Be watchful of peeping Toms

PHOTO: The Straits Times

SHE was in a shopping mall when a man quietly followed her into the women's toilets, stuck his smart phone underneath the door of her cubicle and filmed her.

The 29-year-old woman, who wants to be known only as Tan, got up the moment she saw the bright red phone but the man got away and is still on the loose.

A year may have passed but memories of the incident still make Tan's blood boil.

"It angers me that the authorities say such cases are common yet the action taken does not reflect that they take it seriously," laments the assistant manager.

Since the incident in Petaling Jaya Tan is now extra cautious and looks out for suspicious people whenever she goes into a public toilet.

"I look around to see if there's anyone hiding.

"I also find myself looking at the door to ensure there are no recording devices and I am vigilant when I hear someone coming in," Tan says, adding that her husband stands watch outside the toilet as well.

She says she has yet to get any updates from the police since making a report on the incident.

Tan also started a Facebook page to warn others of the peeping Tom.

"I wanted to share my story with others because many feel ashamed and do not dare to speak up. Because of this, such culprits always get away with their crime," Tan says.

And perhaps it is wise for both men and women to be more alert of such voyeurs.

While peeping Toms prefer spying on women, Universiti Sains Malaysia criminologist and psychologist Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat says victims can be men, in the case of homosexual perpetrators.

"The selection of victims largely depends on the opportunity to commit the crime.

"Unlike kidnappers who carefully monitor their victim's movements for some time, peeping Toms create or are aware of opportunities that enable them to be sexually deviant," she says.

Some examples include hearing when someone turns on the shower, closes the toilet door, closes the bedroom door, and other preludes to the victim removing clothing.

Dr Geshina says the impact on the victim varies according to individuals but could range from trauma and fear to anger and anxiety.

"Some never forget and may refuse to use public toilets for fear of repeat incidents.

"For others, it is a lesson to ensure that doors and windows are closed," she says.

Dr Geshina points out that peeping Toms normally do not take further action apart from getting visuals and masturbating over them.

While he concurs with this, Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj, however, warns the public to be wary of a small section of voyeurs who escalate from "watching" to sexually molesting their victims.

In Western countries, peeping Toms can easily access open windows and sometimes masquerade as joggers who can easily run away when spotted, he says.

"In our country, the situation is a little different. Often the handyman or security guard in an apartment can be the local voyeur.

"Others might engage in voyeurism from the safety of their own apartment units while peeping into a neighbour's window using binoculars or their mobile phones," he says.

Dr Mohanraj stresses that voyeurism should not be dismissed as a harmless prank or nuisance, as it could lead to the perpetrator acting out his fantasies, including rape.

"With the availability of sophisticated devices, peeping Toms are further emboldened to satisfy their deviant behaviour. There must be awareness that this is a serious problem, and voyeurs should face the full consequences of the law.

"Part of the problem is that some think it is a harmless act and laugh off voyeurism as a prank or something humorous," he says.

Through the eyes of a voyeur

MOST people know him to be a successful businessman, loving husband, and doting father of two children.

But when nobody is watching, Steven (not his real name) secretively peeps at women taking a dip in the swimming pool in his condominium in Johor Baru.

He would then masturbate in private - but later, he would be overwhelmed with guilt over his act.

The 38-year-old, who was sexually abused as a child, has since sought help to get over his voyeurism problem.

"Every time I satisfied myself, I would feel so guilty. Sometimes, I even feel like committing suicide," reveals Steven, who is being treated with medication.

He has resolved to change himself for the better because he fears losing his job and does not want to hurt his beloved wife and children.

Steven admits that having some personal problems coupled with his high-stress job had led to a lot of anxiety being pent up inside him, and that perhaps this had pushed him to commit the act.

While he is still recovering from his condition, he says he has made tremendous progress and has stopped masturbating while peeping at women.

"I am also grateful that my wife has been very supportive and understanding. This has helped me a great deal," he says.