Thursday April 25, 2019
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Eyes behind the mirror: The rising menace of voyeurism

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By Nithin Sridhar

A woman and her five year old son found a hidden camera in the washroom of a Starbucks outlet in Lancaster, USA according to media reports.

The five year old boy was the first to find the phone hidden beneath the sink and pointing towards the toilets. When the Sheriff’s department rushed to the site, they discovered that the cell phone was recording video.

This incident adds to the ever rising cases of Voyeurism across the globe.

In March, a man in Winnipeg in Canada, was accused of secretly videotaping up to 21 victims that included his family and friends. The videos were taken from tiny pen cameras, which he had hidden in bathrooms.

Last year, Barry Freundela, prominent Rabbi in US was arrested on charges that he secretly videotaped women. A CCTV operator in UK has been convicted of spying on a woman using police cameras.

In April, Smriti Irani, India’s HRD minister, found a CCTV camera pointing towards a changing room in one of the Fabindia outlets in Goa. In May, CBI busted a racket, in which they recovered around 500 clips showing women and children in compromising positions.

Voyeurism as a social problem

These frequent reportings of various incidents of Voyeurism indicate two things. One, that there is a rise in such cases and two, that the number of people reporting such cases has increased as well.

Oxford dictionary defines Voyeurism as “the practice of getting pleasure by secretly watching people who are naked or having sex”.

With the advancement of technology and the internet, peeping into other’s personal life has become easier. In a 2013 story, DailyMail reports how hackers had installed a software in the victims PC and had used it to film their activities. Many women become victims to such sexual predators who sometimes even upload these videos to some pornographic sites or sell them.

A 2002 Consultation paper quotes that most voyeurs also involve other forms of sexually deviant behaviors and approximately 20% of voyeurs have committed sexual assault or rape. It further states that in almost all the cases, the perpetrators are men and the victims are women and children.

It quotes a study of 411 men, wherein 62 men admitted to being voyeurs and self-reported 29,090 voyeuristic acts against 26,648 victims. This clearly shows how widespread is the voyeuristic tendencies among men.

Voyeurism at its core is nothing but objectification of women. The media with its portrayal of women in magazines and TV programs, the big corporate with its portrayal of women in various ads have completely objectified the discourse on women.

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According to this report prepared for Kaiser Family Foundation: “Sexual messages in the mass media can have both immediate and long-term effects.Viewing a television program may change a  person’s immediate state by inducing arousal, leading to inhibition of impulses, or activating  thoughts or associations. It may also contribute to enduring learned patterns of behavior, cognitive  scripts and schema about sexual interactions, attitudes, and beliefs about the real world.

Therefore, a negative portrayal of women increases negative perception about women. These rising incidents of voyeurism are some of the best examples that show that there is an increase in the perception of women as objects and sexual toys.

This objectification of women is the root cause of majority of crimes that are committed against women. Hence, voyeurism may also lead to cases of stalking and assault. A person who can spy and record woman will not hesitate before assaulting one. Further, there is issue of privacy and security as well.

How would any woman feel safe inside her home, if she realizes that someone is continuously watching her activities? If a woman cannot bath freely without any inhibition due to fear of being watched, then it is a clear violation of basic human rights: the right to life, liberty and security.

Also, if the perpetrators of voyeuristic actions are not restrained and punished, it will further lead to other crimes against women like stalking and rape. Therefore, voyeurism is a clear social menace and a serious crime.

Voyeurism as medical condition:

Voyeurism as a behavioral pattern, if it persists in a person for some length of time can be considered as a case of “paraphilia”. Paraphilia refers to sexual perversion, wherein the person experiences sexual arousal to atypical objects, situations or individuals. It includes behaviors like Pedophilia, Fetishism, and Exhibitionism. In the case of Voyeurism, the arousal is obtained by stealthily watching others.

