Peeping and prying, commonly known as being a ‘Peeping Tom’ is a criminal offence in New South Wales. If you find yourself in a situation where you are being accused of such a crime, you should contact a criminal lawyer at George Sten & Co. We only practice Criminal Law and therefore our lawyers are experts in all areas of Criminal Law. As one of the most renowned Criminal Law Firms in Sydney, you can be sure that you are being defended by only the best.
Below, you will find further information on the peep and pry offence. The legislation, elements of the offence, potential consequences, criminal nature of the offence, statistics and cases are explored. You will also find a guide on what to do if you are arrested for a peep and pry offence.
The Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) makes peeping or prying a criminal offence. It states that, ‘Any person who is in, on or near a building without reasonable cause with intent to peep or pry upon another person shall be liable on conviction before the Local Court to imprisonment for 3 months, or to a fine of 2 penalty units.’ This can be found in section 547C of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).
More simply, if you are in, on or near a building with the intention to peep or pry without a reasonable clause, you are liable.
The Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) does not contain definitions of the terms ‘peep’ and ‘pry’.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, peep means ‘to peer through or as if through a crevice or to look cautiously or slyly’. Pry is a verb meaning, ‘to look closely or inquisitively or to make a nosy or presumptuous inquiry.’
Elements of the offence
There are 3 elements of the peep or pry offence. These are:
- The person is in, on or near a building,
- Without reasonable cause
- With intention to peep or pry upon another person
Intention also known as mens rea is an essential element in this crime. It involves the offender having a guilty mind with knowledge of the wrongdoing.
As per section 91L of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), the court must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged did commit the crime in order to find in favour of the prosecution. This means that if you can cast doubt as to one of the elements of the crime, the judge is likely to find in your favour.
There are two potential consequences of being convicted of peeping or prying. These are 3 months imprisonment or a fine of 2 penalty units. In the NSW Crimes (Sentencing Procedures) Act 1999, a penalty unit is equal to $110. Hence, in this case the fine is $220.
While these consequences may not seem so severe, you must bear in mind that you will also have the crime reported on your criminal record. A criminal record can seriously restrict your employment and travel plans. There are certain professions, which will not hire you based on your criminal records and others which will terminate your employment if they find that you have a criminal record. Furthermore, specific countries will not permit you to enter their borders if you have a criminal record.
Why is it a crime to peep and pry?
The crux of the peep and pry crime is a combination of the invasion of privacy and sexual deviance. Although there is no general right to privacy in Australia, there are certain situations where one can expect privacy and these are not limited to the bedroom and bathroom. While the offence does not have to include anything sexual, most peep and pry offences do involve some level of sexual deviance. In many cases, the offender is caught masturbating or later admits to doing so.
It has been reported that the NSW Police receive around 10 complaints of peep and pry offences per week.
In March 2016, a United States Court awarded Erin Andrews $55 Million in damages for a peep and pry offence. While there were more charges involved, the American equivalent of a peep and pry offence was extremely significant to the case. Andrews was filmed naked in her hotel room and the man responsible posted the footage online. The Marriot hotel was also found liable for failing in their duty of care.
In 2016, a Wollongong man was arrested for allegedly spying on women through peepholes. The 59-year old man looked at women through peepholes in the changing rooms of a local pool. The man was charged with 5 counts of peep and pry. If he is found guilty of these 5 counts, he will face up to 15 months in jail or up to $1100 in fines.
What to do if you are arrested
If you are arrested, the most important thing to do is remain calm. You should not try to run away from or resist the Police. Your next step is to contact your lawyer who will show you the way from there.
Peep and pry is a summary offence. This means that it is dealt with in the Local Court before a Magistrate. This also means that the trial is held before a judge and no jury. There are arguments for and against trial by jury. Some argue that it is advantageous to have a jury, because a learned judge would be harsher than everyday people. Others think the opposite, that a jury would be harsh because it is a panel of random people who may at some point have been personally affected by an offence similar to peep and pry.
If you have been charged with a peep and pry offence, you should call George Sten & Co Criminal Lawyers immediately. We are experts in the area Sex Offences & Criminal Law and can work with you to ensure that you achieve the greatest possible outcome in your case. If your matter is urgent, you can contact us on our 24-hour phone line, 02 9261 8640 . We are here to help you understand your case