Hillary Cassel, Lindsay Cross celebrate digital voyeurism bill passage

Katherine Waldron_Hillary Cassel_Jordan Leonard
It strengthens prosecutorial authority in voyeurism cases to ensure violators are charged individually for each instance, rather than lumping the peeping into 1 offense.

The House has unanimously passed a bill increasing penalties for voyeurism, among other changes to existing statute.

Reps. Hillary Cassel, a Dania Beach Democrat, and Lindsay Cross, a St. Petersburg Democrat, sponsored the bill (HB 1389) this Session after a South Florida woman’s stepfather used a hidden camera inside her toilet facing the mirror to capture the woman’s most private moments. The hidden camera ultimately captured 8,000 hours of footage over the course of 344 days.

Yet the man was essentially given a slap on the wrist for his voyeurism, with just 344 days in county jail and three years of probation on just one count.

Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book of Plantation sponsored an identical Senate version of the bill.

It strengthens prosecutorial authority in voyeurism cases to ensure violators are charged individually for each instance, rather than lumping the peeping into one offense. Additionally, it enhances penalties for those who abuse positions of trust — such as parents or guardians.

The bill also renames the crime from just “voyeurism” to “digital voyeurism” and ensures it relates to videotaping, photographing and otherwise viewing the materials.

“When I first met Rachel Steele last summer and heard the story of her step-father recording her every day for nearly a year, I was sick to my stomach,” Cassel said after the bill’s passage.

“His depravity was beyond comprehension. Florida Statutes should not gift loopholes to offenders of this sordid kind, which is why Senator Book and I felt compelled to do something — in order to make sure they’ll receive punishments more appropriately proportional to their heinous behavior.”

Cross elaborated on the need for increased attention to these types of digital crimes.

“Many predators, particularly those using digital spaces, go unscathed because they haven’t been caught. In the U.S., only 3% of predators are caught with a 1% conviction rate across the board,” Cross said. “We must do better to protect our children and our community members. This bill is another tool that ensures that the punishment is commensurate with the crime.”

Book hasn’t publicly commented on the bill, but her involvement in its passage is notable. She has been a vocal force in the victim advocacy realm after surviving childhood sexual abuse herself.

In addition to enhancing penalties and providing more authority for prosecutors, the bill also sets lesser charges for minors who commit the crime. Those under 19 years old would be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor. Those older than 19 would be charged with a third-degree felony, unless they were in a position of trust or authority over the victim.

That could be a victim’s family member or a faith leader. In that scenario, the perpetrator would be charged with a more serious crime. For instance, if the original charge would have been a third-degree felony, it would become a second-degree felony.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].


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