In July, a California attorney for ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews said she had been “surreptitiously videotaped” while dressing in her private hotel room. A video of her was uploaded to the Internet; it has since been removed from most sites. Taking such videos is a crime, and Miss Andrews’ attorney, Marshall B. Grossman, says she plans to bring civil and criminal charges against the videotaper(s) and anyone who published the material.
Voyeurism is also a recognized paraphilia, and staff writer Cheryl Wetzstein recently discussed this mental health topic with John O’Neill, director of addiction services and certified sex-addiction therapist at the Menninger Clinic in Houston.
Question: It seems new personal video technology is having unintended consequences for our culture.
Answer: Without a doubt. I work with a lot of adolescents, and one of the issues we are running into is the “sexting” or text-messaging of sexually explicit materials and pictures. In a lot of ways, it’s raising or heightening the sexualized nature of adolescence.
Q: In another interview on sexual addiction, I spoke with a man who said he got into real-life voyeurism after becoming bored with Internet porn. Does that sound familiar to you?
A: That is very common. It’s very similar to people who drink alcohol or use drugs. You build a tolerance … and, over time, they find that they have to do more or do something else.
For some people, the different voyeuristic types of pornography or the opportunity to spy on people, to look at somebody, is incredibly exciting and very different. It not only takes on a sexual connotation, it also takes on “I’m doing something wrong” [because] it’s against the law.
Q: Are you seeing more voyeurism than before or it is about the same?
A: Well, I think, with the technology, there is more opportunity to participate in voyeurism. I think voyeurism has always been around, but now you have ways of not only doing it easier but ways of actually recording it, keeping it, reflecting on it, going back to that fantasy again and again, because now you have a way of really keeping track of it. When we put cameras on our cell phones, that opened all kinds of new doors.
Q: What kinds of things do you hear about from clients?
A: Well, in some places, [stores] will have all one dressing room, and you go in, and one side’s male and one side’s female. And people will go in there, and they’ll take their cell phones and take pictures underneath, or they’ll put mirrors or do various things to see underneath the stall.
Q: When does looking “cross the line” into criminal or pathological behavior?
A: There is a line, and this is the trickiest aspect of it. People do tend to use that argument, “Oh, I’m just looking, it’s harmless, it’s a victimless crime, so to speak.”
I don’t agree with that at all because I think people do move beyond the looking and into more of the pathological ways of obsessing about it, of violating so many boundaries, taking videotapes, taking pictures. I mean, so many people go from looking to actually documenting and then posting and sharing.
Q: Is voyeurism a sexual orientation?