WHEN TO SEEK LEGAL HELP
ENSURING YOU'RE PREPARED
Revenge porn and online harassment laws vary widely by state, and the process of learning your rights and best course of action can be confusing. It's also difficult to know what situations warrant a police report, and whether you have the right to press charges.
However, in most cases if your harasser is known, your situation may also qualify for legal assistance, with civil and criminal liability, as many harassers engage in related abuses such as:
- stalking and cyberstalking
- aggravated harassment
- fraud and identity theft
- hacking and unauthorized access to personal data
The guide below will help outline how you may qualify for legal assistance, and how to prepare yourself to seek help.
DOCUMENTING YOUR HARASSMENT:
No matter what book or article you read, or what victim or expert you speak with on revenge porn or online harassment, the one thing you will hear from each and every source is that victims need to document, document, document.
Many cases are never prosecuted for lack of evidence. Harassment and revenge porn situations often involve the victim's word against the suspect's and little evidence. The following are various ways that have helped victims, police, and prosecutors obtain a successful prosecution.
1. Keep a log of the harasser's messages and any encounters with your harasser that happen offline, including dates, times, and witnesses to the encounters if they are known.
2. In addition, save and take screenshots of all posts, notes and letters you have received from them. Messages on a social media account, text messages, e-mail messages are all important in building a case. Digital files in particular are important as they often contain embedded information that can later be helpful.
3. Compile a chronological summary of events from that first day through the present. This doesn't have to be in great detail. A few short sentences that summarize the importance of that particular day or something that was said or done at a particular time. Try to keep it short and simple.
This journal will give you, the victim, an overall view of your stalking and harassment, and may well bring to light various set patterns that you have overlooked. Also include any comments that other people have made about your harasser or the harassing material online, as these sometimes can also include important identifying information.
Don't ever lie about or minimize your involvement with your harasser. If you lie, the police and prosecutors will not know what to believe when they find out the truth.
If you have had an intimate relationship with your harasser, tell the officers. If you've met with your harasser or had private correspondence don't be afraid to admit it. Many people do in good faith attempt to reason with their harasser, and part of this history is why often the harassment is so pervasive. Acknowledging these factors will help your lawyer best address your needs.
Someone I knew who had been terrorized and threatened for months, agreed to meet and sleep with her harasser to prevent him from continuing to spread revenge porn images. She kept it to herself. When her stalkers defense attorney questioned her on the stand about the encounter, the prosecuting attorney was blindsided.
So keeping a truthful journal and detailing your relationship can be a very valuable tool in prosecution. Keep it up to date and in a secure place. Always keep a duplicate copy of the journal saved in the event the original storage for the files is corrupted or lost.
NOTE: Resist the urge to delete all correspondence and materials from your harasser. A lawyer can assist you in ensuring that proper evidence-admissible copies of this information are made before assisting you in purging or removing them.
NOW, YOU'RE READY TO FIND LEGAL ASSISTANCE:
After you have built up as much of your information as you can, we recommend reaching out to the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project and filling out their contact form to see if you can qualify for legal assistance and help in removing offending content.
You can also check out this listing of lawyers to find someone who may be able to offer you one on one assistance. Most will do consultations for free.
It is highly recommended that you contact a lawyer especially if your harasser is known and especially if material has already been posted online. They are helpful in ensuring you know how to effectively lobby on your own behalf, can advise on to file a report.
WHEN DO I CALL THE POLICE:
If you believe you are a victim of crimes in your state or listed above, take your log of evidence and contact your local police department where the crime occurred (or your local PD if it happened online). Make sure you ask if there is a special department that deals with online harassment and fraud, or domestic violence if the harasser is a former intimate partner.
As a practical note, many police officers are often unfamiliar with the technologies involved and you may be interviewed by someone who is has trouble understanding the nature of the crime. CrashOverride provides a guide of tips on talking to police or other officials that can help you have a productive conversation.
Stay firm in your conviction, you are a victim of a crime and a police report can help ensure that you have the documentation you need to pursue further remedy. Be sure to consult your attorney for additional details, as they are often familiar with considerations in your state or even in your city's individual police departments.