The 70-year-old woman had hung up her clothes and her backpack and was taking a shower in a gym locker room when another woman, four decades her junior and a former Playboy Playmate, took her picture. That was a crime, a misdemeanor, under the California penal code. What happened after that —– the online posting of the photo, with the caption, “If I can’t unsee this, then you can’t either” — wasn’t a crime then, but it soon could be.
The city of Los Angeles’ case against 30-year-old Dani Mathers was settled with Mathers sentenced to clean up graffiti, to pay restitution and to spend three years on probation. She’s appeared on television to apologize and talk about the shaming she’s getting on social media.
But what about the victim? She was contacted by Los Angeles police after the gym realized who she was, but City Atty. Mike Feuer has pledged that her identity will remain a secret. He has talked with her at length, and here’s what he can say about her.
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You have spoken with the victim in this case. Tell me about her.
I spoke to her myself a day or two after the conclusion of the Mathers case. I wanted to get a sense from her directly what she was feeling at that moment, and it was a very poignant conversation. She has been humiliated. She’s relieved that she didn’t have to endure a trial and testify, but she was willing to do so. She wishes the whole chapter, this painful chapter, would close — the impact of the photograph being taken and disseminated and what that’s meant to her as well as what it’s meant to hear that Ms. Mathers be held accountable for what she did
What has the impact been on this lady?
She used the word, that it had been “humiliating.” There’s nothing that exemplifies that more than this: When the outcome of this case was being reached, the topic of restitution came up, and she sought restitution of, like, $60. And people wanted to know afterwards, why? And the answer is, she had to buy a new backpack. Because the photograph depicted her in the shower, her backpack was hanging there, and it was a way people could identify her. She had to replace that with another backpack.
Why does that matter? Because the impact of this incident is irreparable. And it causes harm that will reverberate on and on. Body shaming is inhumane. And it tears down the victim’s self-respect. It has devastating consequences. It stigmatizes victims. I think there’s no question that in this case, the invasion of her privacy, compounded by the dissemination of the photo that was taken, has had what will be I hope a dissipating impact over time but certainly a severe impact now.
This is an individual who had the courage to come forward and was prepared to testify to endure a trial. She cooperated throughout the preparation of this case. But you might imagine, she wanted nothing more than to try to turn the page in her life.
One thing that appears to be the case now is that Ms. Mathers is attempting to portray herself as the victim. She is not the victim. She is the perpetrator.
Ms. Mathers says that she didn’t intend to widely disseminate the photo. That ignores the fact that she invaded another woman’s privacy by taking a nude photo of her in a gym. And then, of course, once she took the photo, she added a cruel caption to it before she sent it out.
I saw Ms. Mathers on “Good Morning America.” She claims that she’s tried to contact the victim, I presume to apologize. I will share with you, that surprises the victim, who told me she is unaware of any attempt by Ms. Mathers to reach out to her.
I don’t think of Ms. Mathers as the victim. Here, she is the perpetrator.
— Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer
The focus of our attention needs to be on the fact that invading people’s privacy and body shaming is so deeply injurious to the most basic levels of self-respect that one should have. Think today about the trans kid who is struggling with their identity. Think about members of the LGBTQ community, about disabled people. We are hearing more and more in the media about how horrific body shaming can be for its victims, and I hope that this case deters people from engaging in that kind of behavior in the future, because it is so deeply harmful.
Ms. Mathers said that because of this, she now has to hide out at her mother’s house, and that felt really low. So here’s the same Internet that spread that original photograph around that now seems to be exacting or demanding punishment of the woman who took it.
I don’t think of Ms. Mathers as the victim. Here, she is the perpetrator. If there are consequences, there are consequences. The way a perpetrator feels is of lesser significance to me just now.
She said she’s gotten death threats, and those are criminal –
No one should have to endure that, let’s agree. Of course not. That’s way beyond the pale here, and we should all condemn that. But this case should be about protecting vulnerable people and assuring they have private spaces that are truly private, assuring that no one is going to humiliate them because of the way they look.
How was the sentence arrived at?
The term “community service” really misstates what’s going on here. This is community labor. This is not a glamorous star turn someplace. This is erasing graffiti on the street. And I think that, combined with restitution, combined with the probationary terms here, which are fairly extensive, taken together is an appropriate sentence.
When I first became aware of this case, it was striking to me that the taking of the photo was a crime but that the subsequent dissemination of it was not. That gap in the law is a gap we are trying to close right now.
I’ve sponsored a bill that’s being authored by [California state] Sen. [Cathleen] Galgiani (D-Stockton). It passed the state Senate. What that bill would do is penalize the distribution of a photo that invades a person’s privacy this way. The bill would in addition provide a monetary penalty. It would also provide restitution to enable the victim to obtain whatever assistance is necessary to remove the photo from the Internet, which as you might imagine in this day and age, with social media being so prevalent, is especially important.
In any of the discussions your office had with the victim, does she realize she has become the symbol of this kind of illegal invasion?
When we talked, I said to her that the courage that she has displayed here will have a meaningful impact on preventing anybody else from being victimized in the future, both because of the case itself and because this case is the catalyst for the legislation. She’s very modest, very humble about that, and disclaimed any credit that she might have for having what it takes to have seen this through.
Is it, do you think, a generational difference in what privacy means to one age group, and is that why the law seems to you to be necessary?
What it means to have private space has never been more important. I think the expectations that we have of where we can be private shouldn’t have to evolve. Certainly when one is in a shower in a gym, that has to be thought of a private space.
And all of us in our society are struggling with the emerging questions about whether we need to be rethinking where we can expect to have true privacy. That’s a shame. As oriented as I am to the importance of the public space and engaging each other to try to improve our common life, it’s got to be possible to retreat from that and have a space where no one else is allowed. I think the technology is challenging that every day.
In California, some criminal laws bear the names of the victim – Chelsea’s Law, Marsy’s Law. This is one that won’t.
In this case that will never happen because the anonymity of the victim here is extremely important, and something that I have pledged personally to her to maintain. We shouldn’t expect of her anything more than what she’s already given.
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