Should Revenge Porn Be a Crime?

Cell phone over the notebookNo one goes through life without making at least one stupid mistake. For people (especially women) who trusted their former partners with revealing or nude photos, though, the effects can last a lifetime. So-called revenge porn sites specialize in giving bitter men an outlet for their rage. The sites actively solicit photos of ex-girlfriends and wives, then allow users to comment on the images.

Many sites also give out the woman’s contact information, employment history, and other personally identifiable information. Several states are moving to criminalize such behavior—a welcome decision for those who have experienced the effects and previously had no recourse.

Understanding Revenge Porn

For generations we’ve all known that our photos could end up in the wrong hands. With the advent of revenge porn sites, though, a simple click of a button makes it possible for disgruntled exes and even people you’ve never met to distribute your photos to millions of people. While many of the images are photos women willingly sent to former lovers, a significant portion of the images are fakes—a real woman’s head photoshopped onto someone else’s nude body.

The sites actively solicit comments from users, and encourage those who post images to give as much information about the subject of the photo as possible. This makes women whose images are posted on revenge porn sites vulnerable to cyberbullying, stalking, and even physical violence. Charlotte Laws, a journalist who investigated a revenge porn site, reported that she got hang-up calls, dozens of death threats, and that a mysterious van parked outside of her house late one evening.

People who have been the subjects of revenge porn report that the experience feels like sexual abuse because they have to watch hundreds—and sometimes even thousands—of people (mostly men) comment online about their bodies and sexuality. The images are publicly available to employers, parents, professors, and anyone else who happens to view revenge porn.

And once the images are live, they’re nearly impossible to remove. Even if one is successful in getting a site to remove one image, users may make copies and post the image on hundreds of other sites. Some people have committed suicide as a reaction to this public display of a life they once had.

Revenge Porn’s Legal Status

Revenge porn currently occupies a legal gray area. Posting false, malicious statements online is a type of defamation for which victims can sue. Similarly, some have attempted to use copyright laws to get the images taken down. But finding the person who posted the statements or the owner of the website is no small undertaking. Laws, for example, spent months trying to locate the owner of a single revenge porn site.

When revenge porn spirals out of control, perpetrators may stalk or harass victims, enabling victims to seek criminal prosecution. For most people affected by revenge porn, though, waiting until cyberbullying becomes real-life stalking is a dangerous and psychologically damaging prospect.

Several states are now attempting to criminalize revenge porn sites. Legislation has already passed in Idaho, Virginia, and Washington. A proposed bill in Colorado would make it a misdemeanor to knowingly post images that could lead to “serious emotional distress.” Offenders would be subject to a $10,000 fine and be forced to remove the images.

Of course, not all revenge porn is posted by someone the victim knows. The new legislation doesn’t solve the problem of locating the person who posted the images or finding a website’s owner, but it does offer some hope to victims. Until legislation passes in all 50 states, though, many people will be left with few options.

References:

  1. Burleigh, N. (2013, September 17). Sexting, shame and suicide. Retrieved from http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/sexting-shame-and-suicide-20130917
  2. Franks, M. A., & Citron, D. (2014, April 17). It’s simple: Criminalize revenge porn, or let men punish women they don’t like. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/17/revenge-porn-must-be-criminalized-laws
  3. Najdowski, C. J., Ph.D., & Hildegrand, M. H. (2014, January). The criminalization of ‘revenge porn’ Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2014/01/jn.aspx

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  • Stacey

    Stacey

    May 1st, 2014 at 3:09 PM

    Oh my lord yes this should be a crime! I have told my girls over and over again to not under any circumstanes put anything out there on snapchat or bfacebook or text or anything that could be shared because what you put online, even ifyou think that it goes away in a second it can be shared and then it will haunt you forever. I know that the people who are sending out stiff like this innocently enough never think that this will eventually come back to hurt them but it can abd I feel that those who are sharing this kind of junk and hurting people should be punished. How could you even think about doing this to someone that you know? That’s just wrong!

  • Mark Noo

    Mark Noo

    May 1st, 2014 at 6:13 PM

    IIED Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress is a tort. Each state would have its own standard.
    Then every server it went through to get to the revenge site might have a copy. What if the TOS are like other big social sharing sites. Once you post it the image belongs to them.
    And those are the easy things to solve.

