SafetySync: Revenge Porn

Aug 22nd, 1970

Erin Leffew, MCASA, Program Coordinator (Prevention & Education) While previous SafetySyncs have focused on specific apps or websites, this edition is going to take a look at revenge porn: what it is, what the revenge porn law in Maryland is, and things to consider to protect yourself. Revenge porn involves the nonconsensual distribution of an individual’s nude or sexually explicit photos and/or videos. Often revenge porn is posted by an ex-lover or friend with whom the photos/videos were taken or shared, and it’s purpose is to seek revenge when the relationship does not go the way the ex-lover wanted. This nonconsensual act is a form of sexual abuse. [1] Bekah Wells, an advocate for survivors of revenge porn, had her photos posted to the internet by an ex-boyfriend, which became a long and painful emotional ordeal for her.[2] But, the nonconsensual posting of these photos also goes beyond just former lovers and abusers into the world of hacking. There are many instances of hacked devices in which private photos are shared on the internet without either party’s knowledge or consent, as with the recent celebrity cases and with Hollie Toups. Hollie knew the person with whom her photos had been shared was not to blame when she also discovered unshared photos she’d taken of herself to track weight loss included in the posted content.[3] The posting of hacked digital photos works the same way as someone using printed photographs given to them or a person coming into your home and stealing photographs, and then reproducing and distributing them; however, it is on a much larger scale that allows for widespread harm to the victim, particularly since there are now several popular websites dedicated to posting revenge porn. Some of these sites even post identifying information for the person pictured, including home addresses.   We live in a society that encourages publically shaming individuals for entertainment and revenge (People of Walmart and She’s a Homewrecker) and breeds rape culture. Actress Jennifer Lawrence recently responded to her photos being hacked and posted online by saying, “’It’s my body, and it should be my choice, and the fact that it is not my choice is absolutely disgusting. I can’t believe that we even live in that kind of world.’” She went on to say in her interview that ‘It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation. It’s disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change. That’s why these Web sites are responsible. Just the fact that somebody can be sexually exploited and violated, and the first thought that crosses somebody’s mind is to make a profit from it. It’s so beyond me.”’[4] The perpetrators are using new tools for the same old behaviors. And unfortunately in many cases, the legal system hasn’t caught up with the technology.   Nationally, nonprofits, such as Without My Consent, Women Against Revenge Porn, and End Revenge Porn, provide resources, information, assistance, and support for survivors and others. Since it is not recognized as a federal crime, it is important to find out the specific laws in your state. And while the vast majority of states do not have laws specifically protecting citizens from revenge porn, a bill was passed in the Maryland 2014 legislative session and went into effect in October that prohibits the posting of sexually explicit images without the consent of the person pictured when the person “had a reasonable expectation of privacy, there was the intent to cause serious emotional harm, and the person in the image is identifiable.”[5]   While the possibility of revenge porn by a person with whom photos were shared, or having photos posted when a device is stolen or hacked, and the potentially long-term and unintended consequences (emotional harm, costly legal battles, solicitations, etc.) are important considerations, ultimately it is your right to take, keep, and/or distribute photos of your own body. If you have experienced the non-consensual posting of your photos, please contact MCASA’s Sexual Assault Legal Institute to speak with an attorney. [1] nobullying.com, “Revenge Porn and Its Victims,” Nov 30, 2014, http://nobullying.com/revenge-porn/. [2] Wells, Rebekah, www.womenagainstrevengeporn.com. [3] Laird, Lorelei, "Victims Are Taking on 'Revenge Porn' Websites for Posting Photos They Didn't Consent To," ABA Journal, Nov. 21, 2013, www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/victims_are_taking_on_revenge_porn_websites_for_posting_photos_they_didnt_c/. [4] Vanity Fair, "Cover Exclusive: Jennifer Lawrence Calls Photo Hacking a 'Sex Crime,'" Vanity Fair, Oct. 8, 2014, www.vanityfair.com/vf-hollywood/2014/10/jennifer-lawrence-cover. [5] MCASA, "Legislative Report," 2014, http://www.mcasa.org/law-public-policy/legislative-agenda/.

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