Tag Archives: revenge porn

The Heavy Cost of Revenge Porn

Last week, the fight against revenge porn had several major victories, as Vermont, Oregon and Texas all passed laws criminalizing revenge porn. Google also announced that it would allow victims of revenge porn to request that their images be removed from its search results. Revenge porn is the practice of publicly sharing nude or sexual photos and videos taken in the context of an intimate relationship in order to seek revenge on a former partner. These photos can be uploaded to a website with a global audience within minutes, but the repercussions for the victim can last a lifetime. In 59% of cases, these images are posted alongside private information such as full names, links to social media profiles, phone numbers and home addresses, leaving the subject open to a wide range of harassment, discrimination, stalking and violence.

Revenge porn victims suffer from severe consequences after having their private photos shared online.  One survey found that 93% of revenge porn victims reported significant emotional distress, and many experienced psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety. Victims can also experience major threats to their economic security. Their photos are widely accessible online and if co-workers or employers find the images, it may put their career in jeopardy. Many victims report losing their job after their pictures were discovered and some offenders will even send the photos directly to victims’ workplaces in an attempt to get them fired. These pictures may also complicate the search for a new job, since 80% of employers conduct web searches on potential new hires before an interview. A photo posted with identifying information may come up in search results, influencing employers’ hiring decisions. Some victims must also take drastic and costly steps to protect their safety, including changing their names, leaving their jobs or schools, or moving to new residences to escape pervasive harassment.

In states without revenge porn laws, victims may face staggering financial hurdles in their efforts to have their photos removed from the internet. Many victims have to rely on civil suits to attempt to receive compensation, and must hire a lawyer for a lengthy legal battle that may draw even more attention to the photos. Others may claim that they have a copyright over nude images that they took themselves, and send takedown notices to each website hosting their images, which may also require a lawyer to draft an effective letter. The cost of these legal services may be prohibitive for many victims. Even for those who can afford an attorney, winning a single suit or having one website take their photo down is not the end of the battle. Photos can be continually shared and reposted, making legal efforts to locate and remove the photos a process that can last years. This can exhaust a victim’s resources without any guarantee that the photos and the resulting harm and stigma will be gone for good.

Fortunately, the national climate around revenge porn is changing. States are rapidly implementing revenge porn laws that give victims a greater opportunity for justice and discourage perpetration, and sharing revenge porn is now a criminal offense in 23 states. Google’s new policy may also have a powerful impact in freeing victims from the fear that their images will pop up in web searches by employers, family, friends or romantic partners, particularly if other major search engines follow Google’s example. While the costs and consequences of revenge porn can be high, these changes provide hope that soon victims across the country will have the protections they need to take back control of their lives and keep revenge porn from damaging their happiness, safety and economic security.

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Revenge Porn and Why Cyber-Assault Matters for Teens

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month and Break the Cycle is providing great resources about preventing dating violence among teens and events being held throughout the month. However, the campaign does not discuss one of the newest forms of cyber-assault—revenge porn. Revenge porn started in the 1980s with Hustler magazine, but began to gain attention and popularity in the mid-2000s with Sergio Messina’s identification of “realcore pornography”—explicit photos and videos of ex-girlfriends shared without their consent. In 2010 Hunter Moore launched a website featuring user-submitted pornography, except the content posted to his site was often accompanied by identifying information such as full names, home and work-place addresses, links to social networking accounts and phone numbers.

In 2012, activists got involved through the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative’s first campaign, End Revenge Porn. End Revenge Porn was started by Dr. Holly Jacobs, a victim of revenge porn for three and a half years, during which law enforcement and the FBI were unable to file criminal charges against her perpetrator because there were technically no laws against what he was doing. As a result of her constant victimization, Jacobs was forced to change jobs, go through several email address, legally change her name, deactivate all of her social media accounts, cancel her attendance to professional meetings and refrain from publishing in her field. Unfortunately, these are common consequences associated with revenge porn that have long-term economic impacts. Revenge porn is not only socially, emotionally and professionally damaging to its victims, but when personal information is shared, such as the information posted on Moore’s website, this non-consensual pornography can also be physically threatening. Sharing an individual’s personal information can lead to stalking, sexual assault and rape, especially if the identifying information is posed as a “challenge” or posed as the perspective of the victim seeking to fulfill a rape fantasy.

An online survey conducted by CCRI found that up to 80% of revenge porn victims took the offending photographs themselves—in other words, 80% of revenge porn is the result of an angry or jealous ex posting graphic images that the victim should legally own the rights to. This speaks volumes to the lack of privacy that comes with “selfies” and “sexting,” the sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone, which was recently deemed an epidemic among teens in America. Sexting is not new, but with the explosion of technology and social media, the consequences can be life-long. These consequences, just like those experienced by Jacobs, are often disregarded by teens. While many anti-sexting campaigns focus on embarrassment and ruined reputations, there is also a severe economic risk associated with both sexting and revenge porn that is often overlooked. Just as with Dr. Jacobs, revenge porn can affect victims’ professional standing which in turn affects their economic security while isolating them from their support system due to embarrassment. 

Dr. Michael Salter and Associate Professor Thomas Crofts write that in 2012, after rumors of an FBI investigation likely brought about by the End Revenge Porn campaign, Moore closed his website. While the End Revenge Porn campaign has spurred FBI investigations, the legislative and judicial systems still have a lot of work to do. As of January 5, 2015, sixteen states—NJ, AK, TX, CA, ID, UT, WI, VA, GA, AZ, MD, CO, HI, PA, DE, IL—have enacted legislation that treats nonconsensual pornography itself as a crime, while other states use tort, privacy and copyright laws to prosecute perpetrators of revenge porn. Additional cases can be made for harassment, stalking, identity theft, and possession as well as distribution of child pornography if the images show a minor, which includes most teenagers.  However, many of these laws suffer from narrow applicability and/or constitutional weakness. While there are not any federal laws prohibiting revenge porn, CCRI is working with Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) to draft a law doing just that.

For more information on how you can get involved with anti-revenge porn movements visit, http://www.endrevengeporn.org/.

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