Exposed: Voyeurism and Surveillance

Voyeurism is defined as taking interest or having interest in observing unsuspecting people – adults or children- without their knowledge and consent. The act of voyeurism gives precedent to the voyeur because the person being watched is unaware of the fact that s/he is being watched. A more common way of referring to the person doing the watching is “peeping Tom”.

The key element of voyeurism and what makes it a criminal offence; is that the person being watch is unaware and helpless. This shifts the scale of power and makes the voyeur take control of a situation where the person being watched thought s/he was safe in this place. In India, voyeurism is rampant and wide-spread because supposedly safe public spaces are accessible for peeping Tom’s as well. Women, especially, feel that they are being watched while traveling, in their work environments, on the streets, even in their homes. One can have the reasonable expectation of privacy in places such as changing rooms, homes, rest-rooms and motels, but with spy cams being disguised as everyday objects and being followed for a chance of clicking compromising photos is a reality that we face today.

Though voyeurism can also be dismissed as an interest in watching others, there’s a line between simply watching and crossing over to harassment and seeking pleasure without consent. Women have made multiple complaints of finding spy cams in everyday objects like lipsticks, brushes, goggles and things that would blend in the home environment and not make you suspicious that someone is constantly watching through these objects. In fact, Smriti Irani herself spotted a hidden camera in a changing room of a high-end apparel store in Goa.

There have also been cases where ‘harmless watching’ has resulted in leaking the videos or photographs online on pornographic websites. Women and men alike have also used this invasion of privacy to either blackmail or take revenge on their partners by threatening to expose the material online. Keeping in mind that most of our interaction in this digital age takes place online, Centre for Social Research has taken their activism and women’s empowerment agenda online. For the last five years, CSR has collaborated with social media platforms to make these apps safer and more inclusive for everyone.

This week we used our social media handles to conduct a small survey on the problem of voyeurism in India. We asked five simple questions to all our followers and out of our respondents, including men and women, 100% felt watched in public spaces. 31% of the respondents did not know what voyeurism meant. 13% had actually found their images on other websites without their consent. 89% have felt the need to change their security settings on their social media platforms to make their information more private and safe from duplication or hacks. And when asked if Indian citizens were aware of any specific organization dedicated to check public spaces like washrooms, changing rooms etc, 86% of the respondents selected no.