It’s time to get serious for a second. This is not comedy and it is not an opportunity for comedy or sarcasm.
A few months ago I heard about “revenge porn.” At first I thought it was just another way to spam people to porn sites. I took a look to find out for myself what all the commotion was about. It was clear within a minute that the women and men on these pages were victims. And then I found out they were victims twice: first by the person who betrayed their trust and posted their pictures and second by the sites who are extorting the victims to get their names removed (most sites will not remove the pictures – only the victim’s name, for a fee).
This irked me to no end. I don’t know why this particular injustice irritated me more than others, or why I felt motivated to get involved in this injustice over others. But I did. I felt compelled to notify victims so they could do something about it: to get them the info they needed to help them. I felt compelled to watch the cases and see what was being done to take these sites offline permanently. I wrote to my Alabama legislators encouraging them to write legislation that would make it illegal in Alabama. I signed petitions. Anything I could do.
I collected as much legal data as I could get, found helpful links for victims, got updates from victims about their successes and failures, and then I compiled that data into a message I send to new victims. Unfortunately, I can only successfully identify about 30% of the victims. Many of them are named wrong, have the wrong states (sometimes I can still find them if they have a unique name), or are just faceless bodies (sometimes a piercing or tattoo can help me identify them). I wish I could notify 100% of the victims, but there is just no way to do it. For those who are not identified, I can only hope that when they find out one day that they Google the right thing and find the resources they need.
One of the sites that I had been targeting blocked all IP’s from California sometime in the last 24 hours, which does not surprise me given California’s recent activity against revenge porn sites. However, they also blocked my IP. Apparently they figured out what I was doing (perhaps through a fake profile on the page that I contacted thinking was a victim). But thanks to TOR, I was able to get back on and notify an additional 12 victims today alone.
Revenge porn is not a one-sided epidemic: men, women, gays, lesbians, etc. are all victims of revenge porn. While the betrayal of trust by the person who took the photos is certainly bad enough, the fact that the sites are extorting money from the victims to remove their names (most sites will only remove the name – not the pictures), is a blatant violation of laws in most states. Luckily, a few states are catching on. California’s Attorney General for example is going after them for extortion. And Senator Cannella has now introduced legislation specifically targeting revenge porn. One of the revenge porn site owners was recently arrested in Oklahoma for extortion as well. Another method that revenge porn sites rely on is hacking people’s cell phones to get their nude selfies. Hacking is illegal, so that’s another way to take down these sites.
The DMCA laws may help some victims in these cases as well. If you take your own picture, you own the copyright of it. DMCA may not apply if you let someone else take the picture of you. You should really contact a lawyer for assistance if you find yourself a victim of revenge porn and get solid advice based on your state laws, as they vary from state to state (unfortunately).
If you or someone you know is a victim of revenge porn, here are some helpful sites:
Adam Steinbaugh’s Law & Technology Blog
Women Against Revenge Porn
Harvard Law’s Jolt Digest: Unwanted Exposure
End Revenge Porn (petition to make it illegal in all states)