Understanding California’s Revenge Porn Law

A Los Angeles woman was recently awarded $6.45 million in damages by a federal judge because her ex-boyfriend published sexually-explicit photos of her on the internet. The award is one of the largest ever ordered in a non-celebrity revenge porn lawsuit.

According to reports, the Los Angeles woman briefly dated her ex in 2013 before he moved away to Virginia for work. They kept their romance alive through text messages, which included trading sexually-explicit photos. When the couple broke up, the woman’s ex-boyfriend vowed to “ruin her life” and proceeded to distribute the private photographs and videos to pornographic websites. The man also published a provocative dating profile for the woman and encouraged men to contact her with graphic sexual images.

The Los Angeles woman filed a civil lawsuit against her ex in federal court shortly after California enacted its revenge porn law. If the man had remained in California and published the sexually-explicit photos he may also be facing criminal charges for his actions.

California Revenge Porn Law

In 2014, it became a criminal offense to distribute pornographic images of another person to cause them harm. Specifically, California Penal Code Section 647(j)(4) states that it is a criminal offense to

  1. Intentionally distribute images depicting another person engaging in sexual behavior or their intimate body parts;
  2. While understanding that those images were intended to be confidential;
  3. With the intent to cause that person to suffer emotional harm; and
  4. Causing that person to suffer distress.

While the law is known as the “revenge” porn law, there is no requirement that the act is committed with the intent to get revenge. Instead, all that is required is the intent to cause emotional harm.

Distributing Sexually-Explicit Images

What actions will satisfy the “distribution” element of the crime? The California law explains that “distribution” should be broadly defined to include any behavior that aids the publication of the sensitive images. Distribution can include personally taking care of the publication or arranging, requesting, or intentionally causing another person to distribute the image.

Depicting Intimate Body Parts of Sexual Behavior

In order to be a crime, the published photos must depict (1) the victim’s intimate body parts or (2) the victim engaging in sexual behavior.

Intimate body parts include the genitals, anus, and female breast. There is no requirement that the victim is naked in the photos. If intimate body parts can be see-through clothing, distribution of such photos can violate the law.

Sexual behavior includes sexual intercourse, oral sex, masturbation, sodomy, and any other acts of sexual penetration.

Penalties for Distributing Revenge Porn

In California, distributing revenge porn is a misdemeanor offense, punishable by six months in prison and $1,000 in fines. Individuals who are convicted for the distribution of revenge porn a second time can face up to one year in jail for their actions.

In addition to jail time and fines, distributing revenge porn will also generate a criminal record. You will find that certain collateral consequences of your criminal record make it difficult to live a normal life. Collateral consequences are not directly related to your specific crime. Instead, these exist simply because you have a criminal record. Consequences of a criminal record in California can include:

  • Difficulty getting a job
  • Difficulty renting or buying a home
  • Adverse child custody decisions, and
  • Inability to work in certain fields (e.g., healthcare, education, government).

Fighting Revenge Porn Charges in San Diego

California will aggressively prosecute individuals who are accused of distributing revenge porn. If you are facing criminal charges for revenge porn it is important to speak with an attorney as soon as you can. At the Law Office of Vikas Bajaj, APC, our San Diego criminal defense team can help to protect your future.

We will thoroughly review your alleged crime and determine which defense(s) will be most beneficial to your case. Our aggressive approach to your defense will help to minimize the consequences of your arrest. Call us today to schedule a free consultation and learn more.

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