Florida's Revenge Porn Law, is it working?

4 in Your Corner discovers few are charged

Florida is one of 38 states plus the District of Columbia with laws making sexual cyber harassment a state crime. Two years after the law was implemented in the Sunshine State, are revenge porn offenders being punished?

Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone analyzed court records to find out.

We all do it.

 

Google your name, see what turns up.

Now imagine if mixed into profile pics and social links you discovered bare, naked images of yourself online.

 

Intimate photos you consented to with a partner in private, only to be showcased in public for the world to see.

That's the moment 40-year-old Rebekah Wells can't shake, 8 years later.

Rebekah Wells, revenge porn victim

"I don't know if I can do this," she said through tears.  "I thought I was over it," she told us from her Naples home.

 

"My head was spinning and I just thought why?  Why would somebody do this," she said as she explained the moment she found nude pictures of herself online.

One in an estimated 25 Americans has either had someone post a sexually explicit image of them without permission or threaten to, according to; Center for Innovative Public Health Research.

 

One in an estimated 25 Americans who has either had someone post a sexually explicit image of them without permission or threaten to.

source: Data & Society Research Institute - Nonconsensual Image Sharing

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In Wells' case, it was an ex-boyfriend who, she says, sought romantic revenge by posting (8) nude photos of her on a website known for pornography.

"It's just a violent betrayal.  That's what it feels like.  It feels so emotionally violent," she said.

 

Florida is one of 38 states plus the District of Columbia that now make cyber-sexual harassment, aka revenge porn, a crime.

But a search of court records in Florida reveals since the state's revenge porn law was implemented in October 2015 few people have been charged for violating it.

 

In Hillsborough County, Orange County and Palm Beach County 6 cases have been filed since 2015. In Pinellas and Martin Counties there were just 3. Paso County had 2, Charlotte County had 1 and St. Lucie County had none.  According to the 11th Judicial Circuit, which serves Miami-Dade county, there has not been a single case of revenge porn since the law took effect.

"I'm not surprised," said South Florida civil attorney Elisa D'Amico who co-founded the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, a pro bono project that provides help to victims of revenge porn.

Civil attorney Elisa D'Amico, co-founder of the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project speaks with reporter Katie LaGrone

Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project

"It's better to have then not to have," she said but added, "when you look at the law it's really easy to tell why it's not working as well as we'd like it to," she said.

For one, D'Amico explains how Florida's law only applies to pictures or video uploaded to the internet, not images sent through email or text.  In addition, unlike some other states like Illinois, Florida's law is a first time misdemeanor not a felony and requires proof the offender posted pictures with the intent to harm someone.

Nonconsensual image sharing, also commonly called "revenge porn," is when someone shows, sends, or posts nude or nearly nude photos or videos of someone else without the consent of the person pictured.

"That's extremely difficult to prove," said D'Amico.  "If you have a case where somebody who is threatening to share photos or did expose the photographs says I will ruin your life, I will destroy your reputation, this is meant to hurt you.  But that doesn't always happen," she explains.

 

As a result, D'Amico believes the law needs a rewrite.  Specifically, she says, Florida's law should make revenge porn a felony even if it's the first attempt.  She also believes the law should be expanded to include pornographic images sent via email and/or texts.

But she cautions, "looking at these numbers and making the conclusion that this doesn't happen is just very wrong," she said.

 

 

Rebekah Wells agrees.  "This is just the beginning," She believes the frequency of revenge porn is far greater than any court data can suggest.  

"There was a part of me that died," she said. "I didn't really get justice. That was really hard to take."

 

To this day, Wells still checks her name from time to time to see if her images show up.  In 8 years, she says her pictures have been up and down on the web about ten times.  For now, she's focused on earning her law degree, hoping to eventually help others left in positions they never intended for the world to see.

 

"It's not going away, it's getting worse," she said.

Check out this state by state breakdown below or the following link to learn more about revenge porn laws in the United States.

Revenge Porn Laws by State

 

 

What to do if you think you are a victim of revenge porn:

- To get your image taken down, you'll need to report it to the website it's on.  Follow steps here: Report and Remove an Image

- Contact law enforcement

- Consult with an attorney who can help you navigate through the legal process and may be able to help you get the images taken down.

- There are takedown services, but make sure you research the companies and understand exactly what you're paying for.  Also know how often you will be charged, is it a one time fee or recurring and for how long?

- Contact the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative's crisis help-line: 844-878-CCRI (2274)

Crisis Helpline

 
 

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