Having non-consensual nude photos of you posted online – revenge porn or cyber rape – is a problem few ever imagined we would have. Revenge porn, a form of cyberbullying, is a problem that destroys lives and careers, yet is not adequately addressed by laws.
Last week I attended the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology’s Privacy Law Forum in Silicon Valley #BCLTPrivacy. The lunchtime keynote speaker was Danielle Keats Citron, professor of law at the University of Maryland law school, who spoke on Revenge Porn, Hate Crimes, and what Silicon Valley and the law should do now. Riveting topic. Heartbreaking topic.
One would have to be living completely off the radar to not be aware of the issue of revenge porn. However, it only takes living a normal life to be unaware of the prevalence and damage of revenge porn. As I listened to Citron speak, I was horrified, saddened, outraged, and driven to help.
The lady who founded the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Initiative, Holly Jacobs, was a victim of revenge porn. Private pictures and videos of her nude that had been shared only with a partner started popping up seemingly everywhere and not just on revenge porn sites – no, on Facebook and popular online dating sites – with titles inferring she slept with her students, included contact information, family names, work information, etc. She was not able to get all websites to remove the photos, and those that would wanted to charge her (blackmail essentially) or jump through a bunch of hoops to prove she was the individual in the pictures and she had the right to revoke authorization or prove she never provided authorization. How do you prove something that never happened? She wound up changing her name and trying to help others.
Danish journalist Emma Holten took another tactic, one similarly used by Jennifer Lawrence when nude pictures were leaked. They both responded with their own version of nude pictures. The key difference had nothing to do with whether you and I see their pictures, it has to do with their choice, their consent. I remember how many people criticized Jennifer – how could she oppose the leaked photos when she released her own photos? and other similar stupidities uttered in ignorance.
Revenge porn is not a rare event. The question is what can we do to help end this problem? Many laws addressing cybercrimes involve communications with that person directly. Revenge porn is not usually communicating with that person. It’s posting nonconsensual sexually explicit photos without that person’s consent, often with other personal information, often pretending to be that person, and even using photoshop to mock up nude pictures. Suggesting that the individual desires a rape scenario, with information identifying where the person will be at a particular time.
The solution is not to tell people to stop sharing such photos (although prudent people probably shouldn’t share such images). We live in a technological world where people can form relationships around the world. Certain relationships are formed on intimacy and technology provides a forum to be intimate. That is another debate. But don’t try to solve this problem the way people used to (some still do) try to solve rape by blaming the victim. Blame the criminal. period.
Social media companies need to ban such material, like Facebook recently took a major step, as did Twitter. States need to pass laws that truly address the problem. Law enforcement need to train personnel how to interact with a victim of this type of cybercrime.
This is not a feminist issue as alleged by some authors. It is not a misogynist issue as alleged by others. It’s a human issue with the goal to destroy someone’s life through technology, in the most base, vulgar way possible – ways which encourage someone who wishes to do physical harm to another to do so.