Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Revenge Porn: Spurned Lovers’ Retaliation in the Digital Age



One of the biggest scandals of 2014 was the leak of several celebrities’ nude photographs to the internet this past September by hackers, who obtained the photographs from the celebrities’ iClouds.   The media was bursting with news about the photographs and statements from female celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton

However, celebrities are not the only victims of these kinds of violations; they happen to women everywhere, all the time.  Spurned ex-lovers can easily and anonymously post nude photographs and videos acquired while in an intimate relationship with another to the Internet on a variety of sites created just for that purpose.  The practice is known as “revenge porn,” and it has been a highly relevant topic among legislators, criminal law practitioners, and feminist advocates following the recent scandal.


This past October, a Maryland law went into effect imposing criminal penalties on those engaging in revenge porn[1]  The new law provides that a person may not intentionally cause another serious emotional distress by intentionally placing a photograph, film, videotape, recording, or any other reproduction of the image of the other person that reveal the identity of the other person with his or her intimate parts exposed or while engaged in sexual contact.  Violators will be guilty of a misdemeanor and, on conviction, subject to a maximum imprisonment of two years and/or a fine up to $5,000.

Several other states have joined Maryland in enacting similar statutes criminalizing revenge porn.  However, prosecutors in states without criminal revenge porn statutes are rendered unable to pursue criminal action against those persons posting the images without consent.  While copyright law can provide some relief to victims, it cannot always provide justice.  Tort claims for harassment, stalking, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotion distress also tend to fall short of providing relief to victims.  Victims in states without criminal statutes for revenge porn also face a variety of challenges in having their images removed from the internet.  They often must rely on the websites themselves to remove the photographs or videos.  According to Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland, revenge porn sites may even charge victims to take down the photographs

Last spring, Jackie Speier (D-CA) announced that she was working to propose a federal law that would impose criminal sanctions for those engaging in revenge porn.  However, we have not seen any action on proposed bill since, and she has declined to comment on a few recent articles dealing with the topic.  In the meantime, advocates have relied on a state-by-state approach for enacting revenge porn laws that protect victims and allow prosecutors to take action against perpetrators. 

Alyssa Mance
Staffer, Criminal Law Practitioner

1 comment: