A Peeping Tom in the Neighborhood

Reader’s Question

I am married with 5 kids. I am up at 4:45 am to start my work day. I am the first one to wake up in the morning because I enjoy drinking my coffee and watching the news in peace before I start my day.

I have on 2 separate occasions seen a man looking through my windows in the last 2-3 months. The first instance was 2-3 months ago. It was completely dark out when I woke up and we were having a wicked lightning storm, which I enjoy. I went to the bathroom and as I started to leave I caught the silhouette of a man with short curly hair in the window to my front door. It freaked me out, but I kept in mind that it was lightning out and maybe this person was trying to seek shelter. I woke up my husband and by the time he checked, there was no one in sight, down the street or in the alley. OK, weird…but like I said, he could just be taking cover.

Then 2 weeks ago I had to grab some milk for the kids out of our extra fridge in the garage. It was about 5:45 am and was still dark out. As I walked out our back door a man was in the corner of our yard and said, I am so sorry, my dog got loose and I am trying to find her. I told him I’d turn on the lights so he could see better, and went in the house, locked the door and turned on the lights. He kept on his way and when he left I got the milk and went on my way.

Now 5 days ago I was taking a shower and as I went to get the body wash I noticed a shadow moving in my bathroom window. I stopped for a minute trying to figure out what it was — branches maybe from the wind? But it looked like a head with short curly hair was peeking up and going down. After I realized what was happening I ran to wake my husband. Again, no one anywhere! He got upset and told me I’m freaking out for nothing.

After I finished getting ready we went outside to see what was making that happen. There was nothing in the way of our light in the alley to make any shadow. There was no shadow on that side of the house from anything at all. My husband got concerned. He also found that the light on the side of the garage had been moved so that you could get into the back yard with out setting it off.

I contacted the police and filed a report. I went door to door on my entire block to warn my neighbors. My husband has now installed more lights around the yard and a motion sensor camera to take pictures. I am still worried and don’t want to go out by myself in the dark. My husband says that I’m shouldn’t let this change my life and there is nothing to be worried about.

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I can’t find any information on peeping tom’s beside a description of what they are and how to treat. But what should I do to be prepared? Do peeping tom’s turn into stalkers? Will he try more drastic measures because I have completely covered all windows and tried to make my yard more safe? Can I just assume that I did all I can and he’ll just go away? (That would be great, although I worry for the next victim.)

I was hoping for more information on this subject in regards to what victims should do. I feel the more you know, the better!

Psychologist’s Reply

The clinical term for a “Peeping Tom” is Voyeurism, the act of being sexually excited from observing unsuspecting people who are naked, dressing, or engaging in sexual activity. This is a serious issue, as it’s difficult to tell if the person is a “Peeping Tom” or someone who is surveying the neighborhood for criminal purposes, including sexual assault or burglary. It’s quite possible the individual with the “lost dog” is the peeping tom as most voyeurs have a prepared excuse or explanation if caught or confronted such as the “lost dog”, the “I thought I saw something moving in your bushes” excuse, or the “I was taking a short-cut through your backyard” response.

You are taking the appropriate steps to deal with this situation. Some other recommendations:

  • Remember and record the details of anyone you see/confront during the early morning, especially people who are on your property — despite the excuses provided.
  • File a police report as often as it happens. Several reports will prompt police to patrol your area more frequently.
  • Use blinds, curtains, and window treatments that block the view.
  • Increase all-night outdoor lighting. As you have already mentioned installing, motion detecting lights and security equipment are very effective.
  • Call the police if you see someone on your property. When we call, report a “prowler” rather than a “Peeping Tom”. A “prowler” is considered a criminal who is night-cruising the neighborhood in search of an opportunity to steal, break-in, assault, or otherwise engage in criminal behavior. Police respond more readily to a prowler report.
  • Dogs are very helpful. Keep in mind that criminals aren’t afraid of dogs — they’re afraid of dogs who wake owners with a weapon. It’s also helpful to keep a doggy water dish and a few big-dog toys laying in the backyard. A night-cruiser new to the neighborhood won’t know you don’t have a man-eating dog named Brutus.
  • Modify exterior window treatments with thorn-covered brush/plants, material under the window that crunches under weight, and/or a soft soil that produces footprints.
  • Notify neighbors of your concern…but with the understanding that the Peeping Tom might be one of your neighbors. A casual comment to all your neighbors that the police are looking for the person is often enough to stop casual Peeping Toms.
  • Involving the police is helpful with anyone you feel is suspicious in the neighborhood early in the morning. That man walking the invisible “lost” dog can explain the situation to the police. Police have the authority to accompany him home to see if he does have a dog. If he doesn’t — he’s a prowler.
  • Remember that sexual offenders don’t look like the cartoon characters with a trench coat. They may be anyone in the community.
  • Don’t confront anyone you see on your property that early in the morning — call the police. It doesn’t matter who it is. If it’s a neighbor who is innocent, then they’ve had an early morning adventure. It’s a guy with an invisible dog, you’ve given him something to think about and the police will record his description.

With your additional security precautions, you’ve like corrected the problem. He’s likely to move on or move to a different neighborhood. If he moves into stalking behavior such as following you, hangup calls, messages/notes, etc. — then contact law enforcement for additional options.

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