Making lewd comments about someone’s attire. Tying sex to job duties or advancement. Touching someone inappropriately. Repeated requests to go on a date.
These are the types of things most people think about when they imagine sexual harassment – and with everything in the news these days, it’s difficult not to imagine sexual harassment.
There’s one type of sexual harassment covered under the laws of Florida that no one seems to be talking about right now though: sexual cyber harassment.
What exactly is it? How does it work? What are businesses doing about it?
Defining Sexual Cyberharassment in Florida
Essentially, Florida defines sexual cyber harassment as publishing a sexually explicit image of another person on the internet:
- That conveys their “personal identification information”
- Without any legitimate purpose
- Without the consent of that person
- Intending to cause “substantial emotional distress”
In short, the law officially penalizes what is colloquially known as “revenge porn.”
Some important things to know about the law:
- “Image” covers numerous things, including but not limited to “any photograph, picture, motion picture, film, video, or representation.”
- It is illegal to publish another’s nude or sexual image even if they consented to the image itself. In other words, permission to publish on the internet must be given, or it can be deemed a crime.
- In order to qualify, the image may contain either nudity or sexual conduct.
- Though “revenge porn” is often associated with angry exes who already had access to the image and simply decided to publish it, the crime also may apply to someone who breaks into another’s computer or other digital device and steals private images
How Does Florida Penalize Sexual Cyberharassment?
If you are charged with a first-time offense of sexual cyber harassment, it is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Any offenses after the initial one are charged as third-degree felonies. Third-degree felonies come with the potential of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
Additionally, offenders open themselves up to a civil lawsuit and will have to carry a criminal record with them for the rest of their lives. This record is something that anyone can access with a simple internet search or background check. This can make it far more difficult to handle many normal tasks, such as finding housing, getting a job, securing a loan, and more.
Limits to Florida’s Sexual Cyberharassment Law Point to Possible Defenses
As soon as the bill was signed into law, critics started pointing out all of the things that the statute doesn’t cover and other potential limitations to prosecution. If you find yourself charged, some of these limitations may very well become arguments a skilled Florida lawyer can use to defend you.
What are they?
It only covers posting to websites. Did you actually post the image in question to a website? It is not a crime to send these types of images in texts, emails, or even through peer-to-peer networks. In order for the law to apply, it must be posted to an actual website.
Personal identifying information must be included. This law is intended to go after people who are maliciously posting nude or sexual images of someone as a way to attack them. To that end, the statute says that personal identifying information must be present. Often, a mere image may not be enough to qualify as sexual cyberharassment unless personally identifying information can be gleaned from it.
There must be an intention to cause emotional distress. Even if the prosecution can prove that a nude or sexually explicit image was posted to a website without consent and that personal identifying information was present, they also need to show that it was done to cause harm to the individual in the image.
Other strategies may help as well depending on the facts of your case.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.