WETZSTEIN: Peeping leads to a dead end

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The explicit hotel video of ESPN newscaster Erin Andrews that was put on the Internet this year piqued my interest, but not because of the video.

I am interested in the person(s) who obsessed over Ms. Andrews enough to do this.

She is clearly a victim, and plans to sue any voyeurs. Who knows, she may even become a cause celebre for the federal Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004.

But what about peepers? How does one become a voyeur? And what are the consequences of getting into such deviancy?

Michael Leahy, a recovering sex addict and founder of www.bravehearts.net, says he got into voyeurism as part of his 30-year pornography habit.

Over time, online porn became boring, Mr. Leahy wrote in his 2008 book, “Porn Nation.” He started viewing “darker genres,” including Web sites with “hidden camera images of unsuspecting women.”

“Then one day, during a business trip,” he wrote, “I found myself in a hotel room looking out my window, and I spotted a woman in another room with the curtains slightly open.” Watching her undress was a captivating experience, and he soon found himself spending hours around windows, hoping to see more scenes like that.

Mr. Leahy - who conquered his addiction a decade ago - was troubled by his voyeurism; he knew he had “crossed a huge line.” But he blamed the women for “leaving the curtains open” and excused himself because he was “just looking through my window,” not “creeping around outside peeping into other people’s room.”

Voyeurism, however, is a deviant paraphilia, according to mental health standards. And, in addition to being a federal offense, it’s a local crime. Nonconsensual video recording or photographing of people in a state of undress in locations where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy is prohibited in every state and the District of Columbia, said Ilse Knecht of the National Center for Victims of Crimes.

Mr. Leahy’s path into voyeurism is quite common, said John O’Neill, a certified sex addiction therapist and director of addiction services at Menninger Clinic in Houston. It’s like other addictions, he said. People build a tolerance to certain stimuli, and seek something more, or something else, to reach the same excitement.

“For some people, the different voyeuristic types of pornography or the opportunity to spy on people, to look at somebody, is incredibly exciting,” said Mr. O’Neill. “It not only takes on a sexual connotation, it also takes on ‘I’m doing something wrong.’ ”

“Voyeurism generally does show up with male patients … and what makes it become such a big problem so fast is the use of the Internet,” said Susan O’Day, a therapist at the sexual recovery program at Sierra Tucson in Arizona.

There are probably thousands of Internet sites aimed at voyeurs, and a lot of them are free at first, she said. “However, once people get involved in this, they spend thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars on it.”

Typically, a person with voyeurism will try to view many Internet sites at the same time, said Ms. O’Day. As he races between images and videos, “the mind goes into a state of hyperarousal.”

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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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