Vermont Supreme Court Upholds Revenge Porn Law | Off Message

Vermont Supreme Court Upholds Revenge Porn Law

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Vermont Supreme Court - MARK DAVIS
  • Mark Davis
  • Vermont Supreme Court
The Vermont Supreme Court on Friday upheld a state law banning “revenge porn,” saying the statute does not violate First Amendment protections.

In a long-awaited decision, justices ruled 4-1 that the 2015 law, which forbids the distribution of sexually explicit images without the subject’s consent, is constitutional.

In an interview, Defender General Matt Valerio called the decision "bizarre," and said his office is contemplating a U.S. Supreme Court appeal.



Justices said revenge porn represents the "highest" violation of privacy, noting that it is illegal for doctors or banks to disclose personal information about patients or clients. Forty states have enacted laws against revenge porn, justices wrote.

"In the constellation of privacy interests, it is difficult to imagine something more private than images depicting an individual engaging in sexual conduct," Associate Justice Beth Robinson wrote. "The personal consequences of such profound personal violation and humiliation generally include, at a minimum, extreme emotional distress."

The decision was handed down an unusually long time — 17 months — after oral arguments. But the high court still did not rule on the underlying criminal case, from Bennington County. Justices asked attorneys for additional filings in that matter.

"There's some indication that the court might not believe that the state was pursuing the right case or that this case is not what the statute was intended to punish," Valerio said. "It's very odd."

The underlying case centered on nude photographs that a woman sent of herself to her ex-boyfriend via Facebook in October 2015.

Rebekah Van Buren, another woman who was involved with the man at the time, accessed his Facebook account without his permission and posted the nude pictures on his page. According to court documents, Van Buren told police that she did so to harm the ex-girlfriend’s reputation and "for revenge."

Sitting in Bennington Superior Court, Judge David Howard dismissed the case — believed to be the first brought under the law — saying the statute was overly broad. If convicted, Van Buren would face a maximum penalty of up to two years in prison and a $2,000 fine. The law was passed to address concerns about vengeful ex-lovers posting explicit images of their former partners on social media.

In her dissent, Associate Justice Marilyn Skoglund said the revenge porn law went too far, and suggested victims should seek remedies in civil courts, not criminal ones.

"Can revenge porn cause extreme emotional distress? Oh, yes," Skoglund wrote. "However ... I cannot agree that, in this day and age of the internet, the State can reasonably assume a role in protecting people from their own folly and trump First Amendment protections for speech."