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UK v US: In Race to End …

Cyber Civil Rights, Revenge Porn, Social Media

UK v US: In Race to End Revenge Porn, UK Wins

October 10, 2014

The Red Coats are coming, the Red Coats are coming. . . but not from Internet humili-porn.  The UK has proven that it is leagues ahead of the US when it comes to keeping laws a-pace with technology.  Not only is revenge porn already illegal in the UK and Wales under existing harassment and malicious communication laws, the country is in the process of creating new, even more stringent laws.  And the support is overwhelming.

In England, advocate-victims like Hannah Thompson are joined by passionate media outlets, judges, politicians, federal law enforcement agencies, and even entire political parties.  They’ve all aligned in their shared recognition that revenge porn is a public harm and life-gutting for victims. The collectivity and commitment of UK’s action is envy inspiring.  For instance, The Sun dedicated itself for the past two weeks to raising awareness about the problem of revenge porn.  They focused, not on victims’ culpability like they do here in the US, but on the harms sustained by victims. And the UK parliament responded with a swiftness unimaginable here.  A senior government source told The Sun, “The Sun is right to point out the seriousness of this very nasty practice.  We will make it illegal with a specific new criminal offence so nobody is left in any doubt how unacceptable it is.”  UK lawmakers are in the process of crafting the laws this very second according to a loud voice in the fight, Jon Colverson.   Leading the path for reform is ex-Culture Secretary Maria Miller and Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert and Justice Secretary Chris Grayling.  Per The Sun, the Lib Dems and Labour were plotting an ambush if reform action wasn’t taken. Law enforcement in the UK is pitching in, too, by tracking the report, arrest, and prosecution rates for offenders during the past two years.

Meanwhile, here in the US, we have no federal laws criminalizing the conduct and only 14 states have criminal statutes that prosecute offenders.  Even our states with laws have been slow to enforce them and have seriously botched several cases.  For instance, NJ arrested three underage revenge porn VICTIMS using child pornography laws. In another case I was helping a victim in a southern state where a judge dismissed a case because somebody else with the defendant’s same common name was in federal custody.  In Virginia a woman had to campaign law enforcers for two warrants in order for the man who posted nudes onto Facebook to be arrested.   The liberal legal advocates that we ordinarily might expect to stand up for vulnerable populations, sabotage all efforts to criminalize revenge porn.

Unlike in the UK where support is diffused among several judicial, legislative, political, and media powerhouses, in the US, the lions’ share of the work for reform has fallen on the shoulders of a couple brave victims and The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative’s mighty members and volunteers.  With the exception of passionate journalists like Soraya Chemaly, our media gets involved only when there’s a salacious new story, like, say when nudes of glamorous celebrities go viral.  The only thing that makes for better clickbait than articles about revenge porn is revenge porn.  No publication here rivals the care and depth show by The Sun in the UK.  Even famous victims, save for Jennifer Lawrence’s tremendous interview in Vanity Fair, have been shy to condemn the nonconsensual distribution of nude images.  Politicians, including those sponsoring state bills have been meek. No political party, politician, candidate, judge or industry has taken the issue head on.

Lately the choice question of journalists has been asking our opinion about whether revenge porn should be categorized as a “sex crime.”  Over in the UK, that is a matter of fact – not opinion.  On October 8th, the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) issued a release stating their current laws are insufficient for targeting the behavior. Although CPS has made recent efforts to encourage enforcement and uniformity under existing laws, the consensus was that those existing laws didn’t adequately target revenge porn and that a lot of should-be cases were slipping through the cracks. The House of Lords is voting on an amendment in the Justice and Sentencing Bill later this month for stronger and better laws.  Advocates in the UK hope the new laws will be categorized under the Sexual Offences Act of 2003 which has the benefit of mandating victim anonymity, and in the most extreme cases, could carry a maximum sentence of 14 years.  UK MP Maria Miller calls revenge porn a “virtual form of sexual assault” and she is front and center on bashing websites for the part they play.

Based on the UK’s intolerance of revenge porn, it’s no surprise that ire against the United States’ blasé attitude is growing.  Their media is chastising of the United States’ permissive attitude, as British nationals are being injured by the United States’ refusal to hold websites liable.  Is it going to take a treaty for the United States to abolish revenge porn?!