Minnesota state senator says he’s a victim of ‘revenge porn’

Senator Scott Dibble and his husband Richard Leyva
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, (right) and his husband Richard Leyva on Friday. Dibble revealed on Friday that graphic images and messages involving him were shared with colleagues by a person with whom he says he had a consensual relationship.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

Updated: 5:35 p.m.

Minnesota state Sen. Scott Dibble disclosed Friday that graphic images of him were sent to his colleagues by a person with whom he had an intimate, virtual relationship, an act he considers to be revenge porn.

Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said for months he has been the victim of “coercion and harassment from a former friend.”

“The fact of the matter is this person was threatening to do this to me for a long, long time. I’ve been coerced and threatened and harassed by him since we had that brief relationship, and I have been attempting to end it for a number of months,” Dibble said in an interview with MPR News.

“Quite honestly, he committed a crime. This is revenge porn. This is sharing of explicit images that were understood to be private,” he added. “He sent them out to quite a few individuals with the explicit intent to harm me, to embarrass me and harm my life.”

Dibble, who is married, said the relationship he characterized as brief had been consensual and didn’t involve a subordinate of any kind. In an email, Dibble informed fellow senators of the situation after the man distributed photos, videos and text messages to some of his colleagues in both political parties.

He told his colleagues that he made “an error in trust and judgment” for having the relationship and said he was embarrassed by all that has transpired. He met the man once in person but said the relationship was never physical.

He asked fellow lawmakers and others to approach the incident with sensitivity now that it has become public.

“I understand there will be questions about this very personal matter, but I would like to deal with this as privately as possible,” Dibble said. He doesn’t plan to resign or let the episode factor into future election plans.

MPR News did not receive nor review the images, but someone who had seen them said they included nude pictures. Copies of text messages using an encrypted phone app were described as sexually explicit.

Dibble didn’t name the person who distributed the images, but a person with knowledge of the incident shared an email address with MPR News.

The person who responded to MPR’s emails said he lived in Singapore and that it was Dibble who “lured” him into sending pictures. He said he never tried to blackmail Dibble.

He did not answer a question about why he sent the materials to other members of the Senate, and MPR News was unable to confirm his identity.

Minnesota has a revenge porn law that could apply, but Dibble said he had no immediate plan to report the situation to the authorities because the man lives in another country.

In 2016, Minnesota lawmakers passed a bill making it illegal for someone to knowingly disseminate, sell or publish an intimate sexual image of someone without their permission. Under the revenge porn law, a first offense is a misdemeanor, punishable by $1,000 in fines and up to one year in prison. A second offense could rise to a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

The law also establishes legal recourse for victims and allows the court to keep filings confidential to protect a victim’s privacy.

Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Katie Hill of California resigned after salacious images of her circulated. She admitted to a relationship with a former campaign staff member but denied allegations she also had an affair with a congressional aide. An ethics investigation of her was pending.

Hill delivered a farewell speech Thursday in which she railed against those who exploited her online.

“I am leaving because I didn't want to be peddled by papers and blogs and websites, used by shameless operatives for the dirtiest gutter politics that I've ever seen, and the right-wing media to drive clicks and expand their audience by distributing intimate photos of me taken without my knowledge, let alone my consent, for the sexual entertainment of millions.

Dibble, 54, is one of the Legislature’s most-recognizable members. He was first elected to the House in 2000 and spent the last 17 years in the Senate, where he used to chair a transportation committee.

His husband of 11 years, Richard Leyva, sat beside Dibble during an interview, holding his hand at times. Leyva pledged his full support for Dibble.

“Our marriage is strong, and no act of coercion will ever break this marriage apart,” Leyva said.

Dibble is best known as the author of the 2013 law that made gay marriage legal in Minnesota.

Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said he didn’t receive the photos but called Dibble after he received his email addressing the issue. Hayden, assistant DFL minority leader, said to his knowledge no laws or Senate rules were broken, and he’s standing by his colleague.

“Scott has been phenomenal colleague and he has done good for the state,” Hayden said. “I hope this doesn’t tarnish his legacy and his work.”

MPR News reporter Briana Bierschbach contributed to this story.

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