Posting obscene photos for revenge could prompt legal action

By Andrew Adams  |  Posted Sep 5th, 2013 @ 6:59pm


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SALT LAKE CITY — Does Utah need its own law against "revenge" posting of intimate photos and videos? Some prosecutors and state lawmakers say a discussion is warranted, as California legislators mull a first-of-its-kind measure.

Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said Thursday he worked his first "revenge porn" case years ago, and the phenomenon has escalated nationally to the point where state lawmakers should at least take a close look at updating the current code.

"I think our digital landscape has evolved and the law probably needs to catch up with that and figure out ways we can prevent social injuries to individuals when they've been victimized," Gill said. "With the new technology that we have, you can actually cause that emotional harm to that person, especially when it comes down to images which are being disseminated specifically to humiliate, to demean and to harass a person."

The latest alleged "revenge porn" case to surface in Utah involves a Layton man.

Charging documents said Shon Handrahan, 30, sent "approximately 100 text messages to his estranged wife, many of which contained threats."

"When his estranged wife would not respond," the declaration for warrant of arrest read, "the defendant texted numerous obscene pictures of his estranged wife to five members of his wife's immediate family."

Handrahan is charged with multiple counts of felony distribution of pornography and misdemeanor electronic communication harassment. He was taken into custody last month over the allegations, which date back to last year.

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Do you think people posting obscene pictures of others should be a legal offense?
1. Yes: It is basically the same as slander and it ruins the person's reputation.
2. No: That infringes on Freedom of Speech rights.
3. Unsure
Do you think people posting obscene pictures of others should be a legal offense?
1. Yes: It is basically the same as slander and it ruins the person's reputation.
2. No: That infringes on Freedom of Speech rights.
3. Unsure

An arraignment hearing was scheduled for Tuesday.

Revenge porn cases have caught the attention of California lawmakers.

They're currently weighing Senate Bill No. 255 (http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/sen/sb_0251-0300/sb_255_bill_20130821_amended_asm_v95.pdf) which would make it a misdemeanor to post or distribute photos and videos in order to cause someone humiliation or distress (http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/29/tech/web/revenge-porn-law).

The measure cleared the California Senate and is before the State Assembly.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, also said Thursday, the issue is worth a discussion at the legislative level.

"It's something we are going to need to look at - it's going to become a bigger problem," Ray said. "If you're talking about your own child or somebody related or a friend of yours, it becomes a personal issue."

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Ray said he would watch to see how California legislators deal with their proposed law.

"See how theirs progresses and what roadblocks they run into, and is there anything constitutional we have to look at as we go forward on this too," he said.

Critics in California had raised concerns over First Amendment issues, and whether the law could somehow impair freedom of speech.

Longtime former prosecutor-turned-criminal defense attorney Kent Morgan said additional challenges surround the high expense of proving who really posted the revenge porn, utilizing computer forensics.

Morgan also said there are higher crime-fighting priorities that already are not getting enough coverage because of financial shortcomings.

"All of a sudden we're going to add yet another law that is going to purport to put people in jail for up to six months because they have done something disparaging on the Internet to somebody else," Morgan said. "As soon as we get lots of money for criminal justice prosecutions, then I've got some ideas. Porn revenge isn't one of those."

Gill balked at the idea of added prosecutorial costs, and said it's more an issue of having a law that specifically fits a criminal act.

"We're creating new horizons and, as we say, new cyberspace where victimization can occur," Gill said.

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