• By Johanna Salinas

A test case for Guam’s revenge porn law


In October 2015, *Sarah, a Catholic School teacher, found out that a very private photo of herself was leaked after her computer was hacked. Beyond her control, the nude photo started circulating online. It reached the school administrators, who demanded that she apologize for “violating the moral clause.”

Eventually, Sarah lost her job.

Sarah, then 30, tried to fight — to no avail. She reported the case to the Guam Police Department. The investigators sat on the case and played it down as a form of entertainment instead of treating it as a serious crime. She tried to hire a lawyer, but no one would take her case.

“I went through more than 10 lawyers. Some of them were alumni of thr school and they didn’t want to go against the sisters or their lawyer," Sarah said. "Another reason is that none of them knew what to do in representing a victim of cyber bullying, specifically, ‘revenge porn’ as they called it then."

She was forced to leave Guam and has since relocated to Singapore. “That was a nightmare for me. I was the victim and I got punished,” she recalled. “I did not see the point of staying on island.”

While she may have moved on, Sarah still laments that she did not get justice.

“It ruined my reputation in Guam, specifically in my school community. I lost my job because of it. I had to cut my contract short and leave Guam. I had a green card application being processed then but because it was co-terminus with my employment, my application was voided.”

A similar incident happened to a public school teacher in January that same year. Robb Malay, then deputy superintendent of the Guam Department of Education, said the teacher was transferred to another school. GDOE said school administrators took “appropriate action” after complaints were made regarding the circulation of the teacher’s naked photographs. After this announcement, nothing more was heard about this case.

Back then, there was no clear policy on how to handle technology-assisted invasion of privacy, or what later became known as “revenue porn.” For victims there seemed to be no redress and the perpetrators went around with their wicked mischiefs facing no consequences.

“While revenge pornography had been criminalized since 2016, our laws still lacked a statutory mechanism for victims to receive compensation for what they’ve endured,” said Sen. Mary Torres, author of Bill 102-35, which became Public Law 35-67 in February. “This lack of a specific remedy was concerning given the prevalence of this type of harm. According to a recent study published by the American Psychological Association, one in 12 individuals reported at least one instance of nonconsensual pornography victimization in their lifetime. Moreover, data from 2016 shows that one in 4 high school students on Guam have been exposed to sexting.”

Revenge porn is the act of sharing or threatening to share naked or sexually explicit pictures or video without the depicted person’s consent, as well as taking explicit images or videos of people without their knowledge.

Public Law 35-67, Torres said, “simply recognizes that sexually explicit imagery is a form of private information deserving of similar protection. While we can’t undo or erase anyone’s suffering, I hope this law offers a first step toward helping victims fight back and correct these injustices.”

The revenge porn law will have its test case on Guam for the first time.

Last month, Janela Carrera, director of Communications, filed a revenge pornography lawsuit against Troy Torres, founder of Kandit News Group, a web-based news site. Carrera, a former journalist, alleged that on several occasions throughout the month of May, Torres used his online news platform to “intentionally advertise images of her in a state of nudity or engaged in sexual contact.”

Janela Carrera

The lawsuit alleged that on May 12, Kandit posted a video on Facebook, which included sexual innuendos about Carrera. At the end of the video, Torres directed viewers to a site called “Marianas Dirty Laundry,” the lawsuit states.

Lawyer Vanessa Williams, who represents Carrera, believes that P.L. 35-67 will help victims regain their confidence. Williams has encountered several women who have fallen victim to revenge porn. “For years and years, I’ve heard women who were targeted and victimized for private things that came as the result of an intimate relationship and were later threatened to use against them,” Williams said.

“I even can’t count how many times I’ve heard this story and even from people say, ‘I’m afraid if I ignore this person or don’t talk to them, they’re going to do this or that to me.’ It’s important that women who’ve been victimized in this way understand that they are not alone. It is normal to be scared or embarrassed, because that is the point. People who do this — who threaten to show intimate information about you — are doing that with the purpose of scaring and embarrassing you.”

While a woman may feel confident with sharing intimate photos with someone, if the receiver shares those photos without her permission, that can be considered revenge porn.

“Revenge porn is a term that is locally used for different things. Sometimes it can be a misnomer,” Williams said.

