision provides for the protection of the victim who is being watched and recorded, at the time when there is a reasonable expectation of not being observed, while performing a private activity, in a public or private place, such as disrobing or sexual performance. If any individual (complainant) comes across such an incident, then the complainant needs to report it to the concerned authorities. It is the duty of the authorities to deal with the matter afterwards, with grave concern.

Online distribution and circulation of private images without the consent of the women contributes to sexual violence in the domain of cyberspace. Under the IT Act, 2000, voyeurism is a crime irrespective of gender. Section 66E of the amended IT Act, 2008, provides punishment for the violation of privacy. It states that whoever with an intention to capture or record a photograph/video of the private areas of a person, without the consent of the said person, sends or circulates that photo/video to someone else which breaches the privacy of that person, will be considered as an offence. Also, it is provided under Section 67A of the aforementioned Act, that if any sexually explicit material is published online, it shall be considered as an offence and the person committing the offence will be imprisoned for 5 years, and the offender shall be liable for a fine up to Rs. 10 lakhs.

In the case of R. v. Jarvis, the accused was a high school teacher, recording his female students through a camera fitted in a pen and making videos without the consent of the students. The Supreme Court of Canada found him guilty as the recording without the consent of the students, particularly focused on their sexual parts, has violated the policy of the school board, and the relationship of trust between the teacher and the student.

The NCRB data suggests that the number of cases is increasing every year dramatically but the same is not reflected in the judicial pronouncements. The lawmakers have to take into account the seriousness of the silhouetted crime, the poor situation of law and order towards women, and the need to take some better measures to protect the dignity of women. The inclusion of public places, stricter punishment, and awareness towards the crime could help in decreasing the crime rate. However, the plight of women in our society is still not changing.

All the aforementioned provisions of different statutes come under the purview of the fundamental right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, 1950. The right to life and liberty engulfs and protects all the aspects of an individual’s privacy.

The Societal Incompetence

The sad reality in India is that society is still not mature and has a midget mentality towards such issues. They will not treat the raped women, in the same manner, they used to. In India, a person in their latency period does not get enough information or fair knowledge about the effects of unwanted sexual activities. One in every fifth person in this world is an adolescent, and India is having the largest adolescent population in the world. Public discussion of topics of a sexual nature is widely considered a taboo in India. Parents do not like to discuss these topics with their children and most of the population does not get enough knowledge about it in schools. It just makes the children myopic at such an early stage. The society needs to understand the need for education in these topics as the pusillanimous people will engage in immoral acts.

The increase in voyeurism can be considered as the principal factor that has contributed to the increase in the offence of rape in India. The chicken-hearted will try to fulfil their desire by doing acts which are not morally and lawfully correct.

Conclusion

The rise of a new culture of paraphilias is evolving its facets in the sexual abuse arena. By dealing with the current scenario and looking at the status of sexual offences under the Indian laws, the definition of sexual abuse should be broadened to include various acts, within its scope of application, such as the acts of exhibitionism, fondling, and forced penetration (rape). Privacy, women, and crimes are three interlinked words for the commission of an offence in any legal system. Even though there are several stringent laws for the protection of women against sexual abuse, they still fall prey to such crimes. The reason behind this problem can be attributed to the fact that we do not have dedicated laws relating to the protection of privacy. It is important to note here that the term ‘video voyeurism’ has not been defined under the amended IT Act, 2008. It can be concluded that if any person captures a picture of the private areas of a person without their consent, it would amount to a violation of their privacy, and shall be held liable under the given parameters detailed in Section 66E of the amended IT Act, 2008. Voyeurism, previously being a disorder, is now given the status of an offence, and should be dealt in various evolving facets via technology.

This article is authored by Archit Shukla, a student from the National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi. He is also a columnist for the Social Chronicle Blog.

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