Revenge Porn Laws in Alabama

Alabama's criminal surveillance and obscenities laws make revenge porn illegal.

Any person who distributes sexually explicit images of another person in order to cause humiliation or other harm to the other person engages in what is commonly called “revenge porn.” Revenge porn is a form of nonconsensual pornography (NCP) and is sometimes also called “cyber exploitation.” Frequently, revenge porn is disseminated by an ex-partner (in “revenge”), but strangers also engage in NCP by hacking into others’ accounts or devices and posting private images of the victims.

Alabama law does not explicitly address nonconsensual pornography but the state’s criminal surveillance and obscenities laws make NCP a crime. For more information about nonconsensual pornography in general, see Revenge Porn: Laws and Penalties.

Alabama Nonconsensual Pornography Law

Like many states, Alabama does not have a statute specifically targeting nonconsensual pornography. In 2016, however, Alabama legislators proposed a law that would make it a crime to distribute a private, sexually explicit image of another person with the intent to harass the person. Watch this site to find out the fate of the proposed legislation.

Alabama does have in place several criminal laws that address aspects of revenge porn. As discussed below, it is a crime in Alabama to

  • engage in surveillance while trespassing in a private place
  • engage in surveillance for sexual gratification in a place where the person observed has a reasonable expectation of privacy and has not consented to be watched (“aggravated criminal surveillance”) and,
  • disseminate obscene material.

Criminal Surveillance

A person commits the crime of criminal surveillance in Alabama by intentionally observing another person while trespassing in a private place. (Ala. Code § 13A-11-32.)

The sections just below explain what the law means by “surveillance” and “private place.”

What Is “Surveillance”?

As used in the Alabama law, “surveillance” means secret observation of the activities of another person for the purpose of spying upon and invading the privacy of the person observed. (Ala. Code § 13A-11-30.)

What Is a “Private Place”?

As used in the Alabama law, a “private place” is one where a person may reasonably expect to be safe from casual or hostile intrusion or surveillance, but the term does not include a place that is accessible to the public or a substantial group of the public. (Ala. Code § 13A-11-30.)

Aggravated Criminal Surveillance

In Alabama, anyone who secretly observes another person for sexual gratification without that person’s consent in any place where the person observed had a reasonable expectation of privacy commits aggravated criminal surveillance. (Ala. Code § 13A-11-32.1.)

Dissemination of Obscene Material

It is also a crime in Alabama for any person to distribute or disseminate obscene material. (Ala. Code § 13A-12-200.2.) Because revenge porn and other types of NCP involve intimate images of the victim, it may fall within the Alabama definition of obscene material. And, if so, when perpetrators of the revenge porn post or otherwise display the image publicly, they commit the crime of dissemination of obscene material.

So, what do “obscene,” “disseminate” and “distribute” mean under Alabama law?

What Is “Obscene”?

Alabama law defines the term “obscene” as material that:

  • the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find, taken as a whole, appeals to prurient interest
  • depicts, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct, actual or simulated, and
  • a reasonable person would find, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

(Ala. Code § 13A-12-200.1.)

What Is “Disseminate”?

Alabama law defines “disseminate” very broadly, including any means employed to expose, exhibit, show, “or in any fashion display, in any location, public or private,” obscene material so that it can be readily seen “from any public place or any place to which members of the general public” have access. (Ala. Code § 13A-12-200.1.)

What Is “Distribute”?

Under Alabama law, “distribute” means to import, export, sell, rent, lend, transfer possession of or title to, display, show, exhibit, present, provide, broadcast, transmit, retransmit, communicate by telephone, play, orally communicate or perform.” (Ala. Code § 13A-12-200.1.)

Defenses

A person charged with the crimes discussed above may raise the following defenses to try to avoid conviction under Alabama law.

Consent

Lack of consent of the person surveilled is an element of both criminal surveillance and aggravated criminal surveillance in Alabama. So, if the person observed has consented to being observed, no crime has been committed. (Ala. Code § 13A-11-36.) And, for purposes of criminal surveillance, if the person charged did not trespass to engage in surveillance, the defendant may raise the lack of trespass as a defense. (Ala. Code § 13A-11-36.)

Consent is not a defense to the crime of dissemination of obscene material. Even if the person depicted in an obscene image consented to another person posting or otherwise exhibiting it, the distributor of the image could be charged with this crime.

No Reasonable Expectation of Privacy

As with consent, this defense applies only to the crimes of criminal surveillance and aggravated criminal surveillance in Alabama. If the person observed was either in a public place or in a place to which members of the public had access, the person observed did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. (Ala. Code § 13A-11-36.)

Lack of expectation of privacy is not a defense to the crime of dissemination of obscene material. Thus, even if the image shows a person in a public place, if the image meets the definition of obscene and any person distributes it in any fashion, the distributor could be charged with this crime.

How is Nonconsensual Pornography Punished in Alabama?

Alabama law treats criminal surveillance and disseminating obscene material as serious crimes, subjecting those convicted of them to prison time, possibly hard labor, and fines.

Punishment for Criminal Surveillance

Criminal surveillance is a Class B misdemeanor in Alabama. Anyone convicted of the crime faces a jail sentence, possibly including hard labor, of not more than six months (Ala. Code § 13A-5-7), a fine of not more than $3,000 (Ala. Code § 13A-5-12), or both.

At the sentencing court’s discretion, a person convicted of any crime in Alabama may face a fine of double the amount he or she “gained” or the victim “lost” as a result of the crime. (Ala. Code § 13A-5-12.) If the purveyor of NCP made money (as many do) by displaying the victim’s image, the court may order the perpetrator to pay double the amount earned as a fine.

Punishment for Aggravated Criminal Surveillance

Aggravated criminal surveillance is a Class A misdemeanor in Alabama. Anyone convicted of the crime faces a jail sentence, possibly including hard labor, of not more than one year (Ala. Code § 13A-5-7), a fine of not more than $6,000 (Ala. Code § 13A-5-12), or both.

As noted above, the sentencing court has the discretion to fine anyone convicted of this, or any crime, double the amount gained by the perpetrator (or lost by the victim) by the commission of the crime.

Punishment for Dissemination of Obscene Material

Dissemination of obscene material is a misdemeanor in Alabama. Anyone convicted of the crime faces a jail sentence, possibly including hard labor, of not more than one year (Ala. Code § 13A-12-200.2), a fine of not more than $10,000 (Ala. Code § 13A-12-200.2), or both.

Copyright Protections

In addition to reporting a potential criminal invasion of privacy and/or filing a civil lawsuit, a victim of nonconsensual pornography may use copyright laws to demand removal of the offending images from whatever site or publication has displayed them. For more information, see Using Copyright Law to Combat Revenge Porn.

Other Ways to Address NCP

If you have been a victim of nonconsensual pornography posted on social media, you may want to report the NCP to the social media companies in question. The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a non-profit devoted to helping victims of NCP, has published an online guide to steps victims can take to address NCP.

Consult With a Lawyer

Nonconsensual pornography is a serious crime. If you have been charged with the crime, have been the victim of it, or have any questions about NCP or any other sexual crime, contact a lawyer experienced in criminal defense law in your state.

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