Whether unwittingly or clandestinely, watching other people's lives seems to be an inherently human fascination.
To some, the act is commonplace, popularly referred to as “people-watching” or voyeurism that simply stems from human curiosity.
To others, however, it can be an invasion of privacy, or considered snooping, spying or even stalking.
So, where does one draw the line?
According to mental health research, when the person being watched is typically in a place where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as their home or other private place, so-called “people-watching” enters the territory of voyeurism.
Put simply, voyeurism reflects an interest in observing unsuspecting people while they undress, are naked, or engage in sexual activities.
And as you may suspect, conduct of this kind is against the law.
A recent case involving an Arizona man who was caught peering in windows because it gave him a “rush” provides an example of this.
The man at the centre of this, 28-year-old Evan Matthew Hanhardt from the town of Surprise, was arrested on voyeurism charges after police advised that he was repeatedly seen on camera looking into multiple windows.
According to police documents, for over a week, locals residing in the community near Mountain View Boulevarde and Parkview Place kept catching Mr Hanhardt on their doorbell cameras.
In fact, residents conveyed he was regularly spotted walking up to random windows of homes in the quiet area and looking inside.
In some cases, it was noted that he would seek out houses with blinds that were left open, and sometimes would even use a flashlight to help him get a clearer view.
With concerns growing all around the neighbourhood, many soon began sharing their disturbing experiences to a community Facebook group, desperately trying to work out who the man was and what he was looking for.
In one account, local woman Stephanie Ortiz said the situation was “pretty scary”.
“You think you live in a safe area and then come to find out somebody's peeping on our neighbours and our community, and it's very upsetting,” Ms Ortiz said, speaking to local media outlet 12News.
“There's a lot of kids, tonnes of kids.
“Elderly people, every age group really. And yeah, that's scary.”
HOW THE PEEPING TOM WAS EVENTUALLY CAUGHT OUT…
While Mr Hanhardt continued on with his voyeuristic conduct, it was on the night of Monday 15th August 2022 that his luck ran out.
Around 9pm, an off-duty Maricopa County Sheriff's Office detention officer caught him in the act as he stared at a young lady.
He was arrested and detained, with Sergeant Tommy Hale, a public information officer with Surprise Police Department, labelling the behaviour as “very disturbing”.
“Certainly, this is very disturbing for a young lady to look outside her window and see some man looking in,” he said.
“Obviously very concerning to our community members.”
According to police records, Mr Hanhardt eventually admitted to his crimes and told police the voyeurism gave him a “rush”.
It is understood he also confessed to police that he believes he has a pornography addiction, while his first encounter peering into a window took place as a teenager while residing in California.
Mr Hanhardt said he had stopped the behaviour for a while, however recently had picked it up again.
The man was charged with eight counts of voyeurism.
Local police believe that given how frequently the suspect was allegedly seen on camera, there may be more victims of his wandering eye.
PEEPING AND VOYEURISM
Voyeurism in New South Wales, Australia is the offence of watching a person engaging in a ‘private act' for sexual gratification, without consent and in circumstances you're aware there was no consent. This offence carries up to 2-years imprisonment and/or $11,000 fine, pursuant to section 91J Crimes Act 1900.
A ‘private act' includes being undressed, bathing, or engaging in a sexual act of a kind not normally done in public or any other similar behaviour if the circumstances are such that the person would ordinarily expect privacy.
Peeping and prying in New South Wales is the crime of being in or near a building with the intention of looking, peeping or prying on a person, without a reasonable cause. This offence carries up to 3 months imprisonment and/or $220 fine, pursuant to section 547C Crimes Act 1900.
When it comes to the law on peeping and prying, the offence is taken seriously by the courts given that privacy is a basic right to all citizens.