Illinois becomes the latest state to pass a revenge porn law

Last week, Illinois became the latest of 16 US states to make the publication of revenge porn a felony. On Monday, Governor Pat Quinn signed the bill into law, which can punish offenders with up to three years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

The new Illinois statute is actually one of the most formidable of any US state, because of these specific features:

1.       The statute targets hackers as well as ex-lovers. The term "revenge porn" is actually misleading, because a substantial proportion of  the publishers of non-consensual pornography are hackers, not vengeful exes. The notorious revenge porn website isanyoneup.com gathered many of its images from hacking, as the owner of the site, Hunter Moore, regularly paid an acquaintance to hack into strangers' email accounts and retreive pictures. The photos featuring celebrities such as Jennifer Lawrence and Ariana Grande were also posted online by hackers, not by people known to the victims.   

2.       It forces the perpetrators to give up any money they make through the publication of the photos or videos. One of the most abhorrent aspects of posting other people’s intimate photos is that people make money from it. The proprietors of the websites make money from advertising or membership fees, and the offenders may get a cut of that, too. Meanwhile, victims can suffer real financial damage.  Some get fired and/or find it difficult to get jobs after their reputations are attacked. The Illinois statute recognises this problem, and goes some way to redressing it.

3.       It doesn't require proof of hostile intent to cause harm. Many states require proof that the perpetrator intended to harm the victim. Because that’s an internal state of mind, it can be difficult to prove. Removing this standard will make it easier for prosecutors to successfully try cases.  

4.       The photos or videos do not have to be published online. Revenge porn isn't just limited to the online sphere - it can be posted on doors and noticeboards, and be sent to employers and loved ones. The breadth of the definition of "revenge porn" is a commendable advantage of the Illinois law.

5.       It doesn't matter who took the images. An earlier version of the California revenge porn law, which has since been amended, exempted offenders from prosecution if they received the images or videos second hand. For example, if a perpetrator received a naked "selfie", and posted that online, he would not be breaking the law. It is clear that this distinction is basically meaningless in terms of liability and harm caused, so it's good to see that the distinction didn't appear in this law.  What matters is the consent of the person being photographed.  

6.       It doesn't require nudity. What constitutes inappropriate imagery in the Illinois law is quite broad. The person depicted does not have to be nude - they include images of sexual activity, but don't require the exposure of intimate parts.   

The Illinois law is probably the best of those enacted recently in the US states,  and I’m delighted at the progress it represents. However, there are still many states with inadequate laws or no laws at all: in truth, we need a federal law against revenge porn to properly protect against this kind of abusive behaviour. Such a bill is reportedly to be introduced to the House soon, and I hope that the new session of Congress sees new legislation passed.