Hoylman forum highlights lack of protection against ‘revenge porn’

State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo courtesy of Senator Hoylman)

State Senator Brad Hoylman (Photo courtesy of Senator Hoylman)

By Maria Rocha-Buschel

State Senator Brad Hoylman hosted a forum to promote awareness on intimate partner violence and nonconsensual pornography, commonly known as “revenge porn,” at the LGBT Center last Friday. The event was co-hosted by the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence and co-sponsored by Assemblymember Deborah Glick, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James.

Hoylman and other advocates at the event drew attention to the fact that there is no specific legislation in New York State that criminalizes the distribution of nonconsensual pornography.

“The truth is that the internet is not a safe place, particularly for women, people of color and LGBT individuals,” he said. “We can’t ask people to just forget about things because these are impacts that reverberate for the rest of your life. The fact that New York State has no law is truly shameful. No one should have to deal with this. It’s time for lawmakers to counter the growing threats.”

Holly Jacobs, the founder of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI) and a victim of nonconsensual pornography, said that the term “revenge porn” is actually a misnomer because the phrase implies that there is always a personal relationship, but not all of the videos and photos distributed are motivated by revenge.

“Some are motivated by money, others by internet notoriety because the material becomes currency among young males,” she said, citing an incident reported on by the New York Times last November in which high school students in Colorado traded and collected hundreds of naked photos of other students in a so-called sexting ring.

Jacobs said that she prefers the term nonconsensual pornography because it includes revenge porn, which is material usually obtained with consent in the context of an intimate relationship, as well as images obtained without consent.

Mary Anne Franks, a professor of law at the University of Miami, has worked with legislators in more than two dozen states to draft legislation against the nonconsensual distribution of sexually explicit images but she explained that there are still obstacles for victims because the laws vary from state to state. Franks said that the issue also becomes more confusing when victims have consented to sexually explicit photos being taken but not consented to their public distribution. Franks has worked with CCRI to create a model law that criminalizes the disclosure of these images when the person distributing them “should reasonably know” that the victim didn’t consent to their disclosure.

Jacobs explained that a typical case usually involves images or video featured on porn and social media sites that almost always include personal information. Comments often include viewers discussing the victim’s imperfections and faults. Search results on Google and other major search engines often show the videos, which frequently get emailed to the victim’s boss and family members so the perpetrator knows the images will have their intended effect. Jacobs said that the harassment can quickly go from online to offline when personal addresses are posted along with the videos.

Jacobs said that there are at least 3,000 websites that post nonconsensual pornography and 90 percent of the victims are female. Victims are threatened with sexual assault, suffer emotional distress, are pressured to remain in abusive relationships, are fired and expelled from school, and their relationships with others can be devastated. Many of the victims can experience severe psychological trauma and also can suffer from victim blaming, which Jacobs refers to as a second victimization. One of the most common responses to the distribution of images taken with consent is the victims being questioned about why they allowed the images to be taken in the first place.

“Imagine how it makes a victim feel to go to people who are supposed to support them and they receive blame and shame,” she said. “It’s a naïve and well-intentioned response but with this, we’re letting the perpetrator off the hook instead of saying what he did is a terrible thing. It’s similar to asking a victim of sexual assault what she was wearing.”

Nonconsensual pornography activist Chrissy Chambers shared her experience at the forum of becoming a victim of nonconsensual pornography when a video of her ex-boyfriend raping her surfaced four years after she broke up with him. Chambers has been working as an advocate for victims of nonconsensual pornography since she became aware of the videos in 2013 and has been unable to file charges against her ex-boyfriend for the video.

“My shame manifested itself in my confidence in myself,” Chambers said. “I became shier than I used to be, retreating into myself. But I realized that silence hurts the situation more and the victim shaming must stop. We have to remind people what is vulgar.”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s