Revenge Pornography Weekly Update: The Importance of Education

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.

31 July 2017

Ryan Broll, assistant professor of sociology and anthropology at the University of Guelph, published an op-ed in The Star this week about revenge porn. He argues that, even if revenge porn laws in his native Canada were strengthened, they could only provide victims recourse after the crimes have occurred rather than any sort of preventive cure. Perpetrators of revenge porn, furthermore, often act impulsively without considering the consequences of their actions, so laws do not necessarily provide big enough deterrents to prevent people from posting non-consensual content in the first place.

Broll proposes that educating children about the impact of revenge porn and about how to maintain healthy relationships online could help taper the surge of revenge porn that has risen over the past few years. Educating boys, in particular, about how to effectively deal with feelings of anger through open dialogue and empathy could help prevent a number of gender-based crimes.

We’re all in favor of increasing sex and relationship education to help stop revenge porn; it’s urgently needed, and will also help deter physical sexual assaults and rapes by helping people understand what consent means and how to establish it unambiguously.  But we think there’s still an important place for legal prohibitions --  indeed that these should be strengthened, not just to punish wrongdoers, but because they deter further bad behavior.  A lot of press attention has been given lately to the jail sentences imposed on revenge porn perpetrators due to new criminal laws, which gets the message out that this behavior has to stop.  An even more powerful message would be sent if not just the individual perpetrators, but the websites that host this material, were subject to punishment. Right now the websites have no responsibility, because of free speech concerns that are understandable but have not adjusted to the realities of the internet age. 

For example: why shouldn’t governments require websites to collect video statements of consent, complete with photo ID, for any nude images they allow to sit on their sites?  It wouldn’t stop all revenge porn, and no doubt some statements of “consent” would be coerced – but this law would be a good place to start bringing some reasonable order to the Wild West of the internet, and save many people the miserable consequences that often flow from having their intimate images shared with the world against their will.