Last week Lovefraud received the following e-mail from a reader:
I would like to expose the person who bilked me for thousands of dollars. I am going to file a claim in small claims court so there will be some public record, but I thought about having a web site that would be linked when someone Googled his name. Is this legal? If I tell only the truth about him, is that legal? I want to protect other women from this sociopath; I don’t know how. I thought if people were able to Google his name and know about his lies and deceit, they could have the knowledge I never did and could make better choices than me. Any and all information would be helpful.
Many people have asked the same question—can I expose the sociopath? Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Several different laws apply, and the laws have been interpreted differently by various courts. Here’s a brief overview of the situation regarding U.S. law.
Lawsuit for anything
First of all, there are two types of law in the United States: criminal law and civil law.
It is unlikely that you would be arrested, or end up in jail, for exposing the actions of a sociopath. Although in some states libel is on the books as a criminal offense, it is rarely prosecuted.
However, under civil law in the United States, anybody can sue for anything. Whether the person who files a lawsuit actually wins is another issue—it depends on whether it can be proven that an actual law was broken.
But here’s what you have to keep in mind: If you expose the sociopath, and the sociopath files a lawsuit against you, you will have to defend yourself whether the lawsuit has merit or not. There’s a good chance that you’ll have to retain an attorney, which is going to cost you money.
Some sociopaths love to file lawsuits. And, as we’ve discussed many times here on Lovefraud, they’re experts at manipulating the legal system. Therefore, you should ask yourself these questions:
- Is this sociopath prone to filing lawsuits?
- Does the sociopath have the resources to hire an attorney?
- Do you have the resources to defend yourself if the sociopath takes you to court?
Suppose you’ve considered these questions and you want to move ahead with exposing the sociopath. You’ll want to maximize the chances that you’ll win a lawsuit if the sociopath files one. For that, you’ll need a basic understanding of media law.
There are two basic types of law to consider when exposing a sociopath. They are:
- Defamation, which includes libel and slander
- Invasion of privacy
Libel is publication of false information that injures a living person’s reputation. (Libel refers to statements or pictures that are published. Slander refers to false statements that are spoken.)
Invasion of privacy is the publication of information, even if it is true, that is highly offensive to an ordinary person.
We’ll take a closer look at both of these types of claims. However, keep in mind that the information presented here is general. Every state in the U.S. has its own libel and invasion of privacy laws—it’s best to research what they are.
In order for a sociopath to proceed with a defamation case, the following must be present:
- Sociopath must be identified
- Statements made must be false
- Statements must be defamatory
- Statements must be published
In many libel cases, the plaintiff has to spend time proving that published statements are defamatory. Some statements, however, are considered defamatory per se, which means anyone would understand them to be defamatory. The plaintiff doesn’t have to prove the fact that they are defamatory.
Traditionally, defamation per se includes:
- Allegations that injure a person’s trade, profession or business
- Allegations of sexually transmitted disease or mental illness
- Allegations of “unchastity”
- Allegations of criminal activity
It’s highly likely that if you’re exposing a sociopath, you’ll make these types of allegations. Sociopathic behavior typically includes unsavory business practices, sexually transmitted diseases, promiscuity and criminal activity. So you can count on your statements being considered defamatory.
Therefore, you must make sure that your statements are true, and you can prove it. In most U.S. states, truth is an absolute defense in libel cases.
Opinions are often not considered to be defamatory. However, if an opinion includes a false statement of fact, it can be defamatory.
Some statements are “privileged.” This means that even if a statement is defamatory, the person who makes it is excused from liability. Statements made during judicial proceedings in open court have absolute privilege. Anything said in court by anybody—judges, attorneys, plaintiff, defendant, witnesses—can be reported without fear of defamation. This protection is also extended to any legal documents filed with the court.
Invasion of privacy
Publishing private and intimate facts about a person, or information that is highly offensive and is not of legitimate concern to the public, can be considered an invasion of privacy.
Information about the following are generally considered to be protected by the right of privacy:
- Private letters
- Sexual orientation or sexual relations
- A person’s health
- A person’s wealth
Public records, such as birth, marriage and military records, may be published.
Truth is not a defense in an invasion of privacy case. Again, sociopaths often engage in behavior that reasonable people would consider offensive. Even when statements about the behavior are true, you may not be protected from an invasion of privacy claim.
Invasion of privacy claims are sometimes made because of how information is gathered. If you use surveillance, a hidden camera or a hidden microphone, your actions might be considered intrusion.
You might be asking, “What about the First Amendment?” “What about my right of free speech?”
The First Amendment of the United States protects the freedom of the press and various rights of free speech from government censorship. The First Amendment does make it more difficult for libel cases to be pursued in the U.S. as opposed to other countries. And public figures often have to prove “actual malice” to win a libel case. However, it does not mean anyone can say anything they want about a private individual.
In the past, only journalists and newspapers had to worry about libel and invasion of privacy laws. But with the Internet, anyone can publish anything, and the law has not caught up with the technology. Therefore, there are no clear-cut guidelines about what you can do, and what you can’t.
At Lovefraud, I know that exposure works. Four women have contacted me from Australia. They met my ex-husband, James Montgomery, who is still fishing for victims online, but after Googling him and reading my story, ditched him.
The same has happened with other True Lovefraud Stories—I know that people have escaped involvements with Phil Haberman, Lance Larabee, Anthony Owens, Patti Milazzo, Michele Drake, Brian Ellington and Bill Strunk.
Because the legal and judicial system is so inadequate in dealing with sociopaths, in my opinion, exposure is the only thing that does work.
If you want to proceed
Therefore, if you’re thinking about exposing the sociopath who victimized you, first you must weigh the risks. Is the sociopath likely to sue? Are you in a position to defend yourself?
If you want to proceed, here are some points to keep in mind:
• Calling the person a “sociopath” may be problematic, unless you can prove an actual diagnosis. Implying a mental disorder is defamation per se. You may want to skip the term and just publish what the person did.
• Make sure you can prove that any statement you make about the sociopath is the truth. Stick to the facts.
• Don’t make any threats, even facetious threats. Avoid statements like, “Does anybody know a good hit man?”
• You may have more leeway if the sociopath is a public figure. In order to win a libel suit, the sociopath would have to prove “actual malice.” For example, if Joey Buttafuoco proceeds with his libel suit against Mary Jo, part of her defense may be to claim he is a public figure.
• If you are currently involved in a legal action with a sociopath, you should probably wait until it is over before publishing anything that might damage your case. The exception to this might be criminal cases in which the prosecutors aren’t taking any action. Sometimes media attention gets them to move, as in the Ed Hicks case.
• If you’ve been to court with the sociopath, you can use anything that was part of the court proceedings—any legal documents filed, anything said in court. Get the transcript, especially if the sociopath lied and you can prove it.
• Public records, such as criminal convictions, can be published.
• If you’re building a webpage to expose the sociopath, don’t make up a cute title like, “Five years of deception.” Use the person’s name in the url. That’s the best way for the page to show up when someone Googles the name.
• Finally, if you’re going to expose the sociopath, make sure you can do it safely. If the sociopath is violent and on the loose, put your own safety before trying to save others.