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Even Though Revenge Porn is Legal, That Doesn’t Make it Right

Even Though Revenge Porn is Legal, That Doesn’t Make it Right

Relationships in the digital age are documented in numerous ways. Texts, Facebook updates and filtered Instagram photos serve as constant memory book updates of a shared life. Even private moments are celebrated in the form of racy texts and naked photos shared during a Snapchat session. Few disagree that what couples do in their relationship is their business. But what happens to this digital trail when the relationship ends?

In 2009, Holly Jacobs was in the midst of pursuing her Industrial/Organizational Psychology PhD program when she broke up with her boyfriend. In retaliation, he posted explicit pictures and a video of her all over the Internet. The sites had her name, address, specific details about where she worked and what she did. He also made sure everyone knew she was in school as well.

Holly had become a victim of revenge pornography.

Revenge porn is non-consensual or involuntary photography (or video) containing nude or sexual images distributed with the intention to inflict emotional distress or harm. It is generally perpetuated by men upset at ex-girlfriends or wives, though many victims have been violated through hackers who steal photos from emails and webcams. The women don’t even become aware they have been targeted until they get emails and phone calls from people who have seen their intimate moments shared online.

Along with the embarrassment, they are faced with the horror that they have no recourse.

Over the course of three years, Holly was forced to change jobs, email addresses and even limit how public her professional profile was in order to protect herself from her vengeful ex. In the end, she even changed her name. When she tried to go to the police and the FBI, she was reportedly told that there were no laws with which her ex-partner could be charged for the constant harassment.

While the victims have little recourse, harassers have no laws to stop them and infinite outlets with which to perpetuate their revenge campaigns. Several websites welcome the posting of the explicit photos and videos, as well as the personal information of the women in the photos, all while allowing the posters to submit anonymously. The website operators and the ISPs are protected from prosecution as they are not held liable for content posted by others – unless its child pornography.

Victims are left with the daunting task of searching for recourse with no legal protections and attitudes which blame them.

When Annmarie Chiarini’s ex-boyfriend made a CD of her nude photos and posted the CD on Ebay, as well as uploaded them to a pornographic video-sharing site, she immediately went to the police. She, too, was told that no law was being broken and they could not help.  She was eventually able to get Ebay and the video-sharing site to take the photos down.

She was lucky.

Kevin Bollaert ran the now defunct ugotposted.com, which allowed anonymous users to post explicit photos with the requirement that they include the pictured victims’ personal information. When women would contact him to pull the content down, he would refuse initially. He would then inform them that he would remove the information – for a fee.  When he started getting complaints, he would instruct those requesting removal to another site changemyreputation.com. The site would charge fees ranging from $300 – $350 dollars to remove the pictures. Bollaert was the owner of the removal site as well.

In addition to the almost $900 a month in advertising revenue, it is estimated that Bollaert made more than $10,000 from the revenge porn scheme. Earlier this month, the 27-year old San Diego resident was arrested and charged with 31 felony counts of identity theft, extortion and conspiracy. He was arrested exactly one year after he started the site.

Nevertheless, Bollaert isn’t facing any charges for the sharing of the explicit material. He was arrested for violating existing laws related to the publishing of the personal information and extortion for the removal of the data. It was, and still is, legal for him to have the pictures posted.

Two months prior to Bollaert’s arrest, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law which makes it a misdemeanor to publish pornographic material of someone without their consent with the intent to cause serious emotional distress. It is punishable by up to six months in jail or a $1,000 dollar fine. The law only applies to pictures taken by the distributor or obtained by them in an illegal manner, such as hacking another person’s computer. In the end, it doesn’t apply to the majority of these pictures that are often taken during a consenting relationship.

Like those taken by Holly and Annmarie.

Pictures such as selfies and shared with someone implies a certain consent, though victims advocates say the consent is limited. University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks helps draft revenge porn laws and likens such photos to handing a waiter your credit card. “You aren’t giving him permission to buy a yacht,” she explains. Furthermore, most anti-stalking and harassment laws require that the victim is threatened or the ex-partner attempts repeated contact.

While the new California law may provide a limited first step (and is only the second such law in the country), there has been a great deal of hesitation among lawmakers nationwide to combat the problem. Groups like the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation also oppose new laws on First Amendment Rights. If the distributor takes the photo with the consent of his partner, that photo is now also part of his life story and has certain rights to it, just like any other photographer.

Still, they acknowledge, that even if it’s legal, it doesn’t make it right.

For now, victims are pursuing other avenues. Some have filed lawsuits against revenge porn sites and the hosting companies. While these suits are pending, it is a risky – and costly – avenue. Many site operators and companies feel they are protected under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 which protects operators from the actions of their users. These lawsuits are claiming it doesn’t apply since they are knowingly allowing the pictures to be posted without the consent of the photo subjects.  The other risk is if the plaintiffs lose, they could be on the hook for legal costs.

More victims are less afraid to share their stories and are becoming more vocal. Dr. Holly Jacobs started endrevengeporn.com as a place for victims to share their stories and find resources to fight back. She also has started the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, which is dedicated to fight cyber harassment by raising awareness and supporting educational and legislative reforms. Through their speaking up, law enforcement and legislators are beginning to listen.

Let’s hope the law can catch up with the crime sooner rather than later.

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146 comments

+ add your own
1:36AM PDT on Aug 11, 2014

So true! I wish there were more Anti-Pornography petitions on Care2.com--but I'd like to say "thank you" to everyone who are taking part!

God bless you all! Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior!

1:07AM PDT on Jul 31, 2014

Quite true! Filmed molestation is filmed molestation!
Thanks for reading, everyone!
I'm glad to see you people taking this stand!
God bless! Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior!

2:41PM PST on Feb 26, 2014

how disgustingly without class these types are. I have always said "no" to dirty pics, vids ect. I had an ex post some things, and I learned one can never be too careful

6:33PM PST on Jan 6, 2014

our society has gone really wrong!

3:04PM PST on Jan 5, 2014

Dear Hope H. But kicking someone is illegal. No matter how much they deserve it.

To all yes the law does need to be updated and the sooner the better.

8:15AM PST on Dec 30, 2013

Common sense...don't do a sex tape or explicit pictures if you are afraid that they are going to be made public. Yes, I agree that the current laws do need to be changed to prevent a jilted jerk from putting your intimate moments up online along with your personal information. However, it still comes down to common sense. Don't make explicit material of yourself or allow a bf or a spouse to make this sort of material of you IF you are AFRAID someone else might see it.

7:57PM PST on Dec 29, 2013

ty

5:55PM PST on Dec 29, 2013

There are many, many, things that are legal, but not right!

5:44PM PST on Dec 29, 2013

[Whoops! It cut off below. So here's the continuation.]

I feel very bad for the women this happened to, but not to put too fine a point on it, this kind of inhumane infraction doesn't beg for a law to be made--it begs for a good old fashioned ass-kicking.

3:22PM PST on Dec 29, 2013

They have online bullying laws now don't they? This is or should be considered bullying. Usually another pansy male who can't take no for an answer. Maybe they think the women should be thankful it is porn and not murder.

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Good work rangers. I think they need to put their military out to catch the poachers and practice target…

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