Peeping Tom Law & Legal Definition


A peeping Tom a person who stealthily peeks into windows, other openings with the purpose of getting a sexual thrill from seeing women or girls undressed or couples making love. It is a slang term for a voyeur. Being a peeping tom is treated as a crime based on sexual deviancy, according to state laws, which vary by state. The victim of a peeping Tom can bring a lawsuit for invasion of privacy.

The term comes from Lady Godiva's infamous ride through the streets of Coventry in England. Unclothed with only her long hair to cover her, she made the ride as a protest to the oppressive taxation of the townspeople by her husband, Leofric III, lord of Coventry.

Before her ride, Lady Godiva asked the townspeople to stay inside with their shutters and doors closed so they wouldn't see her in the nude. According to legend, one man, a tailor named Tom, bore a hole in his shutters to catch a glimpse of Godiva as she passed. The tailor, who became known as Peeping Tom, was struck blind (or some say dead) the moment he saw her.

The following is an example of a state peeping Tom statute:

" Secretly peeping into room occupied by another person.

(a) Any person who shall peep secretly into any room occupied by another person shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

(a1) Unless covered by another provision of law providing greater punishment, any person who secretly or surreptitiously peeps underneath or through the clothing being worn by another person, through the use of a mirror or other device, for the purpose of viewing the body of, or the undergarments worn by, that other person without their consent shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.

(b) For purposes of this section:

  1. The term "photographic image" means any photograph or photographic reproduction, still or moving, or any videotape, motion picture, or live television transmission, or any digital image of any individual.
  2. The term "room" shall include, but is not limited to, a bedroom, a rest room, a bathroom, a shower, and a dressing room.

(c) Unless covered by another provision of law providing greater punishment, any person who, while in possession of any device which may be used to create a photographic image, shall secretly peep into any room shall be guilty of a Class A1 misdemeanor.

(d) Unless covered by another provision of law providing greater punishment, any person who, while secretly peeping into any room, uses any device to create a photographic image of another person in that room for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of any person shall be guilty of a Class I felony.

(e) Any person who secretly or surreptitiously uses any device to create a photographic image of another person underneath or through the clothing being worn by that other person for the purpose of viewing the body of, or the undergarments worn by, that other person without their consent shall be guilty of a Class I felony.

(f) Any person who, for the purpose of arousing or gratifying the sexual desire of any person, secretly or surreptitiously uses or installs in a room any device that can be used to create a photographic image with the intent to capture the image of another without their consent shall be guilty of a Class I felony.

(g) Any person who knowingly possesses a photographic image that the person knows, or has reason to believe, was obtained in violation of this section shall be guilty of a Class I felony.

(h) Any person who disseminates or allows to be disseminated images that the person knows, or should have known, were obtained as a result of the violation of this section shall be guilty of a Class H felony if the dissemination is without the consent of the person in the photographic image.

(i) A second or subsequent felony conviction under this section shall be punished as though convicted of an offense one class higher. A second or subsequent conviction for a Class 1 misdemeanor shall be punished as a Class A1 misdemeanor. A second or subsequent conviction for a Class A1 misdemeanor shall be punished as a Class I felony.

(j) If the defendant is placed on probation as a result of violation of this section:

  1. For a first conviction under this section, the judge may impose a requirement that the defendant obtain a psychological evaluation and comply with any treatment recommended as a result of that evaluation.
  2. For a second or subsequent conviction under this section, the judge shall impose a requirement that the defendant obtain a psychological evaluation and comply with any treatment recommended as a result of that evaluation.

(k) Any person whose image is captured or disseminated in violation of this section has a civil cause of action against any person who captured or disseminated the image or procured any other person to capture or disseminate the image and is entitled to recover from those persons actual damages, punitive damages, reasonable attorneys' fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred.

(l) When a person violates subsection (d), (e), (f), (g), or (h) of this section, or is convicted of a second or subsequent violation of subsection (a), (a1), or (c) of this section, the sentencing court shall consider whether the person is a danger to the community and whether requiring the person to register as a sex offender pursuant to Article 27A of this Chapter would further the purposes of that Article as stated in G.S. 14?208.5. If the sentencing court rules that the person is a danger to the community and that the person shall register, then an order shall be entered requiring the person to register.

(m) The provisions of subsections (a), (a1), (c), (e), (g), (h), and (k) of this section do not apply to:

  1. Law enforcement officers while discharging or attempting to discharge their official duties; or
  2. Personnel of the Department of Correction or of a local confinement facility for security purposes or during investigation of alleged misconduct by a person in the custody of the Department or the local confinement facility.

(n) This section does not affect the legal activities of those who are licensed pursuant to Chapter 74C, Private Protective Services, or Chapter 74D, Alarm Systems, of the General Statutes, who are legally engaged in the discharge of their official duties within their respective professions, and who are not engaging in activities for an improper purpose as described in this section."