Chrissy Chambers says she was secretly filmed while being sexually assaulted by an ex-boyfriend, and that it was just the beginning of the nightmare.

The former lover posted the video online, which wound up on 37 different pornography sites, Chambers told Minnesota legislators and advocates Thursday at the first meeting of a bipartisan group hoping to pass legislation that will protect Minnesota victims of so-called “revenge porn.”

Chambers, a Los Angeles-based YouTube performer of music and comedy with her partner Bria Kam, said discovering the assault video online unleashed feelings of “unimaginable terror.” She turned to alcohol to treat symptoms of what was later diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, including depression, anxiety and regular nightmares.

Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, who is chairman of the “End Revenge Porn Working Group,” said the situation is all too common. Both he and Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, also on the panel, said they have heard from constituents seeking legal recourse, but as of now the remedies in Minnesota are imperfect at best.

A conviction for criminal defamation against a man in Isanti County was recently thrown out by an appeals court on First Amendment grounds. Prosecutors said the man posted sexually explicit ads on Craigslist, posing as his ex-girlfriend and her underage daughter.

Other legal strategies, including civil litigation or copyright protection of images and video, have also exhibited significant weaknesses, advocates say. Bringing a lawsuit is expensive and will further draw attention to the material, while copyright protection may not apply to images owned by someone else.

The working group includes advocates for abused women but also defense attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union. The goal is to craft a tough law that will pass constitutional scrutiny. Nearly two dozen other states have passed laws outlawing the distribution of sexually explicit material without permission.

Carrie Goldberg, a Brooklyn lawyer who specializes in these cases, told the panel there are 3,000 websites dedicated to this material, with images posted for vengeance, profit or purposes of extortion.

Goldberg, who sits on the board of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, said a study showed that 90 percent of the victims are women, and that 42 percent sought some sort of mental health care after the violation. She said when she takes on clients, her first role is often crisis and case manager, getting victims the mental health help they need.

The issue is gaining attention around the country. The HBO news and comedy show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” aired a segment this week on online harassment and revenge porn. Chambers’ story has been featured by the Guardian. Google recently announced it would honor requests to remove explicit material from search results. And, in April, California Attorney General Kamala Harris won an 18-year prison sentence against an operator of a website that posted nude photos with personal identifying information without consent. Harris said it was the first criminal prosecution of its kind.

Lesch said there could be a difficult dialogue to come, noting a tendency in some instances for people to blame the victims for allowing themselves to be photographed or recorded.

Goldberg said blaming victims for allowing themselves to be recorded is akin to blaming rape victims for suggestive dress or being drunk.

Chambers, who says she never consented to either the recording or distribution, is pursuing legal and civil cases in England, where she alleges the man uploaded the material.

She said she has been in recovery from alcoholism for 18 months. And, with therapy, is enduring fewer nightmares.

Patrick Coolican • 651-925-5042

 

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