SACRAMENTO — AB 341, Assemblymember Boerner Horvath’s bill to strengthen a sexual assault victim’s right to privacy by applying the same rules of evidence for social media as other forms of evidence, was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom.
Increasingly in sexual assault cases, decades of social media activity irrelevant to the details of the case is being mined and admitted into evidence, often with the result of embarrassing, shaming, or humiliating a victim to the point of discouraging their testimony. AB 341 simply requires that social media content go through the same process as other types of evidence covered under existing Rape Shield Laws.
“In a world shaped by the constantly evolving realities of online life, we need to make sure our judicial system is keeping up,” said Assemblymember Boerner Horvath. “We know that in many sexual assault cases, the defense is digging through the victim’s social media history, just like evidence regarding character, morality, and sexual history were used before our state’s Rape Shield Laws. It’s time for judges to screen social media evidence in the same way to ensure that victims feel safe to come forward, and I’m glad to see this bill signed into law by the Governor.”
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.
“In 2021, in light of expanding digital socialization, it’s become apparent that the original Rape Shield Law original protections are no longer sufficient,” said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, the sponsor of the bill. “This change to the law provides the updates necessary to continue to protect survivors of sexual assault in the face of these new sorts of tactics, bringing us closer to a world in which they can feel safe enough to testify against their perpetrator and seek justice. I’m pleased to see it signed and thank Assemblymember Boerner Horvath for her attention to this important issue.”
“Historically, victims of sexual assault endured even more trauma when dealing with the criminal justice system,” said Nina Salarno Besselman, President of Crime Victims United, a co-sponsor of the bill. “Current law protects sexual assault victims from being discredited due to their sexual history and provides for procedural protections before evidence can be brought into trial. As technology has expanded, so has the need to expand these protections, and AB 341 responds to that need. This new law will truly help victims of sexual assault have the courage to report and testify to protect our communities, and on behalf of crime victims, we thank Assemblymember Boerner Horvath for sponsoring this bill.”
“Sexual assault survivors need the admissibility screening procedures included in AB 341 as a course of action to ensure that they can testify openly against their perpetrator without shame or embarrassment,” said Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, a supporter of the bill. “This update to our Rape Shield Laws will help our system respond to the growth of social media and protect the victim’s dignity, and for that reason, PORAC is pleased to see it signed.”
AB 341 is supported by District Attorneys throughout the state and a variety of victims’ advocacy organizations. It will become law on January 1st, 2022.