Revenge Pornography Weekly Update: Still More Work to Outlaw Revenge Porn

Revenge pornography legislation changes on a week-by-week basis. We will be tracking these updates, as well as notable progress made in revenge pornography cases, and sharing them weekly in this space. We'll be starting off with a few highlights from past weeks.

26 June 2017

Rachel Kaser discussed how US revenge porn laws can be strengthened in an editorial for The Next Web.  As she points out, while it’s positive that 36 states now have laws that criminalize revenge porn, up from four only two years ago, there’s still a long way to go before victims enjoy the same protections nationwide.

Other states are considering new laws, but Congresswoman Jackie Speier of California introduced the Intimate Privacy Protection Act in July 2016 to create a uniform federal offense.  Revenge porn, spread mostly via the internet, ignores state borders, so a national standard makes sense.  In practical terms, local police rarely want to investigate cases across state lines, so even strong state laws have limited effect.

Congresswoman Speier’s bill has been criticized by free speech organizations because it does not contain a provision that many state laws do—that the content be posted with “intent to harm.” Instead, the bill requires that the content be posted with “reckless disregard for the person’s lack of consent to the distribution,” which is a lower standard -- but much better tailored to the problem.  It does not matter whether the perpetrator intended to cause the particular victim harm.  Revenge porn is spread not only by ex-partners with a grudge, but also people who do it for kicks, money or blackmail.  All of it is wrong.  What matters is that the victim’s consent was violated and actual harm was caused.

Meanwhile, North Carolina’s Senate passed an amendment to the state’s existing revenge porn law to close some loopholes.  The original law said a perpetrator could be charged only if he or she had a pre-existing personal relationship with the victim; the new bill expands the law to cover instances where the “relationship” was no more than a one-night stand.

Although we welcome these developments, they fail to tackle an important shortcoming of most revenge porn laws—the lack of a civil remedy, which would allow victims to sue the perpetrators for money damages.  There are millions of these cases now every year.  A recent survey by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative of more than 3,000 Facebook users found that one out of every eight had been a revenge porn victim.  The police can’t possibly handle this tidal wave of crime.  If Congresswoman Speier’s bill passed, the FBI would also be inundated.  Victims need as many routes as possible to fight back.