SACRAMENTO — Today, AB 341, Assemblymember Boerner Horvath’s bill to strengthen a sexual assault victim’s right to privacy by requiring social media content to go through the same process as other evidence in these types of trials, passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee on a unanimous, bipartisan vote.
Increasingly in sexual assault cases, decades of social media activity is being mined and admitted into evidence that is irrelevant to the case at hand, but has the result of embarrassing, shaming, or humiliating a victim, sometimes to the point of discouraging their testimony. AB 341 simply requires that social media content go through the same submission of evidence procedures as other types of evidence covered under existing Rape Shield Laws.
“We already have laws on the books to help ensure victims seeking justice for their attackers won’t have their entire lives subjected to public scrutiny, and those protections should be extended to their social media activity as well” said Assemblymember Boerner Horvath. “Character assassination and the rehashing of a victim’s sexual history are largely ruled irrelevant in assault cases, but Rape Shield Laws need to be updated to account for the realities of our online lives so that sexual assault victims can seek justice and keep their dignity intact.”
Since its passage in 1974, the California Rape Shield Law has been repeatedly amended to account for evolving technology and other factors impacting the types of material and information being submitted in sexual assault cases that require the defense to prove relevancy before being admitted as evidence. AB 341 still allows the defense to admit social media material – it simply expands the Rape Shield Law to require that the defense must file the same sort of written motion for a court ruling on relevancy if the content does not contain a statement, image, video, or picture of the alleged offense.
"AB 341 will bring us closer to a world where survivors of rape will feel safe enough to report a sexual assault and be willing to testify against their perpetrator,” said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, the sponsor of the bill. “Requiring that a judicial officer review and rule the social media evidence is relevant and admissible before it is used by the defense to attack the witness’s credibility is one small but incredibly important step in the long struggle to protect the dignity of all rape survivors."
The bill next moves to a vote by the full Assembly before heading to the State Senate for their review.