How to Stop Revenge Porn? Make It a Crime.

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Sept. 24 2013 11:16 AM

How to Stop Revenge Porn? Make It a Crime.

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We should amend stalking and other anti-harassment legislation to reflect our new digital lives, in which a phone can be a weapon.

Photo by Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

What would it take to end the scourge of revenge porn? Erica Goode at the New York Times writes about efforts by activists—most of whom are victims themselves—to find legal remedies for the problem of men who decide to get "revenge" on ex-girlfriends by posting private nude images online. Right now, there aren't really any criminal penalties for jerks who feel entitled to shame and harass women for the sin of choosing not to date them any longer. California, however, is finally taking steps to close this legal loophole, passing a law criminalizing revenge porn. Unfortunately, it doesn't go far enough:

And even California’s law, which on Monday was awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, would make only some forms of revenge posting a misdemeanor punishable by jail time or a hefty fine — applying only to photos taken by others and posted with an intent to cause serious distress.
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The problem with this law is that it doesn't address nude selfies, which can be extracted by controlling boyfriends with emotional manipulation. As one victim, Marianna Taschinger, explained, her much-older boyfriend allegedly browbeat her into providing the selfies. "He said if I didn’t want to send them to him, that meant that I didn’t trust him, which meant that I didn’t love him." And even if a woman happily takes a naked selfie on her own accord, does that mean she is simply just leaving herself open to later exploitation? Just as we recognize that two people having had consensual sex doesn't mean later encounters are necessarily consensual, we should recognize that a picture offered as a consensual sexual gesture can later be turned into a tool to harass and abuse—and there should be penalties for that.

There's a growing body of evidence showing that the key to battling domestic abuse is to get into the assailant's head, figure out what motivates his behavior, and tailor the legal response accordingly. Even though revenge porn website purveyor Hunter Moore may pretend the motivation is nothing but an opportunity "to look at naked girls all day," in reality, the act of uploading a nudie picture to punish a woman for leaving you is less an erotic act and closer to the criminal behavior of stalking. Despite the word porn, it's clear the point is to humiliate and dominate and to send the message to the victim that she is not allowed to leave you just because she wants to. With that in mind, we should amend stalking and other anti-harassment legislation to reflect our new digital lives. Just because the abusive acts are happening in "virtual" spaces doesn't mean the terror of being stalked and harassed by a man who thinks that he has a right to punish you is any less terrifying. Our laws need to reflect this new reality.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

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