Viewpoints: Law students’ work pays off in revenge porn bill

If you think lawyers and politicians are all about the paycheck and the backroom deal, you may want to hold on a moment.

I am a 2014 McGeorge graduate and this year, my colleague and I, in work for McGeorge’s Legislative and Public Policy Clinic, drafted Assembly Bill 2643, which has cleared the Legislature and is now awaiting the governor’s signature. This new clinic has law students working directly with state legislators to address important policy issues.

AB 2643, carried by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, would allow victims of so-called “revenge porn” to sue their cyber-attackers in civil proceedings, get the offending images removed and potentially collect damages from the perpetrators.

Most importantly, victims would be able to remain anonymous – a huge plus for women who have been violated in this fashion, and who do not want their private horrors to become public fodder as well.

I became aware of revenge porn while an intern with the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

Abusers often turn to social media and the Internet as tools to control and humiliate their partners, threatening to publicly release intimate photos or videos, and promising to ensure that families and others will see them. Revenge porn also is a tool in the hands of vengeful ex-partners and teenagers who are lacking in foresight.

Precise figures on the prevalence of revenge porn are hard to come by, but by all accounts it is on a steep upward curve. Survey research from the University of Maryland found that 1 in 10 respondents said their former partners had threatened to publicly post intimate images of them online, and that 60 percent of those followed through with that threat.

The issue hit home in California in 2012, when a 15-year-old Bay Area teen committed suicide after three boys sexually assaulted her at a party while she was unconscious, and then posted photos online that they had taken during the assault.

My colleague, Christopher Wu, and I were involved in the entire legislative process of AB 2643 – from drafting the language of the bill, to finding a legislator to carry the bill, to strategic planning, and on through committee hearings and amendments to ensure passage.

In addition, my classmates in the legislative clinic wrote bills to give prisoners new rights, train police to better protect vulnerable elders from abuse, and help ensure that people hired to work in state-supported child care centers can be trusted with our children. All three of those bills are on the governor’s desk, too.

When I look back on this experience, I think about being a victim’s advocate. I always wanted to do something in law school to give back to my community. AB 2643 gave me that chance.

Regardless of whether the bill becomes law, this process showed me that our generation can have an impact on something that is important to all of us. It speaks to the whole idea that we can do something that materially improves our community, and that addresses problems in our society.

I now know that we can have a positive impact on these issues – and it’s great to be able to work with state legislators and do something about it.