Upskirt video voyeurism on the rise

Cellphones, hidden cameras used to photograph shoppers

ORLANDO, Fla. - When Robert Greis walked into the Total Wine & More store on West Colonial Drive last December, it does not appear the purpose of his visit was to buy alcohol.  Prior to arriving at the store that afternoon, Greis hid small video cameras under the tongues of each of his tennis shoes, according to police.

[WEB EXTRA:  Surveillance video captures voyeur suspects]

Store surveillance captured what happened inside.  A woman wearing a long dress stepped away from her boyfriend at the checkout counter to look at some magazines.  Greis, who was standing in line behind the couple, slid past the boyfriend and bumped him as Gries quickly approached the woman from behind.  That's when Greis appears to briefly move his camera shoe under the woman's dress.  The woman's boyfriend, who watched it happen, immediately chased Greis out of the store and held him until police arrived.

Greis pleaded no contest to felony video voyeurism and tampering with evidence on the camera's digital memory card, which police found smashed into several pieces.  A judge sentenced Greis to 45 days in jail, followed by four years of probation.

"I don't want to talk to you," Greis told Local 6 reporter Mike DeForest outside Greis's Orlando home.  "You people irritate the hell out of me."  He would not comment on his arrest.

Greis is among dozens of Central Floridians who have been convicted for video voyeurism since 2004, when the state legislature made it illegal to secretly photograph someone "privately exposing the body."

Each year, the number of video voyeurism arrests has increased, a fact some attribute in part to the growth of smartphone sales and the commercial availability of smaller digital cameras.  From 2004 to 2009, only two people were convicted of video voyeurism in Orange County.  Over the next five-year period, 10 Orange County defendants were successfully prosecuted for the crime, with at least three more still awaiting trial.

"It is sexually stimulating for some people to invade other peoples' private moments," said sex therapist Dr. Anne Rothenberg.  "That is what the thrill is."

Rothenberg, who has provided counseling to video voyeurs, believes some view it as a game or sport. 

"The plotting, the planning, being able to use some of the new gadgets.  That's exciting," she said.  "They're compulsively thinking about it all day long.  When's the next time I'll be able to do this? Where can I go? What can I buy?  How can I do this better?"

Several voyeurs have been caught hiding mobile phones in shopping baskets and sliding them under the dresses of unsuspecting shoppers.  Nicholas Fursaro is awaiting trial for allegedly snapping illegal photos at an Orange County Walmart using a cellphone buried under dog food bags on the lower rack of a shopping cart.  Earlier this month, Kissimmee police arrested Christopher Mendoza for allegedly photographing under the skirt of a woman at Burlington Coat Factory by balancing a phone on a duffel bag.

"My first reaction was feeling super surprised that somebody would be capable of doing something like that," said Karina Portillo, the victim of the duffel bag incident.  "You've just got to be careful of your surroundings because, no matter where you go, a person can look perfectly normal but yet not right in the head."

"Typically the people that I have seen will have low self esteem, feel socially awkward, can't relate to the other sex as well," said Rothenberg.

Anticipating the growing problem, Florida lawmakers in 2012 increased the penalties for video voyeurism, upgrading the crime to a felony for most offenders.  Adults convicted of secretly recording children must now register as sex offenders.  

"Most people don't want to continue.  They know it's illegal.  They don't want to go to jail," said Rothenberg.

Yet she believes it can be difficult for video voyeurs to control their compulsive thoughts without seeking professional treatment. 

"Almost like a kleptomaniac who steals something that they don't need, it's just they can get away with it," she said.

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