Op-Ed: Revenge Porn, the Law, and Blaming the Victim

November 10, 2013
By

By Carmen Rane Hudson

Revenge porn has been around longer than the Internet has. It’s a phenomenon where a man, usually an angry ex, publishes nude photographs of a woman without her knowledge or consent.

revenge pornIt’s called “revenge” porn because of the common motive. Men usually use it to get back at women who break up with them. But it’s just as often done for kicks: In 1980, Hustler published nude photographs of a woman whose only crime was having her camera stolen. (Source: New York Magazine).

But the phenomenon really took off when a man named Hunter Moore launched a site called IsAnyoneUp.com. Exes were encouraged to post photographs of their ex-wives and girlfriends, photographs that were taken during consensual sex acts with a full expectation of privacy. The boyfriends then posted the full names, addresses, phone numbers and Facebook profiles of the victims. The Internet exploded with copycat sites.

Victims found their reputations destroyed overnight. One of the most public victims, Holly Jacobs, lost her job and found it impossible to find a new one. Relationships with family and friends are damaged, and it’s hard to start a new relationship with your naked photographs showing up on page 1 of Google.

The damage to a victim’s reputation is bad enough. But the revenge porn trend has actively exposed most of these women to danger. Women have received rape threats and death threats from hundreds of thousands of men, often in less than 24 hours after the photographs go up. In some cases, the threats are extended to the women’s children.

So why aren’t there laws against this disgusting phenomenon?

Currently, there are only two states that criminalize revenge porn: New Jersey and California. California’s law, SB 255, was signed into law just one month ago. New York is contemplating new laws.

Other states have tried to bring revenge porn laws to the table. But lawmakers who try face a storm of opposition. First Amendment concerns scrapped Florida’s initial attempts to create a revenge porn law, as if posting a photograph of your girlfriend’s naked body were on par with the kinds of political discourse that the First Amendment was originally intended to protect and promote.

The First Amendment keeps trumping a desire to protect the safety of these women because there’s a common, victim blaming cry. “If you don’t want them posted don’t let people take those kinds of photographs.”

Given the threats to these women’s lives, the crime is quite a bit more serious than theft. In fact, soliciting someone else to commit a crime on your behalf is a crime as it is. A little imagination could link revenge porn to existing crimes (that’s the route that California took, though their law is pretty weak; see below) without bringing the First Amendment into it at all.

A recent New York Times article offered one lawyer’s foot-shuffling, mumbling alternative: just apply civil penalties to the problem. Unfortunately, such a measure is unlikely to be effective.

For one thing, victims have a hard time collecting their awards. As the Times article indicates, some victims have already gone the civil route. A federal judge issued a default judgment of $300,000 to a victim of YouGotPosted.com. She has yet to see a cent.

California’s revenge porn law seemed, at first, as though it was going to be a model for other lawmakers to follow. But the law has fallen short.

The penalty for revenge porn is up to one year in jail and a measly $2000 fine. This is hardly going to deter a truly vicious ex. The law then went on to exclude nearly 80% of the revenge porn victims out there by excluding “selfies.”

As it happens, most of the revenge porn pictures started as selfies. They were taken to please a lover. They’re often taken during the course of long-distance relationships, to keep the fire alive. The expectation of privacy is still there, but the message is loud and clear. If you take off your clothes and snap a picture, you’re “asking for it,” and have nobody but yourself to blame.

Thankfully, the New York version of the law that is currently under debate will eliminate the selfie clause and will protect those victims as well.

Revenge porn and the law’s lackluster response to it are both outgrowths of rape culture. It all harkens back to the notion that refusing to have sex with a man is something worthy of vengeance, and that men can’t be held responsible for their own sexual behavior, so women have to “keep themselves safe.” And if women don’t keep themselves safe by adhering to puritanical standards, they’re fair game for exploitation and have only themselves to blame.

That’s why it’s so important to hold our lawmakers up to a higher standard on this issue: treat a crime like a crime and a criminal like a criminal. We don’t analyze what assault victims, theft victims, or murder victims did to “bring it on themselves.” Why do we continue to allow our lawmakers to get away with asking such questions about sexual crimes?

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revenge pornCarmen Rane Hudson is a freelance writer who typically writes about online reputation management, content marketing, SEO, sales, and other business topics. She is also a passionate lifelong feminist dedicated to women’s success.

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3 Responses to Op-Ed: Revenge Porn, the Law, and Blaming the Victim

  1. Hayley DeSantis on November 10, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Really enjoyed reading this article. I think this is an important issue that a lot of people don’t fully understand and is overlooked. Its important to get laws that provide consequences for these men who continue to disrespect women and their bodies.

  2. Paul on November 24, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Just wanted to offer a bit more info/clarification. At least with the hunter moore part of this bs. A large number of the people featured on the site were victims of hacking, not misogynistic partners. Here is an amazing story of one persons resistance to this.

    http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/charlotte-laws-hunter-moore-erin-brockovich-revenge-porn?utm_medium=facebook

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