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Missouri statutes clearly outlaw non-consensual photos; 'blackmail' issue is less clear

Kevin McDermott and Sky Chadde, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in News & Features

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has admitted having an extramarital affair, but he vehemently denies the explosive related allegation: that he snapped a photo of his partly undressed mistress, without her consent, during a sexual encounter and then threatened to publicize the image if she exposed their affair.

"No violence. No picture taken. No threat of blackmail," Greitens' attorney, James Bennett, reiterated in a written statement to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch Thursday.

The specific denial of a "picture taken" is important, because even that -- just the snapping of a nonconsensual photo -- could be a crime in Missouri. And it's possible the state's law on the subject could become tougher this year. "Both federal and Missouri law protect people's reasonable expectations of privacy that they won't be photographed in a state of nudity or partial nudity without their explicit consent," Sandy Davidson, law professor with the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia, noted in emailed statements to the Post-Dispatch.

Greitens' mistress told her then-husband in 2015 that Greitens bound, blindfolded and partly undressed her in a consensual sexual encounter -- but then snapped a photo without her consent. She said she only knew it had happened from seeing the flash through the blindfold.

"You're never going to mention my name, otherwise this picture will be everywhere," Greitens then told her, she claimed in that conversation -- which her husband was surreptitiously recording.

Missouri is a "one-party consent" state, meaning the then-husband didn't break any laws by secretly recording the conversation.


The alleged taking of the photo is another matter.

Under Missouri law, the crime of "invasion of privacy" includes creating "an image of another person" by any means, "without the person's consent, while the person is in a state of full or partial nudity and is in a place where one would have a reasonable expectation of privacy."

That offense alone -- taking a compromising photo without a person's consent, even without disseminating it or threatening to -- is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison.

That law was updated last year, but it stems from a scandal in the mid-1990s, when the owner of a tanning salon in Buffalo, Mo., was accused of secretly videotaping teenage girls who tanned nude at his business.


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