Woman filmed naked and unconscious in London hotel wins five-year legal fight

A view of signage for the Crown Prosecution Service in Westminster, London.

By Amber Milne

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A woman who was filmed naked and unconscious by a man she did not know in a London hotel room won a five-year legal battle on Friday after he pleaded guilty under new rules on voyeurism.

Emily Hunt woke up next to a man she did not recognise in a hotel room in May 2015 and feared she had been drugged but was told by prosecutors that there was no realistic prospect of convicting the man on any form of assault on the evidence.

But when Hunt realised a year later that the man had filmed her as she slept, she embarked on a public campaign for justice, and a landmark court ruling on voyeurism this year led to an arrest.

Christopher Killick pleaded guilty to voyeurism on Friday and will be sentenced on Sept. 4, the Crown Prosecution Service said, with the charge carrying a maximum jail term of 26 weeks.

"What happened that evening five years ago changed my life almost completely," Hunt, 41, said in a victim statement read out in court. "My world fell apart."

"It has been an incredible long and difficult five year journey to get here, but I could not be happier that justice has finally been served," the mother-of-one later told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Hunt told the Thames Magistrates' Court in east London on Friday she had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after that day, adding that her recovery "was completely derailed" when she learnt about the video footage a year later.

"To find out that this man had taken a naked video of me and that I was unaware of this for more than a year made me even more anxious and very mistrustful of people around me," said Hunt, originally from New York but a long-term UK resident.

"Even now I do not know for certain where my body has been seen and by whom, and realising that he and maybe others could have repeatedly looked at me in my most vulnerable state – naked and asleep – has made me feel violated over and over again."

Although voyeurism is a crime under the 2003 Sexual Offences Act, until this year the Crown Prosecution Service had stated filming someone naked in a private room did not constitute an offence if they had consented to being looked at naked.

But after a court of appeal in January clarified non-consensual intimate filming as illegal, prosecutors reviewed Hunt's case and arrested Killick in May.

Hunt's hearing comes amid growing scrutiny on the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which has recently come under fire for low rates of rape prosecutions and the treatment of sexual assault victims.

"We recognise the delays in bringing this case to court have had a lasting impact on the victim," a CPS spokeswoman said in emailed comments to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"This is a complex area of law, which was clarified for the first time in the Court of Appeal this year. In light of that significant ruling, the CPS reviewed all the evidence in this case and authorised a charge of voyeurism."

Voyeurism is viewed as part of a growing trend of digital sex abuse - including cyber-flashing, sextortion, cyberstalking and upskirting - spreading with the proliferation of smartphones and greater internet access.

Experts warn the law often does not move fast enough to keep up with online behaviour and unclear legal positions can leave women hesitant to pursue cases.

Kate Ellis, a solicitor at the Centre for Women's Justice who brought Hunt's case to court, said she hoped the case would pave the way for other women to come forward.

"Voyeurism is a form of abuse," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "I hope that today's conviction will embolden other victims to come forward."

(Reporting by Amber Milne; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)