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Friday, April 29, 2005

Looking and the Law

Yesterday, Dennis Prager spent an hour of his program on a case in Atlantic City:
In Atlantic City police are looking into accusations that casino security guards
have used overhead cameras to ogle women in provocative dress. Is this really a
criminal offense?
I expect that many readers have noticed this "fashion" trend with differing levels of concern. When I was chaperoning Troglotyke #1's class at environmental camp, I was faced with something like this to a tremendous degree by the dress of the eleven and twelve-year old girls. There were a couple of rebelious types who were better dressed for MTV than a lesson in orienteering, but what actually bothered me more (to my surprise) is the revealingly skin-tight nature of today's "modest" dress. There are no secrets. I spent a lot of time looking at the sky and trees. But don't think the sixth-grade boys didn't notice, nor did they understand why looking is wrong. For the record, it makes objects of women and girls, for which Jesus Christ specifically chastises us when He says that a man who looks lustfully at a woman has already committed adultery with her in his mind.

Anyway, Mr. Prager's take was that, while it is not a good thing, "no" it is not criminal because first, no harm was done, and second, women who dress that way in public want men to look at them. I disagree with the first point, and the second point does not matter, in my opinion. He did make it a point to distinguish ogling, whether with or without a camera, from voyeurism. He also recognized that creating a record (like a picture) for unofficial use does create harm because it creates an object that humiliates the woman, even though there were probably notices posted that patrons were being observed. That I suppose is the crux of the legal case: if there is a security tape (that isn't looped), did the guards look "too long" for such a tape to be useful in a security capacity, in which case it could reasonably categorized as an object of (sexual) humiliation? Otherwise, in a society that does not criminalize adultery, or artificial birth control, there is no compelling legal argument against simply looking in public. "Freedom" strikes again.

Update:
The flip side to making objects of women and girls is the worship of man as an object, or at least his distinguishing feature, as Oswald Sobrino points out.

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