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Sexual Cyber Harassment

What happens when some secretly video records or photographs you taking a shower, undressing, or engaging in sexual activity? What happens when you share sexually explicit photographs or videos to a lover thinking that the pictures will remain private?

Either way, if a person shares those images or video of private nudity or sexually explicit conduct, then the person can be prosecuted under Florida's new sexual cyberharassment statute. Additionally, the victim can bring a civil lawsuit for money damages (including at least $5,000 in damages for each image plus attorney fees).

Sharing intimate images of others in order to intimidate, harass, or embarrass another person has become rampant. Although the motivation for these crimes is often revenge, in some cases the perpetrator is not motivated by any personal feelings toward the victim. The person accused of the crime can be charged with sexual cyber harassment and may face an embarrassing civil lawsuit for money damages.

Criminal charges arise when sexually explicit images of another are published to Internet websites without the depicted person’s consent, for no legitimate purpose, with the intent of causing substantial emotional distress to the depicted person.

When such images are published on Internet websites, they never go away. People that frequent these websites look for such images and will often download the images and republish them again and again. For this reason, the images can be viewed indefinitely by anyone with a computer. Just knowing about the existence of such images can cause the victim significant psychological harm.

Safeguarding the psychological well-being of persons depicted in such images was considered to be a compelling interest by the Florida Legislature when the statute was created. The existence of such images on Internet websites causes those depicted in such images significant psychological harm.

Attorneys for Sexual Cyberharassment in Tampa, FL

The attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm in Tampa, FL, represent individuals accused of publishing revenge porn online. Over the years, we have seen many of these cases. Prosecutors often have a hard time proving that the defendant was the person who published the images online.

Prosecutors rely on a confession to prosecute these crimes. If the person accused of the offense retains an attorney early in the investigation, they have the best chance of successfully invoking their right to remain silent and their right to have the assistance of counsel. By remaining silent, you have the best chance of getting the prosecutor to close the case without taking any action.

For the same reason, victims of sexual cyberharassment and revenge porn often have a difficult time seeking civil damages. Getting a confession from the cyber harasser is considered to be extremely important part of the case. Many of the revenge porn sites that showcase these photographs make it very hard for law enforcement to find any identifying information about the person posting the photographs.

In addition to representing the person accused of the crime, the attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm also represent victims in these cases when they pursue a lawsuit against the cyber harasser seeking civil damages. In many of these cases, the victim can also seek a restraining order for cyberstalking against the person who originally began posting the images or video.

We represent clients in cyber harassment and cyberstalking cases throughout Tampa and Plant City in Hillsborough County, St. Petersburg and Clearwater in Pinellas County, New Port Richey and Dade City in Pasco County, Brooksville in Hernando County, and Lakeland and Bartow in Polk County, FL.

Call (813) 250-0500 to discuss your case.


Punishments for Sexually Cyberharassing Another Person

For a first offense, a person accused of willfully and maliciously sexually cyber harasses another person commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

For a second offense, a person who has one prior conviction for sexual cyberharassment and who commits a second or subsequent sexual cyberharassment commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

Additionally, crimes for sexual cyber harassing another person sometimes qualify as extortion, a serious felony offense under Florida law. Extortion is a second-degree felony punishable by up to fifteen (15) years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The crime of extortion is classified as a Level 6 offense severity ranking under Florida's Criminal Punishment Code.


Elements of Sexual Cyberharassment / Revenge Porn in Florida

In other to prove the offense of sexual cyber harassment under Section 784.049, the prosecutor must prove the following elements of the offense beyond all reasonable doubt:

  • the defendant published a sexually explicit image of a person;
  • the defendant acted in a willful and malicious way;
  • with the intent of causing substantial emotional distress to the depicted person;
  • the image contained or conveyed the personal identification information of the depicted person to an Internet website;
  • the image was published without the depicted person’s consent; and
  • the image was published for no legitimate purpose.

