‘Revenge Porn’ and the Law: Why You Could Be Prosecuted for Posting It

May 14, 2013 by David S. Seltzer

I am pleased to announce that a former client of Seltzer Law, P.A. has had some success with her campaign to make “revenge porn” a crime. Revenge porn is the name for posting naked or sexually explicit pictures of a former spouse, boyfriend or girlfriend and adding identifying information, as an act of revenge. The issue came to our attention when Holly Jacobs came to our law office looking for help with revenge porn her ex-boyfriend had posted. Jacobs, who has legally changed her name, gave naked photos to Ryan Seay when they were dating seven years ago. After they had broken up, Seay uploaded those photos to the Internet and added identifying information. Then he began sending them to her boss and colleagues. Seay is now criminally charged with cyberstalking, and a proposed Florida law would make revenge porn itself a felony crime.

Jacobs first became aware of the problem after her breakup with Seay, when a friend called and told her someone had posted a nude picture as her Facebook profile picture. She knew it had to be Seay because he was the only person with naked pictures of her. By the time Jacobs got online, it was gone, but she started doing Google searches for herself regularly. One such search turned up more naked pictures on a website—along with her full name. She asked webmasters to take them down, but more kept appearing. In fact, there are multiple websites that are clearinghouses for ex-lovers to post this kind of involuntary pornography. Then Seay allegedly created an email address in Jacobs’s name and sent the pictures directly to her boss and co-worker. Later, he allegedly told the university HR department about the pictures, requiring Jacobs to explain the situation to her dean. She eventually left her job over the incident.

Unfortunately, there’s currently no Florida law that makes revenge porn a crime. Because Jacobs was over 18 when the pictures were taken, the police said, there was nothing they could do. (Explicit photos of someone 17 or younger can be prosecuted as child pornography crimes.) When Jacobs came to Seltzer Law a few years ago, we helped her get pictures taken down from many websites. But her tormentor kept posting them in new places, and sometimes altered them to make it look like there were more. Last year, he allegedly published the time and date of a conference session where Jacobs was to present her thesis, causing her to back out of the presentation. That was the same year she decided to change her name and decided to move on. She also founded End Revenge Porn, an organization dedicated to criminalizing revenge porn. And she redoubled her efforts to get the case criminally prosecuted. After she got Sen. Marco Rubio to take up the case, the State’s Attorney’s office finally charged Seay with stalking, harassment and unlawful publication.

Florida’s anti-revenge-porn law appears to have died in committee, at least for now. That’s unfortunate, but as a criminal defense lawyer, I should note that revenge porn activities are frequently criminal even without a special statute like this. One example is the stalking and harassment charges Seay faces. Other examples from End Revenge Porn include vandalism and violating a protective order, cyberstalking and hacking-related charges. Seay would face up to four years in prison if convicted; the proposed Florida law against revenge porn would provide up to five years in prison for those convicted. That’s in addition to pending lawsuits against revenge pornographers. That’s why it’s vital for victims to continue advocating for criminal penalties, even if they are initially turned down. A new law would give law enforcement a powerful tool, but existing laws already make revenge porn a fairly serious crime.

Based in downtown Miami, Seltzer Law represents clients charged with all kinds of crimes involving computers, technology and the Internet. If you are facing charges—or you need help fighting to have your revenge porn case taken seriously—don’t wait to contact us. You can send us a message online or call toll-free at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333).

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