There are fewer more egregious breaches of somebody’s privacy and dignity than that which was perpetrated, last year, by Aleksander Janik. The 23 year old, of Rosemount Estate, Dundrum, pleaded guilty in court yesterday to placing his phone underneath a toilet cubicle to try and take photos of a person using the toilet. His guilty plea was to the crime of “offensive conduct of a sexual nature”.
— Courts News Ireland (@courtsnewsIRL) January 19, 2022
The headline on CourtsNewsIreland, which was the first to report his case, was apposite: “Toilet Snapper avoids Jail”.
We have heard a lot this week about how men, in particular, need to call out and intervene against offensive sexual behaviour, or even general poor behaviour, when it is conducted by other men. In this case, it is difficult to see how this would ever be possible: It is not, after all, very likely that Mr Janik told many of his male friends that he was just popping off to the loo to try and take pictures of people’s genitals.
In this instance, Mr. Janik was caught by the victim of his crime, who spotted the phone, and the camera, and challenged him, and then restrained him until Gardai could arrive. His victim was a man. A woman, of course, may not have felt safe to do just that.
So here we have somebody who, it is not disputed, committed a very invasive, and disturbing, sexual crime. It is not reasonable to think that this could have been prevented by “other men”, or indeed by society at large. What it is reasonable, though, to expect, is that the state would take action to protect the public once such a person has been caught.
Instead, Mr. Janik has faced no punishment at all. He has a suspended sentence, and a criminal record. That’s it. He slept, no doubt, last night, in the same bed in which he had slept the night before. His rights, and liberties, are not in any way affected by what he did. He is free as a bird.
That is not a decision taken by “men” or a result of “misogyny”. It is a decision taken by the authorities. They have decided that Mr. Janik should face, in effect, no punishment for what he did.
This is important.
It is important because, after all, all of the focus this week, in the aftermath of the horrific murder of Ashling Murphy, has been on all the things that women face which do not rise to the level of murder. The lower level crimes. The lower level abuse. The lower level fears. Is this not a perfect example of such a crime? Is it not almost exactly, to the letter, what Government Ministers, journalists, and NGOs have been talking about? The fear of doing basic things, like using a public toilet?
Is it not these crimes, then, that we should be making an example of?
For my money, Aleksander Janik should be in prison. He has demonstrated, quite clearly, by his actions, that he is somebody with no respect for the privacy or dignity of others, and that he is willing, in pursuit of his own disturbed urges, to make ordinary people feel violated and unsafe.
It is not reasonable to expect that he could have been prevented from committing this crime by his father, or his brothers, or his friends. It is, however, reasonable to expect that he be punished for it.
The problem with sentences like this is not only that they are lenient in themselves, but that they also set a precedent: The next creep who does this will have grounds to appeal a harsher sentence in that they can point to Mr. Janik and say that they are being treated unfairly by comparison. Courts work on precedent, and procedure. When a court says the punishment for snapping pictures under a toilet door is a suspended sentence, that is a signal to other judges as much as it is to society at a whole.
Mr. Janik should be in prison for what he did. Until he, and others like him, routinely face punishment, it is a joke for anybody in this country to write that the problem is masculinity. The problem is what we tolerate as a country, repeatedly.