What is Voyeurism & Is It A Criminal Offence?

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Andy Hobdell


Voyeurism is a relatively niche offence that many may not have heard of before. It is also more complicated than other offences as some of the actions may not be perceived as a crime. That said, it is a prevalent sexual offence that is necessary to understand, especially if you have been accused of it. Below, we discuss what voyeurism is, and the relevant sentences that come with it. 

What is voyeurism?

Voyeurism is the act of gaining sexual gratification from observing or recording someone engaged in a private activity without their consent.

This behaviour constitutes a criminal offence under both the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Voyeurism Offences Act 2019. Although these acts address slightly different aspects, they each establish voyeurism as a punishable offence in its own regard.

What is voyeurism disorder?

Voyeurism isn’t inherently classified as a disorder, but when an individual feels compelled to act upon voyeuristic urges, it can escalate into an obsession, potentially leading to a voyeuristic disorder. This disorder falls within the category of paraphilias, characterised by intense sexual desires and impulses. 

Fortunately, treatment options exist, ranging from medication to psychotherapy. In certain cases, if the court deems it necessary, individuals may be directed to undergo treatment in a hospital setting to address the disorder effectively.

What constitutes the offence?

In 2009, voyeurism became a sexual offence, with the 2009 Act providing a statutory definition for what constitutes it. This offence occurs when an individual, denoted as person A, engages in any of the following actions:

  1. Observing person(s) B engaged in a private act.
  2. Utilising any equipment that facilitates person A or others in observing person(s) B in a private act.
  3. Recording person(s) B engaged in a private act, allowing A or others to view the recording.
  4. Installing equipment, constructing, or modifying a structure that enables A or others to engage in the activities mentioned above.

It must be noted that person A engages in these actions without the consent of person B and without any reasonable belief that B is consenting. Once more, the offence occurs only when person A undertakes these actions to achieve sexual gratification or to cause humiliation, distress, or alarm to person B.

Is voyeurism a criminal offence? 

Yes, voyeurism is considered a criminal offence in the UK. It is covered under specific laws, such as the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 in the UK, which outline the legal definitions and penalties associated with voyeuristic behaviour.

What are the sentencing guidelines for voyeurism?  

The sentencing guidelines for voyeurism in the UK vary depending on the specific circumstances of the offence. Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019, penalties can include imprisonment for a term of up to two years for non-consensual voyeurism. 

Factors such as the severity of the offence, the impact on the victim, and any aggravating or mitigating circumstances are taken into account during sentencing. 

However, in cases where the offender is convicted of recording or distributing voyeuristic material, longer prison sentences may apply, particularly if the material involves children or vulnerable individuals.

Aside from a prison sentence, a conviction could lead to community service or a fine. In instances involving voyeuristic disorder, the outcome may involve admission to a medical facility.

What to do if you’ve been accused of voyeurism?

Sexual offences, like voyeurism, can be a complex issue to deal with. That’s why we highly advise consulting an expert criminal law solicitor to aid with your case. At Lawtons, we specialise in sexual offence cases and can provide essential guidance and representation throughout the entire legal process. Our solicitors will assess the details of your case, advise you on your rights, and work to build a robust defence strategy tailored to your circumstances. 

However, in the meantime, you should avoid discussing the accusations with anyone except your legal representatives and cooperate fully with police as instructed. 

Stay calm, act swiftly, and seek professional legal support to protect your rights and achieve the best possible outcome.

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