The teen said she never gave a second thought to the iPhone that Raphael Schklowsky incorporated into his lessons at Herndon High School. But even as he was teaching drama, Schklowsky was allegedly using the device to victimize her.
The images were the tip of a trove of about 8,000 lewd photos and videos that Schklowsky took at the school and elsewhere, police said. They allege the teacher turned Herndon High into his private hunting ground, victimizing “dozens and dozens” of students for more than a year.
The alleged crime was massive and hiding in plain sight, but it nearly went undiscovered. Police said they found Schklowsky’s collection only after he was arrested in a separate incident.
The case is the latest in a virulent new strain of voyeurism enabled by technology. The ubiquity of cellphones, ever smaller cameras and drones have allowed voyeurs to operate with ease and stealth. They have invaded a host of spaces once deemed safe, including the ritual bath of a Jewish temple, a gynecologist’s office, the upper floor apartments of a high-rise building and the bathroom of a police station.
Voyeurs have created online communities, where they share and sell work, trade tips and egg one another on toward more and more exploitative photos and videos. In the process, victims are often exposed to exponentially more eyeballs.
Experts say the confluence of factors has allowed voyeurs to operate longer without being caught and cause greater damage.
“We are seeing more victims than ever before,” said Fairfax County police Maj. Ed O’Carroll.
There are no national statistics on voyeurism, but some data indicates a sharp rise in prosecutions. A Washington Post analysis showed voyeurism cases jumped 46 percent in Virginia between 2014 and 2018, while arrests in Florida exploded by more than 600 percent between 2012 and 2018.
A number of states — including Alabama, Georgia and Massachusetts — have rushed to ban “upskirt” photos that were often legal in public places and strengthen penalties for surreptitious filming, but advocates say more still needs to be done. Upskirting is so pervasive in South Korea that Seoul has tasked 8,000 municipal workers with sweeping bathrooms for cameras.
Schklowsky’s case and others have prompted a sickening sense of violation and a lingering fear that no place is truly off-limits.
“School is somewhere you come to think of as a safe space,” said the teen who was one of the victims. “School is somewhere where you go seven hours a day to learn, to thrive and be with your friends. It gives me a lot of anxiety to think about going back to school. It doesn’t feel as safe as before.”
An uneasy feeling
While some teachers ban cellphones in class, Schklowsky embraced technology, students said. Schklowsky, who usually had his phone out, would often ask students to use their phones to complete online exercises or surveys.
The teen said Schklowsky gave her an uneasy feeling from the start. She recalled that he scolded her for being on “the wrong path” after she told him that she would not be trying out for a play. The response seemed over the top.
Even though her guard was up around him, she never had an inkling that he might be filming her.
“We didn’t think he was doing anything other than texting his wife or doing what we were doing in class,” the teen said.
The Post is not naming the teen, nor her family members, because it generally does not reveal the identities of juvenile crime victims. The girl said she wanted to share her story to warn others and spoke with the permission of her mother.
Schklowsky, who taught drama and directed school plays, had been at Herndon High School since August 2016. Students said he told them he had attended a performing arts high school in New York and studied the Stanislavsky acting method in Russia. He lives in Reston with his family, and an online résumé says he previously worked as a teacher in New York City.
His attorney, who declined to comment, said in court that Schklowsky has been attending a treatment program in Pennsylvania for people with sexually compulsive behavior.
Other Herndon students said they often saw Schklowsky wandering the halls with his iPhone clipped to his waist. Police said Schklowsky took photos and videos all over the school, snapping students as they inadvertently exposed themselves.
But the iPhone was not Schklowsky’s only tool, authorities allege.
He stashed at least one small camera in a drama department changing room to capture students as they undressed, police said. Such cameras are part of a generation of devices so small they can be hidden almost anywhere.
Voyeurs have also turned to a range of devices embedded with cameras. A Johns Hopkins gynecologist filmed women with cameras in pens and phone chargers. A D.C. rabbi used a clock radio with a hidden camera to shoot women who were undressing for a ritual bath. A thriving online marketplace has even more devices: miniature cameras embedded in sneaker tops, shaving cream cans, electric razors and scales.
