California’s New Anti-Revenge Porn Bill Won’t Protect Most Victims

Publishing intimate images without the subject's consent is now a misdemeanor in California, but victims' advocates believe the effort doesn't go far enough

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Tim Robberts

Governor Jerry Brown announced this week that he had signed a bill that would outlaw the publication of “revenge porn,” a subset of online pornography comprised of graphic images or videos posted to the web without the subject’s consent.

With its passage, Calfornia becomes the second state following New Jersey with an anti-revenge-porn law on its books, but many victims and advocates are not celebrating because the law does not offer legal protection to victims who took the photos themselves.

A person can only be charged under the law if he or she published photos that they themselves had taken of a victim. A survey conducted by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a non-profit that confronts abuse online, found that 80 percent of photos published in revenge porn cases were self-taken shots, so the California law would only protect a minority of victims.

The news does come as some relief to the scores of revenge porn victims who have had their lives destroyed by jealous exes and blackhat hackers. The law will make publishing pornographic material of someone without consent and “with the intent to cause serious emotional distress” a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail or a $1,000 fine.

“It’s a good first step,” said Natalie Webb, director of communications at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. “But it doesn’t really offer meaningful coverage to most victims who have reached out to us. I’ve answered the e-mails of victims who reach out to us and the truth is, this won’t protect many of them.”

Republican State Senator Anthony Cannella, who sponsored the bill, said the original version of the bill included protections for victims who took photographs themselves.

“I can understand [victims’] concerns with the final bill, but at least we got people talking about it,” he said. “Then we can do more in the future.”

Holly Jacobs, the founder of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and herself a revenge porn victim, said she believed much of the pushback that came from California legislators was rooted in “victim blaming.”

“If you want my honest opinion as to why this law is so weak, I believe it was unfortunately due to victim-blaming on the part of other legislators,” Jacobs said in an e-mail. One bill drafter, Jacobs said, told her people who take intimate self-shots are “stupid.”

Charlotte Laws, a revenge porn activist who worked with Cannella on the bill, said that it was important to pass a bill which be expanded later.

“The future plan is to make an amendment so that self-shots are covered,” Laws said. “But I do feel like California has wiped away some tears and pain with the passage of this law.” Laws’s daughter, Kayla, was the victim of revenge porn when a hacker allegedly stole intimate photos she had taken of herself from her computer.

Jacobs said she is working to get anti-revenge porn legislation on the books in Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

11 comments
stewart8030
stewart8030

Stop taking obscene selfies and you won't have to worry about it. 

EukaryoteGrex
EukaryoteGrex

I'll note that, however stupid some legislators might be (why is it that they think a picture *I* take of myself is less my property than a picture someone else takes of me?), there are already legal grounds for action against people spreading selfies against the will of the subject - according to Federal copyright law, the photographer owns the rights by default, and therefore she or he most likely has a valid copyright infringement claim against exes publishing it against their will.

Ultimately, the solution will be cultural - when you're known as 'that jerk who posts naked pictures of their exes', fewer people will invite you into their beds or share their photos with you.

BobFromDistrict9
BobFromDistrict9

Make it federal. The internet is interstate, therefore revenge porn laws can be federal.


Make the punishment time in prison, not just a fine. Make it a mandatory minimum for a first offense. Allow civil suits also. Even if the mandatory minimum is a week or two, that will make an impression. Also, consider making it a felony. Even the lowest level felony has repercussions a misdemeanor doesn't.

FreonSandoz
FreonSandoz

I think the lawmakers who excluded self-taken pictures are the ones who are stupid. They know well what the article fails to mention: if it cannot be proven who took the picture, the person who posts it cannot be successfully prosecuted. This makes the law almost as useless as our legislators.

GremlinBrenneman
GremlinBrenneman

Duh... don't take obscene pics of yourself b/c law can't defend against stupidity.

jabber2
jabber2

I dont condone it... but this is about PUBLISHING pictures.
What if given to a friend manually via a USB stick or text ,,, then someone else publishes it. 

And if they participated in a picture willingly and knowingly - why do they themselves determine the use of the picture rather than another person?! It seems to directly contradict many 1st amendment rights.

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