Justice For Revenge Porn?

by Brendan James

Maureen O’Connor profiles a victim of “revenge porn” in New Jersey, the only state where the sick practice is illegal:

[Anonymous victim “A”] remembers shooing her young cousins away during a back-to-school shopping trip at Target, when an older man approached to compliment “your pictures.” Another time, printouts of her nude photos were left outside her front door.

A’s story is remarkable not because of the personal betrayal it involved or the public humiliation of having an X-rated digital doppelgänger. Those things happen to countless victims of “revenge porn,” the term for sexually explicit images distributed without the subject’s consent, whether by an ex-boyfriend or anonymous hackers. What’s truly remarkable is that the legal system took interest in A at all.

For victims elsewhere, the legal system provides few options:

At the heart of a burgeoning movement to change that is End Revenge Porn, the advocacy group that A began volunteering for in the wake of her nightmare experience. It’s the brainchild of Florida resident Holly Jacobs, who went public last spring with her five-year battle against a pornographic attack so pervasive it led her to change her name. She has since built a network of around 50 victims and legal experts advocating for laws banning revenge porn, and she’s now spinning End Revenge Porn into a nonprofit called the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. She works with lawyers, academics, and legislators — including California state senator Anthony Cannella, who has sponsored a California bill to make revenge porn a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail for a first offense; the popular bill is under consideration right now.

But Lux Alptraum argues new legislation is misguided:

[R]evenge porn is already illegal. Distributing pornographic content without maintaining an extensive database conforming to the specifics of 18 USC 2257 records keeping requirements is a criminal offense. So are harassment and stalking, which could be interpreted to include revenge porn. If it’s already on the books as illegal, why do we need more laws to specifically call it out as illegal? And, more pressingly, if the existing laws aren’t enough to deter and punish the distributors of revenge porn, how can we genuinely believe that one more law is going to fix the problem?