University of Utah athlete’s murder prompts Legislature to consider amendment to revenge porn laws

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Legislators moved to change Utah’s revenge porn laws prompted by the death of University of Utah athlete Lauren McCluskey (Steve C. Wilson | University of Utah via the Associated Press).

The Utah State Legislature is considering amendments to revenge porn laws following the discovery of police misconduct related to the death of University of Utah athlete Lauren McCluskey.

McCluskey was killed in October 2018 by her ex-boyfriend Shawn Rowland after she found out he was lying about his criminal record and his age. Prior to her death, explicit photos of McCluskey were held as blackmail, with Rowland demanding money in order to prevent them from being shared. Days later, Rowland killed McCluskey on campus.

University police officer Michael Deras, who was assigned to the case, was found to be sharing McCluskey’s explicit images with coworkers that were not assigned to the case both before and after her death. Deras is no longer an employee at the University of Utah’s police department, but he was never charged with a crime due to the fact that the victim of the revenge porn was already deceased.

Rep. Craig Hall of House District 33 introduced HB147, which provides updates to existing revenge porn laws prompted by the McCluskey case.

“When one looks at the specific elements of the revenge porn law, it’s actually necessary for the victim to experience ‘actual emotional distress,'” Hall said. “Since Miss McCluskey passed away before the distribution of the image and could not experience actual emotional distress, we could not press charges.”

The amendment would strike “actual emotional distress” from the law altogether in order to make prosecution of revenge porn easier for victims who may already be deceased. Hall said he felt that death should not bar prosecution from these crimes.

Hall also said the law doesn’t line up with current sexual assault laws regarding victims of sexual assault. Victims of assault are not required to testify on the stand of their emotional distress, which prompted Hall to change revenge porn laws to meet the same standard.

Lauren’s mother Jill McCluskey expressed her gratitude to the legislators who are passing bills inspired by her daughter’s case in a tweet. “Thanks to the Utah Legislators who are working to make campuses safer & police more accountable. #ForLauren.”

McCluskey’s family has started the Lauren McCluskey Foundation in her honor to help bring awareness to abuse. The site can be found here.

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