US & Canada

Florida college fraternity sued over 'revenge porn'

Kathryn Novak smiles in headshot provided by her lawyer Image copyright Michael Avanetti
Image caption Kathryn Novak has filed a case against several members of the University of Central Florida's Delta Sigma Phi

An Arizona woman is suing her ex-boyfriend and members of a university fraternity in Florida for sharing sexual content without her consent.

Kathryn Novak's lawsuit alleges sexual exploitation by Delta Sigma Phi members at the University of Central Florida.

The filing says images and videos of her and "many" other women were posted in a secret Facebook group they ran.

The national Delta Sigma Phi Facebook page said it had suspended its Orlando chapter immediately.

It called the allegations "disturbing and antithetical to our organization's values and mission".

The lawsuit, filed in Orlando, alleges that Ms Novak's ex-boyfriend, Brandon Simpson, shared intimate images and videos of her with other fraternity members without her permission, during their long-distance relationship from October 2017 to February 2018.

Speaking to the New York Times newspaper on Thursday, Mr Avenatti alleged that at least one sexual video had been recorded without his client's knowledge.

The court filing alleges that Mr Simpson and other members of the fraternity used a secret Facebook page called "Dog Pound" to circulate nude images and videos "of their girlfriends and other unwitting victims, including images depicting the young women engaged in private sexual activity".

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ms Novak's lawyer (right) has gained notoriety in recent months for his fiery public defence of the adult film actress Stormy Daniels

In one alleged instance, a video where Ms Novak's face was identifiable was allegedly sent to five fraternity brothers and then viewed by as many as 200 people, the lawsuit alleges.

The filing names Mr Simpson, the Delta Sigma Phi University of Central Florida chapter, and four other members of the group as defendants.

US fraternities have been mired in controversy in recent years after being implicated in numerous campus sexual assaults, and deaths during harsh initiation ceremonies - so-called hazing - across the country.

A spokesman for the University of Central Florida said they were looking into the claims after the court filing, and said that the allegations were "contrary to our core values".

The lawsuit says Ms Novak seeks compensatory, statutory and punitive damages over the allegations.

Her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said the ordeal had been "devastating" to Ms Novak.

"The fact that you had a basically frat-boy atmosphere, both literally and figuratively, that was centred on the exploitation of women without their knowledge or consent is outrageous," he told the New York Times.

Mr Avenatti is also representing adult film actress Stormy Daniels in a legal battle with President Donald Trump.

More than half of US states have enacted some form of law to combat revenge porn.

In Florida, as well as potential misdemeanour or felony charges, the law on sexual cyber-harassment allows victims to file a civil action, and this is what Ms Novak has done, suing the individuals and the fraternity.

Posting or sharing of so-called revenge porn was made a criminal offence in England and Wales in 2014. The maximum punishment is two years in prison - and in Scotland, offenders face up to five years.

The law defines revenge porn as "the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress".

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