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11.1.22 – KMBC

New Kansas law mean peeping Toms will face tougher penalties

A Peeping Tom isn’t just a predator lurking outside a bedroom window. These days, new technology means they can be miles away while spying on someone.

They’re using devices that the KMBC 9 Investigates team was able to find at popular retailers – some for less than $20. It’s part of the reason the state of Kansas is cracking down on these offenders.

Maybe it’s a cellphone or maybe it’s a pinhole camera hidden in a common household item – the bottom line is that it’s easy for predators to hide. Take the recent case of a former Saint Thomas Aquinas choir teacher who’s facing charges accused of secretly recording students.

KMBC 9 Investigates found a new Kansas law says people convicted of crimes like this will face stiffer penalties.

Something wasn’t right

It was an act so farfetched that store workers didn’t believe it.

“They told me there was nothing they could do and that he probably wasn’t taking photos,” Emily Lang said.

“It seemed like we were just inundated in it,” said Jason Covington, a former Johnson County prosecutor.

Covington said that technology has made it easier for criminals to spy on their victims.

Here’s why: A quick search online and KMBC found a phone charger, an alarm clock, and a pen hiding high-quality cameras, all for under $30.

On Amazon, we found motion sensors on some so that peeping Toms don’t even have to be present to start recording. Many are marketed as nanny cams.

“A lot of these people are predators in the truest sense in that they’re trying to get trophies,” Covington said.

Sometimes the cameras are hidden. Sometimes they’re hiding in plain sight.

“I saw a phone propped above the door, where I like turn around really quick, open the door and yelled at the guy making him run out of the store,” said Annabelle, who asked KMBC not to use her last name.

Now in college, Annabelle was 15 at the time and trying on swimsuits at a big box store in Olathe in 2019, when she noticed a man using his phone to record her partly nude.

“Very traumatic,” she said.

Just hours earlier, that same man was convicted in a Johnson County courtroom of spying on Emily Lang.

“I think that was honestly a slap in the face,” Lang said.

Breach of privacy law

Under Kansas law, these cases are called a breach of privacy. But there was a time when it was just a misdemeanor. This year, after sharing their stories with lawmakers Lang and Annabelle joined the governor for the signing of a new law requiring these criminals to register as sex offenders.

“It’s unanimously supported, it’s common sense, and it keeps young girls and women who are the predominant victims of this crime safe,” Lang said.

It also keeps Peeping Toms from becoming coaches, teachers, and faith leaders.

“When you’re getting disrobed or things like that in a changing room or in a hotel, or whatever, you maybe want to take a second look around and see if there’s anything that’s out of place,” Covington said.

People who commit breaches of privacy in Kansas are sex offenders for 15 years. The man who was caught in Lang and Annabelle’s cases was a young father from Joplin. Thanks to a plea agreement he’ll spend the rest of his life on the sex offender registry.

Covington said it is important for people to speak up if they see someone else being recorded. There are even apps that can disguise a phone’s screen, so it looks like it’s on the home screen when it’s actually recording.