“You look at the equipment our partners in state and federal law enforcement have and you look at the equipment you can get off Amazon, and there’s really not much of a difference,” Fairfax County police 2nd Lt. David Koenigsberg said.
Perhaps the most unsettling new tool is the drone.
Michele Dunn, an Atlanta lobbyist, said she caught something out of the corner of her eye as she entered the bedroom of her fourth floor condo in a towel after a shower in 2018. There was a drone outside her bedroom window.
“I really thought it was a bird at first . . . and then it hovered,” Dunn said. “What really creeped me out and made me scream was that I saw the camera zooming in on my window. It was like an eye.”
Dunn’s husband charged into the bedroom and threw open the window, staring at the drone for a second before it flew around the high-rise. Dunn said her husband called the building concierge, who found men operating it in a parking lot. They quickly drove off.
No arrests have been made.
“It’s a game-changer,” Dunn said of the new technology before referencing a movie about a man who spies on his neighbors with a telephoto lens. “It’s not Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ anymore.”
Catching an alleged predator
The Schklowskys’ au pair had a nagging fear.
Ever since a former au pair told her she found a camera hidden in the closet of her bedroom in the family’s home, the woman, 19, wondered whether she was being watched, according to a search warrant.
The woman began to comb her bedroom. In April, she peered into a vent and found a camera attached to a transmitting device, the search warrant said.
Minutes later, Schklowsky asked to speak with her, saying he knew she had discovered the device, according to the search warrant.
When the au pair spoke with Schklowsky and his wife, the wife told her Schklowsky had trust issues with au pairs and it would be “serious” if she went to police, according to the search warrant.
The au pair did just that.
Schklowsky was charged that same week with misdemeanor unlawful filming. Police said they recovered 32 phones, memory sticks, computers, a smoke detector outfitted with a camera and other devices from his home.
On the very last device, investigators found the Herndon High School collection that was amassed between May 2017 and June 2018. Police were able to identify 10 students captured in the photos and videos. Schklowsky was charged in June with felony unlawful filming counts in each case. His case is pending.
The mother of the teen victim said the girl called detectives to arrange a meeting. “She said to them, ‘I have questions I want answered,’ ” the mother said.
At the teen’s request, detectives who came to her home laid out three sheets of paper, showing her the photos of her they had found. The teen was furious. She was disgusted. But she said she needed to know details to move forward.
“It made me upset that I was so unaware. I was in school doing essentially what I was supposed to be doing,” the teen said. “I feel so out of control and upset that it happened to me. I think I’m trying to take back that control.”
The teen said she is prepared to testify if Schklowsky goes to trial, but detectives told her most cases like his end in a plea deal.
The teen said she was relieved police have not found evidence the Herndon High photos were shared online, as has happened in other cases.
Earlier this year, a victim of another alleged voyeur in Fairfax County was on Tumblr when he stumbled across a video of himself naked in a dressing room at Centreville’s Spa World, according to a search warrant. The man alerted police, who discovered the voyeur was allegedly running a business selling lewd videos of victims under the Twitter handle @OGshowerspy. Police said he made thousands of dollars and victimized more than 160 people.
Voyeurs share similar videos on dozens of other forums and porn sites. In recent years, public outcry forced Reddit and Tumblr to shut down large communities based around “creepshots,” photos or videos of body parts taken in public without the victims’ consent. One Tumblr blog devoted to creepshots had 11,000 followers, while another gave detailed instructions on how to take higher quality photos with a variety of phones.
The Schklowsky case has prompted anger and anxiety in the Herndon High School community. Dozens of students and parents gathered in an auditorium in late June, peppering school officials and police with questions about the case.
One mother said her daughter wondered if she could ever change her clothes in the school. Another sobbed as she demanded to know how the school would prevent similar cases in the future.
Principal Elizabeth Noto said they would make sure no cameras were stationed in classrooms anymore and have counselors on hand to help students.
“Our trust was completely violated by this man,” Noto said.