How the world is legislating revenge porn

a broken iphone shattered on the ground, with an image of a pretty lady on its screen

Cory Doctorow / flickr (CC by 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

Canada’s landmark revenge porn settlement—and what it means in the U.S.

Victims of revenge porn have a history of being left to confront the traumatic fallout themselves. But advocates, lawmakers, and courts are fighting for solutions—even if they’re off to a slow start.

In a landmark case under the Ontario Superior Court this month, a woman under the name Jane Doe became the first Canadian to receive justice in a revenge porn case. Doe, whose private video sent to her ex-boyfriend was uploaded to Pornhub when she was 18, was awarded a total of $141,708.03 by Justice David G. Stinson. 

Stinson was quoted by Canada’s National Post: “while this case may be novel, it should serve as a precedent to dissuade others from engaging in similar harmful conduct.” Doe’s case may be a victory, but it isn’t Canada’s first widely publicized incident in this realm.

Darren Maurer, who posted nonconsensual photos of his ex-girlfriend online and distributed fliers of the photos to her workplace in 2012, was acquitted in 2014. In 2012, 15-year-old Audrie Pott committed suicide after being sexually assaulted, having images of the assault distributed online, and being bullied. In 2013, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons attempted suicide for reasons believed to be related to a similar situation. Parsons was taken off life support and died three days later.

Revenge porn is an enduring symptom of the Internet age. According to New York magazine, an Italian researcher found cases of revenge porn online in 2000. Along the way, regulation and criminalization of revenge porn seems to drag on both social media and legislative fronts. National Post notes that when Doe’s video was posted to Pornhub in 2011, it was not illegal in Canada to post images of adults online without their permission. It wasn’t until March that distributing revenge porn became illegal with Canada’s Bill C-13, which was partly inspired by Parsons. Just last week, Manitoba became the first province in Canada to allow victims of revenge porn to sue the distributors.

For some global perspective, the Philippines, Japan, Israel, Australia, France, Germany, and the U.K. all have laws against distributing sexually explicit images without the depicted person’s consent. The earliest was passed by the Philippines in 2009, with the other countries following suit between 2013 and 2015. The Philippines even requires written consent before sharing sexual, DIY content; Germany requires intimate photographs to be deleted at the request of the partner.

Last year Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter banned the posting of revenge porn on their sites, and Google and Microsoft began removing links to revenge porn in their search results.


In the United States, a bill against revenge porn has been workshopped for two years, and was set to be introduced to Congress last year, but was pushed back for “political reasons,” Dr. Mary Anne Franks told the Daily Dot. As the legislative and tech policy director for the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, Franks said she and other advisors to members of Congress don’t have control over when lawmakers introduce the bill. Franks said the bill took so long to workshop because federal law has different implications for the First Amendment and for Internet policies than state law does.

“We’ve been trying very hard to make sure that the number of people we’ve consulted about the bill have included constitutional scholars, prosecutors, defense lawyers, civil liberties groups, and also Internet and industry leaders as well, taking in the feedback and trying to make sure that we’re careful about this bill [initially], rather than try to fix [a finished bill] that’s not very good,” Franks said. “We’re really trying to make sure that what we do end up introducing is actually very solid on all these different grounds.”

In the meantime, revenge porn victims can turn to advocate groups, the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and EndRevengePorn.org included. Without My Consent and the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project both provide legal help to victims of revenge porn. All’s not lost on the state level, either. Twenty-six states have laws regarding revenge porn, and 13 more are in the process of getting laws passed.

“I hope that means that the federal bill we actually do introduce is going to have taken the lessons of various states… and the input of the various stakeholders,” Franks said. “That this bill, once it is introduced, really will be comprehensive, careful, and constitutional.”

Photo via Cory Doctorow/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman 

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British man sentenced to prison for sending explicit video of his ex to her 10-year-old brother
A man sent a sex video of his ex-girlfriend to her 10-year-old brother
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