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Women in Skirts Have No Expectation of Privacy in Public

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03/14/08

Voyeurism — that's clearly illegal, right? According to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, you are wrong. Since you are in a public place — standing in front of the clothes rack with that oh-so-cute jacket selection — you have no expectation of privacy.



Women in Skirts Have No Expectation of Privacy in Public

Interestingly, the state of Washington decided something similar back in 2002. In that case the cops arrested a guy who was going around a local festival and taking pictures up ladies' dresses with the intent of selling them on "voyeur" websites.

What's the rationale here? This seems to make no sense at first glance. It appears to be more of a case of the voyeur law not being applicable, though, and the courts appear to be getting it right as the laws are generally written.

Most statutes are written with the classic "peeping Tom" scenario in mind: young woman undressing in her second-floor apartment and peeping Tom up in a tree with binoculars watching. If a woman undressed in the main entranceway to the public courthouse, you wouldn't say anyone is a voyeur. So most statutes specify that voyeurism requires victims to be in places where they would have reasonable expectations of privacy, such as the bathroom, a bedroom, etc.

If you took off your shirt in front of the rack of jackets, anyone who saw you wouldn't be guilty of voyeurism. So, the courts conclude, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy there. It's the place where you are at, not the part of your body, that determines reasonable expectation of privacy.

And that makes sense — if anyone seeing a bare breast was guilty of voyeurism, then intentional exposures to get people into trouble would suddenly be allowed. Think of the infamous Super Bowl incident with Janet Jackson a little while ago. Was anyone who saw that a voyeur? Probably not.

But this is, of course, a lousy result for this case, and it means the law doesn't protect against the peeping Tom with his cell phone camera running around — at least, not under the voyeur laws.

Other laws are probably more appropriate to deal with this situation, or they can be written. Until that day, be careful with your skirts, ladies!

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