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Fighting Revenge Porn

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January 29, 2015

Over the past several years, the problem of “revenge porn” has been growing. Revenge porn is commonly defined as sexually explicit material (usually photos or videos) posted online without the subject’s consent. This has been used as a tool to get revenge on a former partner, where usually this material was recorded consensually at the time, but is now a weapon to embarrass, harass, or humiliate the subject. It is an example of how sex crimes have adapted to the digital age.

Any person can be the victim of this type of cyber sex crime, although it is far more likely for a woman to be the victim at the hands of her male partner. It can be devastating for the subject, with consequences not only for their mental and emotional health, but also their relationships, employment, and more since anyone may be able to view the content. There have even been extreme cases where the subject is driven to self-harm or suicide, in a similar fashion to what we see with cyber bullying cases.

Cases like this are not incredibly different from the recent hack and release of explicit celebrity photos without their consent. In that case, it was a third party obtaining and releasing the material, as opposed to a former partner trying to exact revenge, but in many ways the effect is similar. Jennifer Lawrence, one of the primary victims of this hack, rightfully described it as a sex crime.

In many cases over the past several years, the victim has been left helpless, with no straightforward legal way to challenge the people posting this. But recently, several states have passed legislation addressing the issue of revenge porn, and making it a crime to post explicit material without the subject’s consent. There is also recent revenge porn legislation that has been passed in several countries, including Israel in 2014.

This year, Kansas may look to follow suit. Two bills brought up in the Kansas Legislature for the 2015 session would make posting revenge porn a crime in the state. Obviously the hope is for the federal government to set a standard for this across the country. That would help combat the spread of this material, and take the burden off of individual states to pass these laws. But it would not be wise for Kansas to wait for that to happen

Of course, enforcement is always the most difficult part of policing cyber crimes. The logistics of tracking down the posters of this material and prosecuting them can be a daunting task. But having a law on the books that directly relates to this issue will help those who suffer the consequences of this practice. They will at least have a simple way to press charges and challenge their attacker in court.

Despite the public outcry, there are still large numbers of people who don’t believe this should be an issue. The main argument is that a person in a relationship should not be sharing these photos in the first place, and if they are posted online at a later time, they have no one to blame but themselves.

This line of thinking is harmful and dangerous. No one should be forced to choose between fully participating in a relationship how they see fit and their own personal and sexual privacy. No one should ever be subject to having explicit content posted in public without their consent, regardless of the circumstances surrounding its origin.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, one of the legislators to introduce this bill, said that “this issue really is about what is consent and what isn’t.” Just because photos were taken consensually, that doesn’t give someone consent to post this material online for the world to see. It is also worth noting that in abusive relationships, which also may be more susceptible to this problem, the material may have even been originally obtained through some form of coercion.

Rep. Clayton also said that when she first introduced this bill, some of her male colleagues were skeptical. “I did have some colleagues say, well, just don’t share the pictures. Well, by that, just don’t tell your husband any secrets, just don’t be married or be in a relationship ever,” she said. “That’s not realistic.”

In any case, passing this legislation would be a step in the right direction for Kansas. It is time for us to ensure that the people who are victims of this crime have access to justice.

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