Republicans in Virginia have openly acknowledged mailing a series of explicit flyers, labelled with the phrase “Do not open if you are under 18,” to voters in House District 57—a pivotal area in the battle for control of the House. The fliers’ contents are of intimate images of Democrat candidate Susanna Gibson, who is currently running for Delegate in the district, against Republican David Owen.
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Gibson, a nurse practitioner and political newcomer, has already had to combat these revelations once after a Republican operative informed The Washington Post about the videos—all of which were published on Chaturbate, a live-streaming platform for adult content. In a statement, responding to the exposure of the videos, Gibson condemned the act as “gutter politics” and said: “My political opponents and their Republican allies have proven they’re willing to commit a sex crime to attack me and my family because there’s no line they won’t cross to silence women when they speak up.” It was reported that videos of all these encounters were archived last year, although the precise timing of their recording remains uncertain.
As previously mentioned, the mailed fliers were enclosed in envelopes prominently displaying red disclaimers stating “Do not open if you are under the age of 18” and “Warning: Explicit Material Included. 18+ Only.”
The fliers included censored screenshots from Gibson’s explicit livestreams, along with redacted quotes attributed to her during these broadcasts. A sample quote from the fliers read: “I’ll let you f*ck me in the ass doggy style in a private room if someone wants to pay. That’s the deal.” While Motherboard did not view the flyers, local reports suggested the screenshots were redacted, and there were no full nude images of Gibson.
When the videos first emerged, Gibson responded to the Associated Press, calling their release “an illegal invasion of my privacy designed to humiliate me and my family.” The politician’s attorney, Daniel P. Watkins, argued that sharing the videos violated Virginia’s revenge porn law, which deems it a Class 1 misdemeanour to disseminate video graphics or still images of another person who is partially or totally nude with malicious intent.
Some Virginians raised concerns on social media, suggesting that the flyers constituted revenge porn. In response to these allegations, Virginia Senator L. Louise Lucas tweeted her outrage at the act, noting: “Glenn Youngkin wants to ban pornhub but had his party campaign committee mail out nude photos of a candidate. He’s a man of privilege who doesn’t understand consent and that should petrify every voter in Virginia. Revenge porn is a crime and that includes politics.”
Revenge porn experts have weighed in on the situation, noting that while the tactic is distasteful, it might not necessarily qualify as revenge porn under Virginia’s legal framework. Lee Berlik, an attorney who specialises in defamation and cyber-harassment in Virginia, wrote in an email to Motherboard that the revenge porn statute primarily pertains to malicious dissemination of explicit imagery, which was not present in the flyers. The lawyer also noted that the Republican Party appeared cautious to avoid including any sexually explicit material in the distributed materials.
Rebecca Wade, a partner at Old Town Lawyers in Virginia with experience in defending clients charged with revenge porn, concurred that the images’ censorship could exempt them from falling under the revenge porn statute. According to Wade, the law only applies to images that depict a person who is “totally nude” or exposes specific body parts, and this may not align with the content in the flyers.
Gibson’s campaign responded to these allegations, accusing Owen, her Republican opponent, and the Virginia GOP of attempting to distract voters from their political agenda. The campaign argued that these attacks were desperate and aimed to divert attention from their own platform.
The Virginia Republican Party did not immediately respond to requests for comment about their considerations before mailing these flyers to voters with children.