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New Law Takes Aim at Video Voyeurism

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gov. Gray Davis on Thursday signed into law a bill making it a crime for voyeurs to use hidden video cameras to look up the skirts of unsuspecting women.

The law, sponsored by Assemblyman Dick Ackerman (R-Fullerton), prohibits secretly videotaping or photographing another person under or through their clothing with the intent of personal gratification.

The measure was pushed by Anaheim police, who were frustrated last year over their inability to prosecute a man using a hidden video camera at Disneyland to take voyeuristic pictures.

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The man, using a long-handled shopping bag, had staked out at least 30 women and had taken more than an hour of video by surreptitiously placing a camera with a zoom lens and automatic focus so that it pointed up the women’s skirts.

Although some of the women knew something was amiss--the tape showed them moving away from the man or otherwise showing discomfort--none of them were aware of exactly what was happening, said Anaheim Police Sgt. Bob Conklin.

To their frustration, police and prosecutors could find no crime that applied to the man’s acts.

“We tried eavesdropping, assault and battery, aiding and abetting, and indecent exposure,” Conklin said. “We looked at everything we could.”

Conklin said similar incidents were reported in other Orange County areas. A few cases prosecuted as disorderly conduct were thrown out because the law didn’t fit the situation.

The new misdemeanor will carry a penalty of up to six months in jail and a fine of $1,000. The law takes effect Jan. 1.

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Video stalking cases have been reported in other states, including Virginia, which has enacted a law banning videotaping people undressing or in their underwear without their consent.

Some of the videos appear on “‘up-skirt” sites on the Internet, which are not regulated by the new law. A spokesman for one site has said the company is “only giving people what they want.”

“People are intrigued to look at what they’re not supposed to,” Andrew Drake, who would not name his Irvine company that runs the site, said earlier this year.

Now videotaping up skirts will be a riskier proposition.

Ackerman said he was happy about that. “It should make the ladies of California feel a little more secure,” he said.

Michael Bustamente, press secretary for Davis, said, “The bill addresses the need to punish a despicable act of behavior: filming innocent women without their knowledge in a lewd manner.

“It is necessary that we protect the privacy of those targeted individuals.”

A similar incident occurred since the Disneyland one at the California State Fair in Sacramento.

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