California Is Taking a Powerful Stand Against One of the Worst Kinds of Pornography

California Is Taking a Powerful Stand Against One of the Worst Kinds of Pornography

For the first time, California has thrown the book at a defendant accused of violating the state's new anti-revenge porn laws.

Los Angeles man Noe Iniguez has been convicted on three criminal charges, the Guardian reports, making him the first person to be successfully prosecuted for posting "identifiable nude photos of other people online without the subject's permission and with the intent to cause emotional distress" since the "revenge porn" law was enacted in October 2013. Iniguez was also charged with two counts of violating a restraining order.

In a statement, Office of the City Attorney spokesman Frank Mateljan described the crimes:

"Iniguez, using an alias, allegedly began posting derogatory comments about his ex-girlfriend on her employer's Facebook page. In March 2014, Iniguez allegedly posted a topless photograph of the victim on her employer's Facebook page, which was accompanied by a message that called the victim a 'drunk' and a 'slut' and encouraged her firing from the company."

Based on that kind of behavior, most will be happy that Iniguez, who L.A. Weekly called a "douchebag" and "one of Los Angeles' nightmare boyfriends," has been sentenced to one year in jail. He is additionally prohibited from making contact with the victim and was ordered to attend domestic violence counseling.

The background: While the law has been on the books for several months, it's reassuring to see the law actually being implemented and enforced.

That said, though Iniguez's case is pretty cut-and-dry, there's been some concern over whether expansive revenge porn laws would actually stand up to a constitutional challenge on First Amendment grounds. The ACLU released a statement in March arguing that a similar, proposed law in Connecticut was too broad and could lead to "unintentional and unconstitutional consequences":

"[ACLU legal director Sandra Staub] noted the legislation would criminalize distribution of photos showing parts of the body that can legally be displayed in public, that it would allow prosecution even without an understanding or agreement that images would be kept private and that it would criminalize the conduct of third parties who distribute images without knowing there was a lack of consent."

Staub noted that California's revenge porn law was constructed carefully enough to avoid constitutional concerns; however, the ACLU did originally oppose California's legislation as well. Florida rejected a revenge porn law over similar concerns. In Arizona, a much broader law that made revenge porn a felony on the first offense was blocked in November following an ACLU lawsuit.

But so far, California prosecutors have only pursued cases where they could prove a genuine intent to cause emotional distress. "This conviction sends a strong message that this type of malicious behavior will not be tolerated," City Attorney Mike Feuer told the L.A. Times.

Why you should care: For years, women who were the victim of online revenge porn posting had nowhere to turn. The law simply hadn't caught up with the technology. As Slate's Danielle Citron wrote in November 2013, various objections to anti-revenge porn laws (that it's covered by existing laws, that it would destroy free speech and most ludicrously that the problem would resolve itself) didn't hold water, nor did these supposed alternatives offer much relief to victims.

Online abuse can be just as damaging as offline, and it's good to see the victim of a terrible crime being taken seriously. States can find a balance between free speech and protecting victims, and California has given us room to be cautiously optimistic that they can find it.