PEEPING Tom cases may not be new in Malaysia, but the emergence of smart phones, as they become more and more advanced, has provided voyeurs with a leg up to commit their despicable crime.
To illustrate, some smart phones have 16-megapixel cameras that can shoot crystal-clear pictures in low light conditions and are equipped with high definition zoom features.
Photographs can also be stealthily taken in silent mode.
Such smart phone features have been exploited in the 24 cases of peeping Toms reported in Malaysia until October this year. Of those, 11 cases occurred in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.
These voyeurs, using mobile phones to record visuals, are also mostly strangers, with 16 being unknown to the victims, while seven are acquaintances and one, a colleague.
Capturing their victims on camera, they were in turn caught by the police, with four being charged in court while the others are still being investigated.
Last year, 29 peeping Tom cases were recorded, with 10 being taken to court for the offence under Section 509 of the Penal Code for gestures intended to insult a person's modesty. The section carries a punishment of up to five years' jail, a fine, or both.
Bukit Aman Sexual, Women, and Child Investigation Division assistant principal director Asst Comm Ong Chin Lan shares how she has seen technology being misused for wrong and disturbing purposes.
"Aside from using hand phones, there are cases of voyeurs attaching tiny spy cameras to their shoes to take 'up skirt' photographs," she says during an interview.
"Technology has provided peeping Toms with additional tools and added a new dimension to the impact they have on victims," she says.
Other usual modi operandi include installing hidden cameras in the victim's house as well as in public dressing rooms, female public toilets, and office premises.
A well-known example of using hidden cameras is when a man installed a CCTV camera in the condo of local model Nasha Aziz.
"In such cases, the perpetrator would get a live feed of the victim in the comfort of his own home," ACP Ong explains.
The man was caught and sentenced to six months in jail.
Most victims of this crime can at least find some comfort in the fact that peeping Toms rarely share the illegal images they capture, as they are normally satisfied viewing it privately, says ACP Ong.
"It is unlikely but there are times when a suspect may become more threatening and violent.
"But usually, they do not end up blackmailing or harassing their victims. Peeping Toms normally just want to fantasize and masturbate. Nevertheless, the police view such offences seriously," stresses ACP Ong.
In a case at a university in Gombak, Selangor, last year, a camera was found wedged in the side of a door in the girls' toilet. After a student discovered the camera, the suspect wrote on the door that he would threaten to expose the images if any action was taken.
But, says ACP Ong, "Do not feel frightened by the suspect because if the victim is silent, worse scenarios will happen."
She also advises women to be alert to "funny features" in hotel rooms or rented premises, as even a clothes hook or hanger can be a hidden camera in disguise.
"Always be alert and mindful, especially when you are in a new place.
"If you enter a lift, always try to stand with your back against the wall so that you can see everyone. Also, always trust your instincts," ACP Ong says (see more tips on page 19).
Defining voyeurism as a sexual disorder, Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj says such unnatural sexual impulses may be due to abnormal childhood development.
"Psychological factors like childhood abuse also play a role," he says.
Explaining further, Dr Mohanraj says such impulses may be associated with sexual arousal during childhood while witnessing a sexual act, leading to conditioned learning.
"Voyeurs usually cannot control their urges and repeatedly engage in such deviant behaviour. When they are stressed or anxious, they seek to engage in such behaviour to satisfy themselves," he says.
They would then usually have strong feelings of guilt after obtaining sexual pleasure but would likely repeat their acts.
"With high-quality recording features readily available in mobile phones, there is nothing to prevent a voyeur from whipping out his phone to record what he sees. This can fall into wrong hands and lead to serious consequences," Dr Mohanraj says.
While the act of spying on someone is to achieve sexual excitement, Universiti Sains Malaysia criminologist and psychologist Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat says the threat of being found out may be an additional thrill for the peeping Tom.
"This is a person who allows his abnormal sexual obsession and activity to control normal and acceptable functioning behaviour," she says.
Dr Geshina also points out that the voyeur is usually more aroused by the fact that the victim is unaware of being watched or heard than by the victim's physical appearance.
"It is rare that the peeping Tom comes into contact with his victim, although he may have such a fantasy," she adds.
Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun condemns the actions of peeping Toms in violating the privacy and modesty of women, saying that such crimes could harm women psychologically and emotionally.
"The ministry is always open to provide counselling for women who have been through such trauma," she says.
Chew, who is also MCA vice-president, calls on women to be more alert and not open up opportunities for voyeurs to make their move.
The Star previously reported that spy cameras can come in the shape of everyday items like tissue boxes, identification tags, watches, electrical adapters, clocks, fake plants, air purifiers, exit signs, and car keys. Fortunately, to counter that, there are spy camera detectors that can identify wireless and wired cameras, including radio frequency detectors and camera lens locators.