FLORIDA JURY DELIVERS RECORD SETTING $600,000.00 VERDICT IN REVENGE PORN CASE

On October 6, 2014, a Florida jury, made up of five men and one woman, delivered a record-setting, $600,000.00 verdict against the defendant in a “revenge porn” case in Hillsborough County, Florida.[1] The Plaintiff, Melissa Berry, was represented by attorneys Jeffrey G. Brown and Michael Walker.

The case began in 2008 when Melissa Berry met and began dating the defendant, Mark C. Dawson. At the time, Melissa was a local personal trainer, a member of the Tampa Bay Breeze women’s NFL football team, and an aspiring model. The defendant was a self-proclaimed “safe dating expert” who ran websites aimed at protecting women who are in the dating scene.

Soon after their relationship ended, Melissa received a phone call from a friend who told her that someone was at a bar showing people intimate and explicit images of her which were saved on a cell phone. The individual showing the pictures at the bar, Mark C. Dawson, was the man she once trusted. When Melissa confronted Dawson about the pictures on his phone, she took his phone and destroyed it, in hopes of also destroying the pictures he had saved on the phone. In response, Dawson told Melissa, “you are messing with the wrong person.”

For Melissa, she thought the nightmare was over, but little did she know it had just begun. At that time, MySpace, the precursor to Facebook, was the social media choice. Dawson began to demand $500.00 for his phone that was destroyed, and his demand also included an extortion that, unless Melissa paid him $500.00, embarrassing photos of her would be posted on the internet. When Melissa refused to pay, she was notified by a friend that there were numerous intimate and explicit pictures, some showing her face, which Dawson had uploaded to her personal MySpace page. Next, Dawson sent the intimate and explicit photos of Melissa to the MySpace page for the Tampa Bay Breeze. Lastly, Dawson sent the intimate and explicit photos to Melissa’s mother.

On December 24, 2008 a civil lawsuit was filed by attorneys Jeffrey G. Brown and Michael Walker on behalf of Melissa Berry. The lawsuit sought compensatory and punitive damages against Dawson.

Melissa is not alone. In today’s society, social media drives the lives of many people. With the far reaching effects of social media, many women are finding themselves the victims of “revenge porn.” The National Conference of State Legislatures (“NCSL”) defines “revenge porn” as “the posting of nude or sexually explicit photographs or videos of people online without their consent, even if the photograph itself was taken with consent.”[2]

The NCSL reports that in 2014, 28 states either introduced, or had pending, legislation to criminalize and combat “revenge porn.” In Florida however, legislative efforts to criminalize such conduct have failed.[3] Failed legislation to protect the victims of “revenge porn” often times leave the victims with little recourse from the legal system, until now.

In Melissa’s case, as many, a civil jury delivered a strong and clear message with a $600,000.00 verdict against Dawson.

For Melissa Berry, the verdict wasn’t about the money. Her message was clear: “There are predators out there that will lead you to believe they are somebody that they’re not. I hope that I can help other women just be aware of themselves and if they are in a vulnerable spot to not allow this kind of behavior to happen,” said Berry.

 

[1] Melissa J. Berry v. Mark C. Dawson, Case No: 08-CA-030233 (13th Judicial Cir. Of Florida, October 6, 2014)

[2] http://www.ncsl.org/research/telecommunications-and-information-technology/state-revenge-porn-legislation.aspx

[3] HB 475; http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2014/0475

SB 532; http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2014/0532

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