Tasha Boerner Horvath
Tasha Boerner Horvath during a legislative session at the Capitol. Courtesy of her office

Encinitas Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath’s bill to strengthen a sexual assault victim’s right to privacy on social media was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Increasingly in sexual assault cases, social media activity irrelevant to the the case is being admitted into evidence, often with the result of embarrassing, shaming, or humiliating victims to discourage their testimony.

Assembly Bill 341, which passed unanimously in both the Assembly and Senate, 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 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,” she said.

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 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.

“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,” said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, who sponsored the bill.

AB 341 is supported by district attorneys throughout the state and a variety of victims’ advocacy organizations. It will become law on Jan. 1.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.