Revenge-porn laws needed

There is currently no state law protecting victims of revenge porn.

Sam Jasenosky

Our generation grew up in a world ruled by everything technological. Our friendships and relationships take place over social media every day.

Unfortunately, our legal system hasn’t adjusted as quickly as we have.

Case in point: the phenomenon of maliciously sending explicit images of another person without that person’s consent — or “revenge porn.”

California passed a bill last Tuesday attempting to ban revenge porn. New Jersey also has a law that criminalizes unauthorized distribution of explicit images online.

These attempts, though  headed in the right direction, simply aren’t good enough.

In California, only explicit images taken by someone other than the person in them can be prosecuted. Therefore, explicit “selfies” redistributed without the subject’s permission — which consist of 80 percent of revenge porn victims according to a Cyber Civil Rights Initiative survey — are not breaking any laws under the new ban.

The New Jersey law, which wasn’t even aimed at stopping revenge porn, does a better job of holding the distributors responsible for their actions than the recent bill in California does. New Jersey’s law was directed at cyberbullying in general, but it also inadvertently criminalized revenge porn.

The New Jersey law tightened its focus on explicit pictures after the media storm of the 2010 suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who killed himself after his roommate posted a video of Clementi’s sexual encounter with another man.

The nation shouldn’t have to wait for more tragedies like Clementi’s suicide to improve current laws. Action needs to be taken now to prevent online harassment in all forms.

The fact that only two states have made legal attempts to prohibit this sort of online harassment highlights how poorly legislation has kept up with technological advances.

Nearly all states have some form of anti-cyberbullying statute in place, but a victim of revenge porn in Minnesota would not currently be able to seek justice.

Mary Anne Franks, University of Miami law professor, said  in an interview with Slate that most who oppose a federal law banning revenge porn often cite First Amendment violations.

However, free speech advocates argue that as long as the proposed law specifically bans “nonconsensual posting of nude pictures of another, in a context where there’s good reason to think that the subject did not consent to publication,” then it would not infringe on First Amendment rights.

One of the few options victims of revenge porn have is to file a civil lawsuit against the distributor of their images. Civil lawsuits are expensive and can end up attracting media attention, which victims of revenge porn are likely trying to avoid.

More than half of college students admit to receiving sexually suggestive images, according to a 2011 study by the University of Rhode
Island.

This is our generation’s problem. With the rise of revenge porn websites, we can’t allow loopholes in our cyber-bullying laws to leave victims without protection.

Our laws should reflect critical thinking on the way technology is mediating our relationships. A federal law should be our goal, but state laws are where we can start. There must be consequences of cruelly exploiting people through revenge porn.