Susanna Gibson, a Democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates, slammed a Monday report in The Washington Post about consensual sex acts she once performed with her husband via livestreamed video and suggested she may pursue legal action.
Gibson said in a statement to The New York Times that the publicity amounted to “an illegal invasion of my privacy designed to humiliate me and my family” and an example of “the worst gutter politics.”
A nurse practitioner and public health advocate, Gibson is running to represent the state’s 57th District, an area northwest of Richmond. Her race is one of just a handful of toss-ups, the results of which will help determine which party controls the Virginia House of Delegates, currently led by Republicans. Her campaign website outlines policy stances in favor of reproductive rights, gun control, public school education and several other issues.
The Washington Post reported that it had received a tip about the consensual videos from a “Republican operative” whose identity the paper agreed to protect. The operative said he was not working on behalf of Gibson’s Republican opponent in the race, David Owen.
The Post’s story has been criticized for what detractors say is a lack of relevance to the race at hand.
While the original videos, hosted on the website Chaturbate, have been taken down, the Post reported that they had been “archived” on a different website, Recurbate.
An attorney for Gibson, Daniel P. Watkins, suggested the publicity amounted to a violation of Virginia law that makes it illegal to record someone nude or in a state of undress and distribute the recording to third parties without their knowledge — a practice also known as “revenge porn.” Like several other states, Virginia passed a law against revenge porn around a decade ago.
“It’s illegal and it’s disgusting to disseminate this kind of material, and we’re working closely with the FBI and local prosecutors to bring the wrongdoers to justice,” Watkins said in a statement.
It is not clear whether Gibson would pursue a lawsuit against The Washington Post, the unnamed Republican operative or some other party. HuffPost reached out to Watkins and Gibson for comment but did not receive a response.
Gibson’s “dismay is understandable, but neither the operative nor the Washington Post has violated Virginia’s revenge-porn laws, in my view,” Lee E. Berlik, a Virginia attorney who represents clients suing for defamation, told HuffPost by email on Tuesday.
Berlik said the Virginia law generally prohibits two forms of conduct: creating pornographic images of a nonconsenting person, and selling or distributing those images without consent and with an intent to harass or intimidate the subject. But he thought those circumstances did not apply to Gibson.
“Even if Gibson is correct that someone tipped The Washington Post with the express purpose of embarrassing her, his conduct wouldn’t violate the statute because he or she was merely sharing truthful information, not selling or distributing the images,” Berlik said.
Gibson has given no indication she plans to drop out of the race.
“It won’t intimidate me and it won’t silence me,” Gibson said in a statement to the Post and The Associated Press, which also reported on the videos. “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 is not clear when the videos were originally streamed. The Post could only report that two of the videos had been reposted to Recurbate on Sept. 30, 2022; Gibson entered the race that month.
The Post framed the story around Gibson’s candidacy and her solicitation of monetary “tips” in the videos, telling readers:
Gibson takes the lead in addressing viewers on videos viewed by The Post, but in one case her husband, an attorney, chimes in with, “C’mon, guys,” to echo her entreaties for tips.
The paper suggested asking for tips was against Chaturbate’s terms and conditions. Gibson reportedly told her viewers at one point that she was “raising money for a good cause.”