The medical condition of voyeurism is treated using multiple treatments like behavioral therapy, cognitive therapy and psychoanalysis. The behavioral therapy is the most commonly adopted treatment, where in the patient tries to learn control over his desires and fetishes and tries to overcome them.

Self-Control as a preventive measure:

The Kaiser Family Foundation report quotes that voyeurism as a sexual disorder manifests early in life, the average age being 15 years. The behaviors of voyeurism may be trigger due to various reasons, including childhood abuse or family dysfunction. In other words, a traumatic childhood may trigger voyeurism in some people.

Therefore, providing proper environment to children, wherein they learn to understand their own emotions, and desires and to control them, may prove as one of the preventive mechanisms against voyeuristic behavior.

Further, the root of most of these sexually perverse behavior conditions lies in the fact that these people cannot control their desires and internal impulses. In fact, many may not even recognize their behaviors as perverse or deviant. Therefore, a lack of self-control and sense of right and wrong results in committing voyeuristic actions without a care for the victim’s well-being by these people.

To counter this, teaching children to monitor and control their desires and behaviors may go a long way in helping to curb voyeurism. It must be remembered that not all voyeuristic actions can be considered as a medical condition. Some people may indulge in such actions out of money or other considerations as well. Hence, making children equipped to differentiate right from wrong, good from bad and useful from harmful will prove efficient in curbing voyeuristic crimes.

Safeguarding oneself against voyeurism

As voyeurism is increasingly rising throughout the world, it becomes important for people, especially women to safeguard themselves against voyeurs. Women should always be cautious, whether at home or outside. Outside, they must be extra cautious about their belongings. Some of the safeguards that can be taken are:

  1. If one is in a changing room of a shop, one should check for any peep holes or hidden cameras. One should try to make a call to someone from inside. If there is a hidden camera, the call won’t connect due to signal interference.
  2. One must check whether the mirror in the changing room is normal mirror or two-way mirror. This can be done by touching the mirror with the finger. If there is a small gap between the finger and the image, then nothing to worry. If not, then it’s a two-way mirror.
  3. While using internet, one should make sure to not click on any unknown and suspicious links.
  4. One should frequently run scans for virus, spywares, and key loggers. One should also format the computer occasionally.
  5. One should keep the curtains drawn and if necessary windows closed of the bedrooms and bathrooms.
  6. One should be cautious while choosing hotel rooms and should check the room thoroughly after checking in.
  7. One should avoid making intimate videos with spouses or partners, as this may lead to them being hacked and leaked.
  8. One should be cautious with the photos that are uploaded to the social networking sites.

These simple measures may go a long way in preventing women from falling into the trap of voyeurs and stalkers.

 

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“They Don’t Make Prayerful Offerings When They Harvest,” Story Of The Native American Church

“The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

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The sun sets over the gateway of peyotera Amada Cardenas's house in Mirando City, Texas. Ironwork reflects core Native American Church values of faith, hope, love and charity. VOA

Back in the day, when the “grandmas and grandpas” of the Native American Church (NAC) needed peyote, they would make a 2,000-kilometer pilgrimage from the reservations of South Dakota to the tiny town of Mirando City, Texas, close to the U.S. border with Mexico. That’s where they could find Amada Cardenas, a Mexican-American woman who at the time was the only peyote dealer in Texas.

Cardenas was not Native American, nor was she a member of the NAC. But she understood how sacred the medicine was to church members and defended its use as a religious sacrament to those who sought to ban it.

Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994.
Amada Cardenas, holding a basket of peyote, outside of her home in Mirando City, Texas, 1994. VOA

“After Amada’s passing, the peyote distribution system lost heart and seemed to be about monetary compensation,” said Iron Rope, former chairman of the Native American Church of North America (NACNA) and today chairman of the NAC of South Dakota. He is concerned that the remaining three or four peyote dealers in Texas — all non-Native — don’t give “the medicine” the reverence they should.

“They don’t make prayerful offerings when they harvest,” Iron Rope said. “We’ve heard reports about intoxicated harvesters. Sometimes, the medicine that comes to us was mushy or small, and the harvesting technique was not one that would allow regrowth.”

