Talking to a Brooklyn Revenge Porn Lawyer

Talking to a Brooklyn Revenge Porn Lawyer

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Women don’t need anyone to tell them that the phenomenon known as “revenge porn” could happen to them. Whether by anonymous hacking, or worse, a person we once trusted choosing to betray us, we are all very, very, painfully aware. So why aren’t there laws protecting women—the unspoken truth is that the social consequences of revenge porn are far more devastating for female victims than for male—from further torture?

Last week, we received another reminder that our judicial system’s views on revenge porn are even more absurd than we’d thought, when a New York judge dismissed the case against 29-year-old Brooklynite Ian Barber, who Tweeted naked photos of his girlfriend and sent them to her employer and sister. The official decision reads, “The Court concludes that defendant’s conduct, while reprehensible, does not violate any of the criminal statues under which he is charged.” For Barber to be sentenced, he would have either had to send the photos directly to his girlfriend in order for it to be considered harassment, have taken the photos illegally, or have publicly displayed them. According to the judge, “publicly” doesn’t apply to a subscription service like Twitter.

To the modern layman, there are already many things wrong with this logic, but to an expert, they’re even more frustrating. We talk with Brooklyn lawyer and revenge porn expert Carrie Goldberg to find out why.

What’s the short answer as to why New York State doesn’t have any good revenge porn laws?
The reason there are no revenge porn laws in New York State is because there wasn’t, until recently, enough pressure on legislators, the police, courts, for the laws to be created. Different iterations of revenge porn have existed for awhile, but it is only now that there’s an upswing of intolerance toward it. Nor was there societal recognition that the consequences of revenge porn are truly harmful to the victims. It was really common (and still is to some extent) to dismiss the seriousness of the harms to victims especially when the intimate picturess and videos were voluntarily shared with a partner who went on to betray that trust. Sexting a risqué photo to a boyfriend does not amount to consenting for it to be posted publicly on, say myex.com alongside the victim’s name, address, and lewd comments. It’s like, if I give the waiter at Peter Luger my credit card to pay for dinner, I’m not consenting for him to charge me for the entire restaurant’s steaks.

Why isn’t revenge porn legally considered harassment, even if it’s not direct?
Criminal harassment requires a “course of conduct,” or repetition, by the defendant. A scorned ex might post graphic images just once to a revenge porn site. Sometimes that is all it takes for something to go viral and for somebody’s life to be forever changed. But it nevertheless does not constitute a “course of conduct.”

What’s the first thing someone should do if she finds a private photo of herself online?
If somebody finds a private photo of herself online, swift action is essential. Immediately take a screen shot. If there’s info about when it was posted, who posted it, and how many views it’s gotten, take a screen shot of those things too along with any comments posted. Next, contact the website that posted it. Inform them that it depicts you and that it was posted without your consent. Demand that it be removed immediately and that they provide you with the following information:  1) Identity of the person who posted image(s), 2) IP address of the person who posted image(s), 3) Date when image(s) were submitted, 4) Date when it was posted (if not obvious), 5) Number of unique views the image(s) have received. Save the email and re-send it if the material is not removed.  Search elsewhere online to see if images were posted on other websites. Visit the site regularly to see if it has been removed. If it’s not removed within 24 hours, contact an attorney. The nonprofit End Revenge Porn has vetted attorneys who have volunteered to assist victims (here’s a list). If you know who posted it, keep track of all other hostile contact from that person. Contact the police if you feel threatened. Keep notes about your emotional and physical responses (i.e. trouble sleeping, nausea, inability to eat, vomiting).

Are there any online communities or resources where victims can congregate and try to take action together?
Victims should be very careful when seeking support online. Certain websites have the appearance of being supportive, but really have malicious intent and have been revealed to be owned and operated by the very hosts of the revenge porn sites that they are pretending to protect the victim from—one site posts the lurid image and the other induces the victim to pay for the “reputation rehabilitation” services to remove it. That’s extortion. The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative is an excellent resource for victims. In addition to its impact on federal and state legislative stages, through its End Revenge Porn campaign it provides emotional and moral support to individuals whose intimate photos and/or videos have been disseminated on the Internet without their consent.  And they also pair victims with vetted lawyers.

What happens if the victim is under the age of 18? Is it true that she or he, too, could be found guilty for possession of child pornography?
If the victim is under age 18, the defendant risks being charged with both possession and distribution of child pornography.

How often are men victims of revenge porn, would you say?
I’ve read that 90% of victims of revenge porn are women. I’m not sure if the remaining ten percent is comprised solely of men or also includes other sexual identities. I would argue that in our society, the impact on a man’s image being disseminated is much different than that of a woman’s.

Do you ever think a revenge porn law could be instated on a federal level? What would need to happen for that to occur?
It is my opinion that narrowly tailored federal laws should be enacted to create penal consequences for persons who, without consent of the depicted individual, disseminate intimate photos and videos on the internet. For this to happen, a federal lawmaker would need to sponsor a bill or amend the federal cyber stalking statute to include revenge porn.

 Why did you choose to become an expert on revenge porn?
Following an experience with a vengeful person in my own life, I became intimately aware of the galaxy of websites that serve no purpose other than to humiliate women and cater to cowards.  That these websites are allowed to exist and that our country and most states have no criminal consequences deterring it is maddening. It’s an area where the law has not caught up with technology and as a result, bad actors are running amuck online with forums to do so where they can muck up the reputations and lives of innocent people. It was an organic, albeit rage-fueled decision to transfer my fifteen years of victims’ rights advocacy and litigation toward victims of revenge porn. It’s a preventable problem with attainable goals.  For me, 2014 is what I’ve dubbed the year of the take-down takedown!

(For more information, contact Carrie at her website.)

In December, nude selfies of an NYU student (who is better known as one-half of the Disney Channel’s The Suite Life of Zach & Cody) surfaced on a girl’s Tumblr after they’d sexted. The result was about one day’s worth of stupid jokes from Disney hounds and a pretty interesting experience on campus, followed by a few hilarious responses from Dylan Sprouse via Twitter (e.g. “#THANKSOBAMA,” which will go down in history as the greatest embodiment of the meme, ever). I can’t speak for all male victims of revenge porn—which is exactly what Dylan is, regardless of his admirable ability to make light of it—but what Dylan’s story illuminates is the undeniable truth that the social punishment for a naked male body versus a naked female body is far more severe for women. Even if the sexes have an equal impulse to take nude selfies, it’s her body that ends up offending The Children, not his. Remember Rob Lowe’s, Dustin Diamond (a.k.a. Screech)’s, or Colin Ferrel’s sex tapes? Neither does anyone else. Did Seth MacFarlane shame you via a tasteless song-and-dance routine for having seen your dick in a movie? No? Of course not.

That New York and the United States don’t have revenge porn laws is wrong and terribly outdated, but even if victims are lucky enough to someday see their hackers, their harassers or their ex-lovers face legal punishment, they will have already experienced far worse themselves. Revenge porn victims exist in an invaded space, where a stranger’s stare carries the grossest implications, where parents and friends are forced to become something different, where a career is always deemed unlikely in the threat of a simple Google search. It’s time our laws reflected the consequences for victims of revenge porn.

Follow Rebecca Jennings on Twitter @rebexxxxa

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