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New York City To Criminalize Revenge Porn ?!?!?!

September 14, 2016

Today New York City lawmakers are announcing a new revenge porn bill! As I’ve discussed many times in many forums, New York State is one of the few states holding out on criminalizing revenge porn.

Nonconsensual pornography exacts real harms on innocent people. Our laws need to reflect our society’s morality. The passage of a properly drafted revenge porn bill does just that.

The nonconsensual disclosure of sexually graphic images – popularly called revenge porn – causes its victims instant no-end-in-sight devastation. A jealous ex, a malicious hacker, a horny frat bro, a pimp, a jealous friend or even a rapist can upload images to dedicated revenge porn websites and instantly thousands of people can view and share it. Sometimes the images or links are uploaded onto social media pages, mainstream websites, or sent directly to the victims friends, family, employers, colleagues. All without consent.

As a civil litigator concentrating on online and offline sexual privacy and assault in New York, I receive as many as six calls a day from crying hysterical, sometimes suicidal victims. They are age 13 to 65. They are 90 % women. Typically, they are in their early 20s starting a career, but if you google their name, the first couple pages are dominated by pornography and commentary about their genitals. They can’t get a job, get a date, even get an apartment. They are harassed by the mobs of consumers who see their images and the personal identifying information posted alongside it as an invitation to harass and threaten them. The injury and danger to victims is real online and offline. It’s not the victim’s fault — consensually sharing an in image with one person is not a waiver for that recipient to share the image with the entire Internet any more than buying shoes with a credit card authorizes the store clerk to purchase a Ferrari. We have laws for the latter, but not the former.

A strong bill must not discriminate based on the offender’s motives. Offenders are motivated to send naked images of another person by all sorts of reasons — to injure, humiliate, out of boredom, to show off sexual conquests, sexual gratification, money, competition, the joy of hacking, because he thinks the victim is hot (or not), or for no reason at all. The injury to the victim is massive. Who GAF why the offender did it as long as it was knowingly done. A strong bill must contain exceptions — such as the reporting of a crime, in a medical context, or some other lawful public purpose. There must be precise definitions for nudity and other key terms. It must extend to sex acts. (Example An image of somebody performing oral sex may not show the victim’s nudity, but the image is just as embarrassing.)

The NYC bill sponsored by the offices of Council Member Rory Lancman (Queens- D) and Council Member Daniel Garodnick (Manh) is a step in the right direction. With a little elbow grease, we can shape the bill to protect the full range of victims — not just those victimized by offenders with particular motives. Ultimately I hope we end up with something similar to that crafted for the state by State Assembly Man, Edward Braunstein (Qns – D). (Full disclosure, I co-drafted the civil arm of that law)

Two thirds of states have laws against revenge porn. In those places the lawmakers care about the sexual privacy of citizens. New York can’t continue being a safe harbor for perverts and abusers to sexually humiliate innocent people. If we can’t get our state to pass a law, our city must act.