bra phone 1

Illustration by Max Fleishman (Licensed)

Finally, a way for victims to get justice.

When Anisha Vora discovered that her ex-boyfriend was posting their private nude photos to porn sites in 2012, she was horrified. She was also a rarity: Unlike many victims of revenge porn, police took Vora's situation seriously and arrested her ex.

"Even after an arrest, he continued to post. This time it was more spiteful," said Vora on Thursday in a Facebook Live video shared on Rep. Jackie Speier's (D-Calif.) page. "It forced me to deactivate my Facebook, change my phone number, drop out of school, and leave the state."

Guys started showing up at her parents' house, leaving naked pictures of her on the doorstep. She was recognized while shopping, while walking down the street. Strange men approached her and said they had read online that she had fantasies of being raped. Vora was terrified and traumatized. She was living her life in hiding—and yet her photos were living on roughly 3,000 websites.

Eventually her ex was charged with invasion of privacy, served a short time in jail, and was charged $200. But Vora had spent thousands on attorneys who worked countless hours battling to get her photos taken off the internet. She also spent years running from her ex-boyfriend's harassment. If only there had been a law specifically against what her ex-boyfriend had done to her, maybe photos they'd shared during a private moment wouldn't have taken over her life.

Now, after over two years of delicate negotiations, Congress is finally introducing such a law—the federal revenge porn bill—which, if passed, could help revenge porn victims like Vora prosecute their aggressors.

The Intimate Privacy Protection Act (IPPA) was introduced on Thursday by Rep. Speier alongside co-sponsors Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Thomas Rooney (R-Fla.), and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).

Revenge porn is the layman's term for nonconsensual pornography, a crime that typically involves sharing or publishing nude or sexualized images of someone without their consent. Emerging alongside increased access to smartphones and social media, revenge porn often looks like what happened to Vora, but it can take various forms. In one of the highest-profile revenge porn cases, rapper 50 Cent published a privately acquired sex tape starring the ex-girlfriend of one of his rivals in order to shame him. The woman, Lastonia Leviston, sued and was awarded a $7 million settlement.

At Thursday's IPPA introduction on the congressional floor, Speier referred directly to celebrity cases and said that a federal bill will give the average revenge porn victim the same leverage as Leviston. 

"Celebrities and other high-profile victims might be able take on these predators in civil courts, but the average person can’t afford that option," said Speier. "Even more disturbing is the number of victims who have mustered the courage and strength to pursue criminal charges, only to learn there is no law that protects them. My bill will fix that appalling legal failure."

The bill's introduction was streamed via Facebook Live on Speier's page. The bipartisan coalition of congressional representatives and district attorneys highlighted how the problem of nonconsensual pornography has swept across the country, quickly becoming a legal issue in every state.

[Placeholder for https://www.facebook.com/JackieSpeier/videos/10154132327486977/ video embed.]

"It is not OK to say that this is just an internet problem, a virtual problem," said Clark. "It is not OK to tell women they need to change their behavior, restrict their relationships, or stay off the internet altogether. For decades, victims of assault and abuse have been told they've provoked the abuse with what they wore or what they said. We've worked hard to change that culture."

The Daily Dot reached out to University of Miami law professor Mary Anne Franks, who co-authored the bill along with dozens of state-level legislative acts. Franks is also on the board of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a group that has led the front lines of fighting revenge porn through legislation, victim advocacy, and legal representation.

In June 2015, Franks told the Daily Dot that the 21-plus state bills CCRI helped pass were helpful—but not as helpful as a sweeping federal law.

"When you’re at 21 states with revenge porn laws, what happens is you have 21 different definitions," said Franks, explaining that the success of state-level legislation has actually created even more of a need for a federal law. "Part of why we see the federal bill as the natural next step is because we want a concrete, clear definition of what nonconsensual pornography is."

Attorney Carrie Goldberg, who battles revenge porn perpetrators in court and as a member of the CCRI, said that her law firm has fought to take down a total of 919 sexually graphic images to date—all published online without the consent of their subjects.

"Because the content appears in their search engine results, my clients fear they will never get hired and that nobody will want to date them," Goldberg said in a statement emailed to the Daily Dot. "In religiously conservative cultures, victims are excommunicated. They are forced to move, quit school, change jobs, change their names."

Goldberg pointed out that federal laws have been quick to catch up to leaks in corporate data, financial and health data, and other privacy-protection information online. Yet private images of our bodies and sex acts have not been taken as seriously—until now.

During the congressional introduction, she also noted that several countries, including the U.K., already have federal legislation banning revenge porn.

"This is a borderless crime," said Goldberg, who said she receives as many as six calls a day from "crying, despondent" victims whose ages are as low as 13.

At the introduction, another survivor of revenge porn spoke about her own experience. But Holly Jacobs, a founder of CCRI, explained that pending litigation against her perpetrator limited what she could say about her own case. Jacobs said that she got a threatening message, and two days later her naked pictures were on 200 websites along with her phone number, address, and other vulnerable information.

"I went to the police and they all said the same thing: You're over 18. There are no laws against this," she recalled.

Jacobs changed her legal name and submitted takedown notices to websites every single day for years. She was diagnosed with PTSD and depression, she said, and once considered suicide.

"Because there was no platform for me and other victims," said Jacobs while speaking from the podium at Congress, "I decided to build one."


Promoted Stories Powered by Sharethrough
privacy
Revenge porn victims have a new way to get help online
California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris announced Wednesday the launch of an online resource hub and awareness campaign aimed at fighting revenge porn. And she’s encouraging people to use the hashtag #EndCyberExploitation to spread the word.
From Our VICE Partners
Group

Pure, uncut internet. Straight to your inbox.

Thanks for subscribing to our newsletter!