Careless and sometimes illegal harvesting, along with increased land and resource development in Texas, has led to a decline in peyote’s quality and availability. Prices have gone up, and church members worry the cactus, now listed as a vulnerable species, could become endangered.

In 2013, NACNA began researching ways to conserve peyote and its natural habitat.

Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico.
Lophophora williamsii, more commonly known as peyote, which grows in the wild in southern Texas and Mexico. VOA

Pan-Native religion

Peyote, or Lophophora williamsii, is a succulent that contains psychoactive alkaloids and only grows in southern Texas and a handful of states in northern Mexico.

Indigenous people have used it ceremonially and medicinally for centuries, as noted by 16th century Spanish missionaries, who condemned it as an evil. Peyote use persisted, however, and by the late 1800s, had spread to present-day Oklahoma, where tribes adapted it to suit their individual spiritual traditions.

In the face of government efforts to ban peyote, peyotists in the early 20th century sought to incorporate as a formal religion. In 1918, an intertribal group established the NAC, which has evolved to include tens of thousands of members across dozens of tribal nations. Members view the church as an important component of healing from historic trauma and reconnecting to tradition.

Peyote was banned in the United States in 1970, but the law was later amended to allow peyote to be used in “bona fide religious ceremonies of the Native American Church.”

Texas allows several peyoteros registered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to harvest and sell peyote, but only to card-carrying NAC members with proven Native American ancestry.

Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007.
Peyote buttons are shown in the yard of a peyote dealer in Rio Grande, Texas, Oct. 12, 2007. VOA

‘A beautiful ceremony’

Unlike other religious denominations, said Iron Rope, the NAC is not a unified theology.

“Different variations of the ceremony have come into play,” he said. “There are Christian aspects to the NAC today and traditional aspects, as well.”

Wynema Morris, a member of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and an NAC member, grew up with an understanding of the sacredness of peyote and the religious etiquette surrounding its use.

“It was my own grandfather, Samuel Thomas Gilpin, who actually received peyote early on from the Winnebagos, a neighboring tribe, and passed it on to his sons, my uncles,” she said.

This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled "Cheyenne Peyote Leader." Courtesy: Library of Congress.
This 1924 photo by Edward S. Curtis is entitled “Cheyenne Peyote Leader.” Courtesy: Library of Congress. VOA

Peyote is much misunderstood and maligned, she said, viewed by many anthropologists through the lens of colonial prejudice.

“I don’t like their use of the word ‘hallucinations,’” she said. “You don’t use peyote to get high. You use it to pray and communicate with God — the same God everyone else talks to.”

She described all-night services of prayer, song and meditation.

“The ceremony is beautiful,” she said. “The extraordinary and the phenomenon are not necessarily unexpected, but they are definitely not precluded.”

Sacred gardens

In 2013, NACNA began looking at ways to conserve and sustain peyote for future generations of indigenous Americans, Mexicans and Canadians.

“It was our intent to eventually have our own land and be able to have our own peyote dealer who could understand our concerns as the Native American Church,” said Iron Rope.

The sun sets over "the 605," acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church.
The sun sets over “the 605,” acreage in Thompsonville, Texas, which the Indigenous Peyote Conservation purchased in 2018 for the conservation of peyote, a sacrament of the Native American Church. VOA

In 2017, NACNA and partner organizations formally launched the Indigenous Peyote Conservation Initiative (IPCI). With funding from the Riverstyx Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research of medicinal uses of psychoactive plants, IPCI purchased 245 hectares (605 acres) of land in Thompsonville, Texas, to serve as “Sacred Peyote Gardens.”

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It is their hope that by 2021, “the 605” will house a nursery, residential and guest housing, and youth training, all supported by peyote sales.

“It’s about generations to come,” said Iron Rope. “To reconnect them to the land and to the medicine. And that’s the healing process that we’ve been missing.” (VOA)