Fighting ‘Revenge Porn’


By Lisa Autz

Photo courtesy of Pasko Tomic.

The pangs of a long-distance relationship often cause individuals to go to explicit measures to provide the sensation of physical intimacy. In our age of technology, it is not uncommon that modern love affairs are filled with the exchange of digitized, sexual images of each other in denial that they could ever be used for future blackmail.

However, many people–mainly females–are realizing that the idea of sharing a truly private moment may no longer exist in our digital world.

One recent case of long-distance “revenge porn” involved a female California law student in a relationship with a man from the East Coast. Things turned dangerous when he began to call her with threats of ruining her life after the relationship went sour. He began taking vindictive action to sabotage her reputation by posting nude photos and videos of her on pornographic websites and soliciting men to harass her for sex by disclosing her personal information.

While many of these vindictive actions by jilted ex-lovers usually succeed in getting away with tarnishing the reputation of a former partner, this case was not left in silence. Due to the victim’s bold action and one law firm’s new Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project, a new strategy could help bring deserved justice to future victims of revenge porn.

After being harassed by the man she courted from an online dating site, this California student, who goes by the pseudo-name of Jane Doe for privacy purposes, decided to take him to court. At this point, the large Pittsburgh law firm, K&L Gates, came to aid Doe by suing her vengeful ex for federal criminal charges. They argued that he violated US copyright law by posting nude photos and videos of her without her consent as well as causing emotional distress.

The Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project grew out of the work of K&L Gates attorneys David Bateman and Elisa D’Amico in 2014. The Project provides prominent cyber-security and cyber-legal service to low-income victims.

Both attorneys were drawn by the international need to support and protect individuals being sexually victimized online. D’Amico, a lawyer focused on internet marketing and commercial disputes, previously worked with the Miami-Dade Chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, Professor Mary Anne Franks, and The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI). D’Amico’s background sparked her drive to create more legal resources for these victims.

Bateman, an attorney with 20 years of experience in internet, technology, and intellectual property law, teamed up with D’Amico to give those with few legal options the representation to end the cyber revenge.

The Project mainly targets perpetrators of the crime by charging them with the violation of intellectual property rights. Up to 80 percent of revenge porn victims took the graphic photo themselves, meaning they own complete rights to the photos. There is also a severe amount of emotional distress caused by the nonconsensual use of the compromising images. Victims often admit to falling into depression and some even commit suicide.

So far, only 16 states in the US have any type of “revenge porn” laws to criminalize the act. Some of the laws have struggled to make an impact and fail to bring the websites hosting these nonconsensual images to fault.

In Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn just passed a new law making it a felony to post sexual videos or photos of someone else without their permission. The legislation was designed to emulate the legislation developed by Professor Mary Anne Franks, the legislative and tech policy director of CCRI.

The Illinois law is different from other, more faulty models because it doesn’t allow motive of the offender to be a driving force due. There does not need to be a specific intention to cause emotional distress for the results to have a dire, negative emotional impact. Some states require that the perpetrator must have these specifically proven intentions when the reality is that there can be a multiplicity of reasons for someone to consider the vicious offense.

This provincial law against “revenge porn” also has the harshest punishment for the crime placing it as a Class 4 felony with up to three years in prison and fines up to $25,000. The law also recognizes that 59 percent of victims have their personal information disclosed–like their home address, email, and phone number–along with nude images.

In the case of Jane Doe, California has recently amended its “revenge porn” laws to better suit the subtle peculiarities of these types of cases. The California law can now be applied to selfies, when previously it only applied to images taken by somebody other than the victim.

Due to this amendment, The Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project is able to tactfully use copyright as a violation and accuse multiple felony charges on the offender. However, since the use of this strategy is yet to be available in every state, violent perpetrators and perpetuating websites still largely exist in immunity from punishment throughout the country.