    Just Do Not take photos that you are not proud of

  • cecil

    cecil

    May 2nd, 2014 at 3:57 AM

    Unless we start showing that you could get in trouble for this then idiots on both sides will continue to do it.

  • Maria

    Maria

    May 3rd, 2014 at 4:59 AM

    How could posting something like this without consent NOT be considered a crime? Where is there any kind of justice in that kind of lack of logic or regard for others?

  • Mary Devoy

    Mary Devoy

    May 6th, 2014 at 9:20 AM

    Revenge Porn is images or videos usually taken by or distributed by the person in the image(s) in a sexual situation, partially nude or fully nude. But it can also be hacked or stolen. Then it is posted on-line or distributed to others through email or text without the permission of the person depicted.

    A few months ago when the Virginia General Assembly was considering a “Revenge Porn” bill I did not take a stance of support or of opposition: goo.gl/tGdOHX . I wanted to watch the debate play out and read the verbiage of the proposed code.

    I expected the legislation to cover these points/example:

    1. If the images are hacked or stolen a crime has occurred and some sort of criminal charges should be applied.
    2. If the images were taken without the person in the image knowing about it then a crime has occurred and some sort of criminal charges should be applied.
    3. If someone is extorting money from the person in the image, then a crime has occurred and some sort of criminal charges should be applied.
    4. If personal information of the person in the image like full name, address, phone numbers, email addresses, place of employment or school are posted with the photos to create situations of sexual propositions, harassment and stalking, then a crime has occurred and some sort of criminal charges should be applied.
    5. Websites that specialize in revenge porn soliciting men to take and send in images specifically to humiliate those pictured in the image should be made illegal and shutdown by the government.
    6. Once an image is sent to someone else /shared the possessor is lawfully in possession of that image and can keep, print, share or post that image.

    It didn’t.

    It completely ignored image(s) that were willfully distributed by the person pictured in them wind up posted on Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat, etc or in other peoples in-boxes the person in the image needs to take responsibility for sending the images out into the world.

    Once someone has shared an image with another person it is no longer theirs to manage. As the taker/sender it is now out in the universe because of them and wherever it turns up is a gamble. But instead regret sets in they taker/sender of a sexual image needs to take responsibility for their own actions and that includes dealing with regret and the inevitable repercussions.

    Allowing those who regret their own actions to take criminal or civil charges against other people is not a solution or justice, it vengeance.

    They need to take accountability for their stupid mistake instead of pointing their finger at an “ex” and attempting to make them a criminal which could possibly carry the public label of “Sex Offender”.

    Virginia Commonwealth Attorney Denise Lunsford (nbc29.com/story/23530369/details-emerge-in-lunsford-photo-scandal) was the requestor of Virginia’s 2014 “Revenge Porn” Law, she stood in the G.A. Committee hearings asking the Legislators to pass it.

    Attorney: Va. ‘revenge porn’ bill makes bad manners a crime, March 1, 2014
    nbc12.com/story/24862398/attorney-varevenge-porn-bill-makes-bad-manners-a-crime

    The new Revenge Porn bill is possibly unconstitutional and yet Virginia’s Delegates and Senators passed it anyway!

    Virginia should not be passing laws that are vague, unworkable and violate our Constitution. Lawmakers are placing the burden of proving the validity of laws in the courts onto the citizens of Virginia who must bank-roll a challenge and be willing to invest years of their time to prove it should have never been passed in the first place.

    It’s the Legislatures job to vet proposed State laws, NOT the citizens.

    At best the Virginia General Assembly should have made this a civil matter, not a criminal one!

    Other states should NOT follow Virginia’s lead by making this a crime in all 50 states.

  • betsy a

    betsy a

    May 8th, 2014 at 3:41 AM

    if something is revenge driven then chances are pretty high that a crime of some kind os being commited

  • Rich

    Rich

    May 10th, 2014 at 8:00 AM

    How this could possibly still be a legal gray area is beyond me. If taping conversations is illegal then posting private pictures of someone whould be also. How could the legal system even think to disagree with that?

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