Wendy Murphy: Secret sex tapes so much more than creepy
Forty-three-year-old Deryck Reid will soon face trial on charges he secretly took pictures of an unsuspecting nude woman. Allegations include that Reid photographed one of his female roommates while she was in the shower at the apartment they shared in South Quincy, Mass.
Cops executed a search warrant of Reid’s bedroom and found numerous video cameras and recording equipment, which raised concerns about the possibility of other victims. A review of the material allegedly showed Reid having sex with different women, many very young, in a variety of locations.
Whether the women consented to being filmed is unclear. If they did – fine. Adults can do what they want in the privacy of their homes.
If they didn’t, cops need to know because it’s a serious crime. But unless the women come forward, there can be no prosecution and Reid will face little, if any, time behind bars for the shower incident.
It may be hard to see how the act of video-recording a person in the nude is either no big deal or a very serious offense based solely on whether the individual agreed to be video-taped. Indeed, the fact that it’s a secret, one could argue, makes it a “victimless crime” – a kind of tree-in-the-forest thing.
This is where the law could use some rocket fuel – to better articulate why it’s profoundly harmful to violate any person’s sexual privacy – even if they’re not aware of the violation. Just ask ESPN’s Erin Andrews whether the harm she suffered was caused by the dangerous pervert who videotaped her naked in her hotel room – or the fact that she found out about it. Doubtful she’ll blame those who helped stop the guy.
Covert filming of private nudity is harmful because it interferes with fundamental notions of privacy and autonomy; the idea that each person gets to decide for himself or herself what intimate things are known about them – and who gets to know.
It is a concept meant to define the innate value of one’s authority over “the self.”
This isn’t a new innovation to combat the exploding porn and child porn industry, though new ideas are desperately needed in the battle against a multi-billion-dollar business that has grown exponentially since the advent of the Internet.
Autonomy was conceived more than 100 years ago by a very smart man who understood that people have a right to be protected from unwanted intrusions into their private lives – to protect the very nature of what it means to be a free human being.
“The right to be let alone,” Justice Louis Brandeis called it, is a right so basic to mankind, it isn’t even codified expressly in the Constitution. To do so might enable lawmakers and courts to peck away at its value. It’s a concept so essential to liberty it transcends the lowly nature of manmade law.
Seen through the lens of this history, the secret videotaping of women naked or engaged in sex is a violation not only of their personal privacy, but also of the careful balance between state power and individual freedom.
In other words, it’s not just creepy – though it is certainly that.
It’s the kind of behavior that undermines self-determination, not because we have a right to feel completely comfortable entrusting our most intimate selves to strangers, but because we lose power as individuals if forced to accept the compelled disclosure of our most private moments as an unavoidable cost of living in a collective society.
Assuming the facts prove true, Mr. Reid clearly doesn’t understand or respect these principles, though ironically he worked at two major law firms in Boston when some of his videos may have been created. Too bad he didn’t get better on-the-job training.
Unless the women with whom Reid had sex take the brave step of calling police to ask whether they appear on any of the seized tapes, we’ll never know – and none of those cases will be prosecuted.
It’s asking a lot to expect women proactively to involve themselves in someone else’s criminal case to learn whether they were recorded having sex without their knowledge. The “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” theory is a very appealing alternative philosophy.
But it’s a bit like not wanting to know whether your husband is a secret gambler. Head-in-the-sand techniques last only so long before things get much worse. Although Reid isn’t married, his past victims can certainly understand that a guy like that will only get worse if he escapes serious sanctions for what he’s allegedly done so far.
I have faith in the unidentified women – that they not only will find the strength to confront the truth, but also will care enough about others that they will put their own potential embarrassment aside and make the call to police – for themselves, and for the sake and empowerment of all the women and girls Reid has yet to meet.
Wendy Murphy is a leading victims rights advocate and nationally recognized television legal analyst. She is an adjunct professor at New England Law in Boston. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of her columns at The Daily Beast or in The Patriot Ledger's archives.