When Rob Kardashian posted explicit photos of his ex Blac Chyna online, it was more than just the sort of embarrassing social media tirade he’s earned a reputation for — it was the kind of legal misstep that experts say could do him in for years to come if he doesn’t walk a very thin, straight line in the coming weeks.
Kardashian, 30, ignited a firestorm of backlash and criticism last week when he posted the graphic photos, including one of Chyna’s exposed genital area, first on Instagram, and later on Twitter.
"I never been so disrespected in my life. I just bought her 250K of jewelry yesterday," he wrote. "This woman is so disrespectful and I don’t care."
Two days later, as Chyna prepared to secure a restraining order against Kardashian, she told ABC News in a taped interview that she was “devastated” by the social media posts.
Hours later, the 29-year-old was outside a Los Angeles courtroom flanked by celebrity attorney Lisa Bloom, who told reporters on live television that Kardashian’s actions not only violated California’s revenge porn law but were an affront to women’s rights.
Defense attorney Robert Shapiro told reporters his client was sorry for his actions and that he looked forward to making amends and moving forward.
In just two days, legal and public relations experts told BuzzFeed News that Chyna went from what many viewed as a fame-hungry celeb to a victimized mother at the center of the latest women’s rights battle, a temporary restraining order freshly in hand.
Chyna also had a strong case that Kardashian did indeed violate the state’s revenge porn law, leaving open the possibility of criminal charges should she file a report with police — a fact not lost on the defense team.
“Mr. Shapiro is a very experienced, knowledgeable attorney, and I’m sure he is well aware that there are potential criminal ramifications,” Lisa Houlé, a defense attorney who worked for 15 years as a Los Angeles County prosecutor, told BuzzFeed News.
And that, experts said, could become a powerful card to play during behind-the-scenes negotiations that are no doubt unfurling ahead of the next court date in August.
Just on Tuesday, Bloom publicly shamed Kardashian for leaving up some of his incendiary tweets from the tirade, despite his attorney publicly apologizing.
Hours later, they were gone.
Bottom line: Kardashian has painted himself into a very sobering corner.
BuzzFeed News spoke to legal and public relations experts about the precarious path Kardashian is now likely walking as he tries to navigate out of the hole he dug for himself on social media.
In 2013, California made it illegal to post explicit photos of someone without their permission as a form of revenge, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. And since Chyna has made it clear the explicit images Kardashian posted caused her distress, she likely has a strong criminal case — should she file a report with authorities.
In a court declaration, Chyna also alleged that Kardashian physically abused her in April, making it difficult to walk.
For her part, Bloom told BuzzFeed News the temporary restraining order — in which a judge ordered Kardashian to stay at least 100 yards away from Chyna and not post any pictures of her, their daughter, Dream, or Chyna's other son, Cairo — is sufficient, “so long as Rob abides by each and every term of the orders.”
“If he does not, all options are on the table,” Bloom added.
And that table can be a long one, with the statute of limitations giving Chyna a year from the posting of the photos to file a report.
“She could decide in a week or she could decide in six months to make a police report,” Houlé said.
Shapiro did not immediately return BuzzFeed News’ request for comment. However, experts said Kardashian’s most immediate concern is the restraining order and the effect it could have in determining custody rights of Dream, the 8-month-old daughter he has with Chyna.
For now, an army of nannies are ferrying Dream back and forth between the two parents while both sides discuss a more formal arrangement.
And in the meantime, Christopher Melcher, a family law expert who helped represent the interests of Katie Holmes in her divorce from Tom Cruise, said it’s crucial that Kardashian demonstrate that his vengeful behavior will never happen again. If he doesn’t, he runs the risk of having a permanent domestic violence restraining order issued against him by the mother of his child, which could jeopardize his custodial rights, Melcher said.
Keeping up the brand
The Kardashians have built a multimedia empire off their name, so a controversy like the one currently facing the only brother in the clan may have a widening impact the longer it drags out.
Rob, who appeared sporadically on Keeping Up With the Kardashians, had his own reality show with Chyna (which is now on hiatus) and launched a line of socks in 2012. Since the controversy erupted, his family has been virtually silent on the matter, with Kim Kardashian reportedly sending ABC News a copy of the nondisclosure agreement Chyna signed agreeing not to talk about the family.
Tony Freinberg, a crisis and strategic communications expert and senior executive at G.F.Bunting + Company, told BuzzFeed News that Rob Kardashian will have to repair his image without relying on conventional celebrity methods to be most effective.
"No amount of fake photo ops suggesting that you are good person or a good parent will make the slightest bit of difference if there are court files with detailed allegations against you showing that you are someone who hits women and isn’t safe to be around,” he said. “What he needs to do is to keep a low profile and work with his legal and PR team to help resolve the legal case, and only then can they begin to formulate a turnaround narrative for him.
“Nothing will have more of an effect on his life going forward for his potential to earn, and just his reputation in general, than having allegations hanging over him suggesting that he is a domestic abuser.”
Bloom, he noted, has already successfully changed the perception of her client by positioning her as a mother, a victim, and an advocate for women’s rights.
“All of those help her some way to reposition herself in a slightly more universally appealing way,” Freinberg said, though he added that neither of them are in an ideal position.
Still, he would recommend against Kardashian doing a morning news show appearance or other more traditional methods to try to influence public opinion.
“In this case, that kind of maneuver isn’t going to be enough, because there are some pretty serious legal charges out there against Rob Kardashian and he is going to really need to focus on substance rather than stunts,” Freinberg said.
The negotiating table
Against the backdrop of a looming Aug. 8 court date, experts said Kardashian’s best course of action is through settlement talks to express remorse and demonstrate a willingness to change his behavior to get the restraining order dropped.
Proactively enrolling in an anger management class, as Bloom has already said publicly she will push for, and accepting responsibility for his actions would go a long way, they said.
“I would be stunned if the teams are not going to enter into some kind of negotiation to resolve all of this,” Freinberg said. “It is ultimately in everyone’s best interest that they do.”