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Spokane seeks ‘revenge porn’ bill mirroring Washington law

UPDATED: Wed., April 19, 2017, 9:57 p.m.

 (MICHAEL PROBST / AP)
(MICHAEL PROBST / AP)

The Spokane Police Department has seen a handful of “revenge porn” cases in the past month, prompting a push to make sharing explicit images without consent a crime in the city.

Police Sgt. Jordan Ferguson, who leads the domestic violence unit, said one of the recent cases involved a woman with an abusive partner who tried to blackmail her out of getting a protection order.

“She went to get an order to protect herself, he found out there was an order, he told her to get the order recalled or he was going to release their intimate pictures,” Ferguson said.

He followed through on the threat, posting naked pictures of his victim online. It’s one of three cases Ferguson’s unit has recently seen of men posting naked pictures of former or current romantic partners online for malicious reasons.

Washington passed a revenge porn law in 2015, which made disclosing “intimate images” of another person without consent a gross misdemeanor.

Under the law, prosecutors must prove a reasonable person would have known the photos were intended to remain private, and that their disclosure harmed the victim.

Minors are guilty only if they “intentionally and maliciously” published intimate images intended to remain private.

That law allows county prosecutors to handle cases in Spokane County District Court, but city prosecutors can’t handle cases in municipal court, where misdemeanors committed within city limits are usually tried, unless the law is added to the city code.

A draft ordinance presented at the city’s Public Safety Committee meeting Monday would fix that. Councilwoman Candace Mumm said it would likely come before the council in the next few weeks.

The language in the ordinance is basically identical to the state law. Both allow the victim to pursue a civil case for damages against the perpetrator, a remedy many revenge porn victims have sought.

Courtney Pettitt, the lead legal advocate for domestic violence victims at the YWCA, said abusers often post or threaten to post intimate pictures as a control tactic.

“It could be that they’re trying to silence the victim from going forward with a criminal case or getting a protection order, but it also is used to damage someone’s reputation,” she said.

Sometimes the pictures have been taken by the victim or with consent, but some abusers also take pictures of their victims without the victim’s knowledge.

“They might be sleeping naked or not aware that there’s a phone or a camera out,” she said.

The YWCA supports the effort to add revenge porn to the city’s criminal code.

Getting domestic violence victims to report abuse is already difficult. When a case involves the public humiliation of having intimate photos shared widely, victims are unlikely to come forward.

“We’re always fighting this battle and now add extreme embarrassment on top of it,” Ferguson said.

City prosecutor Justin Bingham said the recent domestic violence case in the police department brought the discrepancy to light.

“Hopefully this will be a very quick fix,” he said of the proposed ordinance.



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