In many of these cases, the victim suffers from “doxing.” The term "doxing" refers to broadcasting personally identifiable information about an individual on the Internet. Doing so can expose the victim to an anonymous mob of harassers who call their phone, send them emails, and contact their friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. Sometimes the "doxing" involves blackmail or sextortion by asking for money to end the harassment.


Definitions in the Sexual Cyberharassment Statute

The term "sexually explicit image" means any image depicting nudity, as defined in s. 847.001, or depicting a person engaging in sexual conduct, as defined in s. 847.001.

The term “image” includes, but is not limited to, any photograph, picture, motion picture, film, video, or representation.

The term “personal identification information” is defined to include the same meaning as provided in s. 817.568.


Search Warrants for Sexual Cyberharassment

During a criminal investigation for sexual cyberharassment, the law enforcement officer might file an affidavit seeking a search warrant to be issued to further investigate violations of the statute prohibiting sexual cyberharassment, including warrants issued to search a private dwelling.

Under Section 784.049(4)(a), a law enforcement officer may arrest, without an arrest warrant, any person that he or she has probable cause to believe has violated this section. In other words, all elements of the offense to not have to be committed in the officer’s presence before the officer can make a warrantless arrest.

The statute for sexual  cyberharassment contains an explicit exception to the misdemeanor warrant requirement. When a misdemeanor is not listed as an exception to the arrest warrant requirement, the officer is not permitted to make a warrantless arrest when all elements of the offense are not committed in the officer's presence.


Civil Action for Sexual Cyberharassment in Florida

The victim of cyberharassment or any aggrieved person may initiate a civil action against a person who violates this section to obtain all appropriate relief in order to prevent or remedy a violation of this section, including the following:

  • Injunctive relief to get the images off the internet as much as possible;
  • Monetary damages to include $5,000 or actual damages incurred as a result of a violation of this section, whichever is greater; and
  • Reasonable attorney fees and costs.

The criminal and civil penalties of Florida’s cyberharassment statute do not apply to:

  • A provider of an interactive computer service as defined in 47 U.S.C. s. 230(f), information service as defined in 47 U.S.C. s. 153, or communications service as defined in s. 202.11, that provides the transmission, storage, or caching of electronic communications or messages of others; other related telecommunications or commercial mobile radio service; or content provided by another person; or
  • A law enforcement officer, as defined in s. 943.10, or any local, state, federal, or military law enforcement agency, that publishes a sexually explicit image in connection with the performance of his or her duties as a law enforcement officer, or law enforcement agency.

Jurisdiction and Venue for the Prosecution of Cyberharassment

Under Section 784.049, a violation of the sexual cyberharassment statute can be committed in the state of Florida if any conduct that is an element of the offense, or any harm to the depicted person resulting from the offense, occurs within this state.

Section 901.15(16) provides that if there is probable cause to believe that the person has committed a criminal act of sexual cyberharassment as described in s. 784.049, then the officer can make a warrantless misdemeanor arrest even though the officer did not see each and every element of the offense being committed in the presence of the officer. In this way, misdemeanor sexual cyberharassment is an exception to Florida’s misdemeanor warrant requirement.


Additional Resources

Cyber Civil Rights Initiative - CCRI is a nonprofit advocacy organization that provides resources to victims of revenge porn, people whose nude or sexually explicit images are posted online without their consent or any legitimate purpose. The CCRI has recommended DMCA Defender and Copybyte as trustworthy companies a victim can hire to contact the websites that are publishing the images to take them down.

Articles on Revenge Porn - Visit the Mashable website to find all of their recent articles and stories on revenge porn. Learn more about legislation in various states, ways that social media sites like Facebook handle the problem, national reporting tools, and tips for victims.

Florida's Revenge Porn Law, is it working? - Read a long-form story discussing the number of times this offense is prosecuted in Florida. According to the article, Hillsborough County, Orange County and Palm Beach County each had 6 cases filed since 2015 through February of 2018. During that same time period, Pinellas County and Martin County had three cases filed, Pasco County had 2 cases filed, and Charlotte County had one case filed.


This article was last updated on Wednesday, April 11, 2018.

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