Maryland Mayor Is Charged in ‘Revenge Porn’ Case

The mayor of a city on the east coast of Maryland was arrested Monday and charged with posting nude photos of a former romantic partner to online forums using sexually explicit language and racial epithets.

Andrew Bradshaw, mayor of Cambridge, Maryland, has been charged with 50 counts of violating a state law banning so-called revenge porn, or the non-consensual sharing of sexually explicit photos or videos.

The state attorney general’s office said Bradshaw, 32, posted photos of his ex-partner without her consent in April and May on Reddit, where users share and comment on links to topic-specific forums.

The charges against Mr Bradshaw are the latest in a string of high-profile revenge porn cases in recent years, and groups supporting sexual violence survivors say there has been an increase in reports of revenge porn and other forms of online sexual harassment during the coronavirus pandemic.

Aaron Coleman was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives last year after admitting to molesting girls online when he was in middle school. This month, Coleman, a Democrat, was arrested and charged with domestic battery.

Katie Hill, a former Democratic congresswoman from California, resigned in October 2019 after posting nude photos of her that she said were taken without her consent.

And in 2017, the Department of Defense opened an investigation into a male-only, invite-only Facebook group called Marines United, in which members shared thousands of nude and other private photos of Marine Corps women without their knowledge or consent.

Maryland Attorney General Charlton T. Howard III said in an indictment that Mr. Bradshaw posted nude photos of his ex-partner to numerous Reddit groups, or subreddits, and wrote derogatory, sexually explicit comments that included racial adjectives.

Mr. Howard said the photos were posted by accounts with generic usernames made up of combinations of the victim’s name and date of birth. She is not named on the shipping document and is instead identified as Victim 1.

She told authorities about the posts in May, according to the indictment, and said the only person she had shared the photos with was Mr. Bradshaw. Prosecutors said they linked the posts to the IP address of his home.

Mr Bradshaw defeated the incumbent for three terms in a run-off election in December and was sworn in as mayor of Cambridge, which has a population of about 13,000, in January.

Michael Belsky, Mr. Bradshaw’s attorney, said: “The allegations against Mayor Bradshaw involve private matters which are unfortunately circulated in a public forum. Nothing regarding these allegations in any way influences Mayor Bradshaw’s desire and intentions to continue to lead all Cambridge citizens.”

According to court documents, Mr. Bradshaw was arrested and released on his personal undertaking on Monday. He faces a maximum sentence of 100 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted on all charges.

Reddit prevents users from posting nude photos without the topic’s permission. A representative said the company is investigating the incident and will remove any related content that violates its policies.

The city of Cambridge said in a statement that its business would not be affected by the case because its chief administrative officer is the city manager, not the mayor.

Lizzie Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the case against Bradshaw was a “living example” of the type of harassment that survivors describe as reports of revenge porn and online harassment that has escalated during the pandemic.

“We are seeing more and more people facing revenge porn, sexual exploitation with sexual harassment online,” Ms Jordan said.

The landscape of revenge porn cases has changed dramatically over the past decade. In 2013, three countries criminalized non-consensual pornography. Today, 48 states have done so, said Mary Ann Franks, president and director of legislative and technology policy for the Civil Rights Initiative Online. Maryland’s revenge porn law went into effect in 2014.

Dr. Franks said Maryland law, like others in the US, was too restrictive because, to convict someone, prosecutors must prove that the person who shared the photos intended to cause serious emotional distress.

Dr Franks said this standard could protect people who say they posted photos for profit, to improve their standing in their community, or because they don’t think the person in the photo would care. She said prosecutors may have an easier time proving malicious intent in Mr Bradshaw’s case, due to the breadth and harshness of the publications that prosecutors have accused him of doing.

“What is worrying about these types of crimes is that they cannot be undone in any way,” Dr. Franks said. “You can’t compensate the victim then. You can’t really give her back what she lost.”

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