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Aftermath of Lauren McCluskey murder sparks bill on revenge porn

(Lauren McCluskey, courtesy of University of Utah)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah  – Lawmakers are pushing for one major change to Utah’s revenge porn law. Legislators reported the mishandling of evidence after the murder of Lauren McCluskey is the reason why they’re calling for the change. 

According to state law, prosecutors have to prove a victim of revenge porn suffered emotional distress when their images were shared. West Valley Representative Craig Hall said this law couldn’t work in the case of slain University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey, who gave officers sexually explicit pictures that were being used as blackmail by her eventual killer, Melvin Rowland.

“One of the detectives who was investigating the death was inappropriately sharing intimate images of Miss McCluskey with other officers. This was outside of the scope of his employment,” Hall said.

Since McCluskey had already been murdered when the images were reportedly shared, the requirement to prove emotional distress would have been impossible to meet.

“As the law is written, right now, the death of the victim becomes, effectively, a bar on the prosecution,” he said.

House Bill 147 would get rid of that requirement. Hall said proving emotional distress isn’t something that has to happen in other sexual assault investigations, and he believes it shouldn’t apply to revenge porn. Hall says emotional distress is just assumed, in those cases.

Hall said, “We don’t make the victim get on the witness stand and have the prosecutors say, ‘Were your feelings hurt?  Did you suffer actual emotional distress? How did it make you feel when you went through this sex crime?’”

Currently, there are two versions of the bill being discussed. The original version removed the language completely, while a substitute version removed the emotional distress requirement only in the cases where the victim is deceased.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the substitute version, but Hall believes the original version could be brought back when it’s discussed on the House floor.

“We had a great conversation during the committee, yesterday, about, ‘Why do we even include that element to begin with?’” he said.

Hall hopes the bill will be brought to the floor early next week.