How to Hold Voyeurism Accountable

The word “voyuer” (French, literally: one who sees) does not appear in the West Virginia Code.  West Virginia, like most states, has yet to create a law that makes voyeurism, video or otherwise, a felony.  Even the Federal government has struggled to keep up with this high-tech violation of privacy.

The Video Voyeurism Prevention Act of 2004 (18 U.S.C. § 1801) amended the Federal criminal code to “”prohibit knowingly videotaping, photographing, filming, recording by any means, or broadcasting an image of a private area of an individual, without that individual’s consent, under circumstances in which that individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”  However, it is still a misdemeanor, which is a crime punishable by less than one year in prison.

Michael Barrett, convicted this spring of stalking ESPN reporter Erin Andrews and videotaping her through the peephole of her hotel rooms, will serve only 2½ years in prison (less with good behavior).  Despite the fact that the videos, depicting Andrews nude, are widely available on the internet, Barrett’s fine was a meager $7,366.00.  Andrews had requested $335,000 in restitution.

If the criminal justice system falls short, what are your options if you have been victimized by a voyeur?  West Virginia’s civil law recognizes violations of privacy as invasions that give rise to an action for damages.  “To hold otherwise,” says West Virginia’s Supreme Court, “under modern means of communication, hearing devices, photography, and other technological advancements, would effectively deny valuable rights and freedoms to the individual.”

This means that a voyeur can be made to pay for any and all emotional, physical and financial trauma caused by their acts.  There is no limit or cap on such damages.  Moreover, West Virginia’s civil law permits punitive damages to punish particularly egregious acts.  Examples of acts warranting punitive damages might be:

  • Acts that involve children
  • Publishing photos or video (on the internet or otherwise)
  • Acts where the perpetrator abused a position of trust (parent, step-parent, babysitter, employer, etc.) to gain access to the victim.

If you or a loved suspect you have been the victim of a voyeur, make sure you contact an experienced trial attorney.  The Miley Legal Group provides free case evaluations.

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