How to stop online sexual harassment


By suspending his account recently, Twitter has now punished George Zimmerman more than any arm of our justice system.

George Zimmerman, infamous for his 2013 acquittal for the shooting death of unarmed African American minor Trayvon Martin, is no longer welcome on the social media site because he revealed personal information and posted intimate photographs of a woman he claimed to be his former girlfriend—revenge porn.

(This is only the latest in Zimmerman’s online offensive rants. Though he denied being a racist during his 2013 murder trial, Zimmerman has recently come out of the closet as an overt racist, calling President Obama a “baboon” and using the confederate flag as his Twitter profile picture. He also posted a photo of Trayvon Martin’s dead body, which led to outrage. Twitter, however, allowed his account to remain active after those tweets.)

Zimmerman’s recent revenge porn posts included the girlfriend’s name, phone number, email address and the accusation that she cheated on him with a “dirty Muslim.” (See what I mean about his open bigotry?) Twitter suspended his account for violating their rules against abuse, which specifically includes this type of privacy violation.

Is he criminally liable?

Could he also be criminally prosecuted for the revenge porn posts? Twenty-six states including Florida ban revenge porn—disseminating nude or partially nude photos without consent, often in retaliation for a breakup—but vary in terms of how they define nudity and the intent of the poster to harass. Florida’s policy requires photos to depict sexual acts. That does not appear to be the case in the photos Zimmerman tweeted.

That’s not necessarily the end of the story, however. I currently represent a young woman who was the victim of revenge porn. After she dumped her boyfriend, he posted a series of intimate photos of her, tagging her college and sports team in a particularly cruel effort to humiliate her. Law enforcement had refused to act, probably because police are insufficiently trained on the issue and don’t take it seriously. They should – girls have literally killed themselves over revenge porn.

At my law firm in Los Angeles, the Bloom Firm, we took a more creative approach, treating revenge porn as a form of domestic violence. California’s Domestic Violence Restraining Order law applies not only to married couples but anyone in an intimate relationship or former intimate relationship, and not only to acts of physical violence but emotional abuse and humiliation.

Armed with this law, we were able to go into court quickly and obtain a permanent restraining order against the harasser barring any further revenge porn activity. He is required to immediately take down his offending posts. If he violates the judge’s order in any way, we will promptly go back to the judge and seek to have him held in contempt. If so, he could be jailed, which is where he belongs.

I encourage Zimmerman’s ex-girlfriend and anyone else to try this approach if applicable under their state law. Our legal system can and should treat revenge porn as a form of intimate partner abuse. Surely Twitter should not be the only authority insisting on accountability for this offensive and demeaning conduct.

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