Sen. Mary Torres

In terms of civil actions, she explained, revenge porn refers to “disclosure of someone’s private images without their consent of the disclosure, not necessarily with their consent to the images.”

Torres is mindful that some victims may be reluctant to come forward, but she encourages them not to be afraid. “I know that the fear of further notoriety often discourages survivors from pursuing legal remedies. That’s why Public Law 35-67 outlines procedures, which allow victims to protect their identity in court proceedings,” the senator said. “Further, both federal and state laws protect the right of individuals to keep certain private information out of the public eye.”

In February 2020, the Guam Legislature adopted the Uniform Civil Remedies for Unauthorized Disclosure of Intimate Images Act, which is a model uniform law developed by experts for use in different U.S. jurisdictions. This law allows victims to sue their harassers anonymously.

“They don’t have to be named in the complaint,” Williams said. “It doesn’t have to be a matter of public record. It’s very understandable if they don’t want to even publicize it more or come forward and sue the person, because they think ‘oh, they’re just going to smear me in court.’ The Guam Legislature and the people who drafted this law understood that reality for these victims, so they allowed them to sue anonymously. I want women to understand that if they come forward and they want to stop this, they don’t have to be afraid about making it public.”

Revenge porn is a multilayered offense against one’s fundamental rights, Williams said. “To display, or to advertise, or to offer, or to threaten to show anyone’s intimate images without their consent to the disclosure is an invasion of privacy. There are fundamental and constitutional rights to privacy that have been recognized by court,” said the lawyer.

“Those threats to disclose intimate images or to use revenge porn against someone is an infringement on the right to privacy, but it’s also a form of sexual harassment. It’s a form of abuse; it’s a form of terrorizing. It can be a form of all manners of wrong that are recognized by the law.”

Torres believes paying out damages is vital to revenge porn cases. “As several states across the country are now realizing, there are clear economic consequences associated with being a victim.

Vanessa Williams

"Many are stalked, harassed, threatened with sexual assault, terminated from employment, or expelled from their schools,” Torres said.

Public Law 35-67 creates a civil cause of action — helping victims of nonconsensual pornography receive compensation for the harm they’ve endured. This civil cause of action is independent of any criminal proceeding which may be triggered by the law that criminalized revenge pornography in 2016 (Guam Public Law 33-171).”

Williams agrees that damages award is an important component of justice. In addition to $10,000 in statutory damages under the Civil Remedies Act, a victim may also ask for punitive damages. “That’s usually up to the discretion of court, the judge or jury, or whoever is deciding this case. That statute is not the exclusive remedy to damages, meaning the victim can also recover under different varies. Often hand in hand with the type of law is that there are emotional distress damages for enduring something like this — the anxiety and the havoc that wreaks someone’s personal life. Those are things that may be imposed on the defendant as well,” Williams said.

Torres is also aware of the emotional scars that revenge porn can leave on the victim. “While we can’t put a price on depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress — we do know that job loss, relocation expenses, legal fees, therapy and psychological support all factor into the financial cost of victimization. Put simply, criminalization—while an important deterrent—is deeply inadequate on its own—and that’s why I sought to bring balance with this law,” she said.

While bearing the overwhelming shame, victims of revenge porn also oddly face the blame. “The only person who is responsible for a crime is the criminal. Stop blaming the victim for things that the law already recognizes is not their fault,” Williams said. “That goes for any type of wrong. Stop the victim blaming. It doesn’t make any sense under the law. It’s extremely insensitive. It re-victimizes someone who is already victimized as defined under the law. Stop blaming anyone but the person who did the wrong for what they did.”

(With additional reports from Mar-Vic Cagurangan)

*The woman’s name was changed to protect her identity.

Click here to subscribe to our digital edition

181 views
Pacific Island Times

Guam-CNMI-Palau

Location:Tumon Sands Plaza

1082 Pale San Vitores Rd.  Tumon Guam 96913

Mailing address: PO Box 11647

           Tamuning GU 96931

Telehone: (671) 3004210/(671) 929 - 4210

Email: pacificislandtimes@gmail.com

© 2023 by "This Just In". Proudly created with Wix.com