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Are Revenge Porn Bills a Feminist Act, Like the Liberals Say?

If revenge porn bills aren’t a feminist act, then what are they? In this article, we consider this question, and whether enough is being done in the US to prevent and stop revenge porn.

With the wake of social media and new technologies, there has been an interconnected surge in the distribution of non-consensual pornography. The outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent nationwide lockdowns have further exacerbated this violent trend.

As the song says, breaking up is hard to do, and it can be considerably harder when one party chooses to use extreme measures to get revenge on their ex. For centuries, scorned partners have turned to violence to gain revenge for their partner leaving them. However, in recent years, we’ve seen the emergence of a new and unpleasant form of payback – that of revenge porn.

According to The Hill, “Liberals see stopping revenge porn as a feminist cause, as the majority of victims are female.” The question is, is this true, and what bills are out there to stop it? In this article, we explore these questions…

What is Revenge Porn?

Revenge porn is the act of publishing sexually explicit videos or photographs of an individual online with the purpose of causing the subject of the material distress and humiliation. In most cases, revenge porn occurs when a romantic relationship has broken down, leaving one party feeling wronged. That person will often then access intimate photographs or videos which were taken during the relationship which were typically intended for just the two parties involved.

The perpetrator will then proceed to post this material onto social media to be seen by anybody who happens to have access to a certain page or site. Often, quite some time will pass before the victim even realises that the content has been published. Even on discovery, may need to go through a lengthy process in order to have the material taken down.

Why is Revenge Porn Now a Crime?

The internet and social media can be great tools for both our professional and personal lives but, unfortunately, easy access can leave people vulnerable to abuse. Far from being a prank or ‘a bit of fun’, revenge porn can be devastating for victims.

This was highlighted in 2017 when 21-year-old Regents University student, Damilya Jussipaliyva, took her own life by jumping from her flat window after suffering revenge porn. Shockingly, the perpetrator, Damilya’s ex-boyfrriend, Alessio Bianchi, was ruled to have had no involvement in the student’s death.

The Start of the Revenge Porn Bills

In 2015, legal history was made when Jason Asagba of Romford was convicted of revenge porn crimes after posting inappropriate images of an unnamed 20-year-old woman on social media. The victim reported the crime just three days after new laws came into effect and, as a result, Asagba received a six-month suspended jail sentence and was ordered to pay costs of £345.

Laying Down the Law on Revenge Porn

As cases of revenge porn begin to accelerate, lawmakers across the globe decided that it was time to step in. In a bid to tackle the alarming increase in these crimes, the UK and US government’s brought in the following legislation:

The UK

In 2015, for the first time, revenge porn was recognised as a criminal offence in the UK with section 33 of The Criminal Justice Act 2015 stating, ‘The Act extends the existing offence of disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress at section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 to include ‘threats’ to disclose such material’.

This Act meant that victims of revenge porn can now take criminal action against those who posted explicit images online without permission. The law also states that even threatening to take such action is to be considered a criminal offence. The intent behind this is hoping to work as a very real deterrent to would-be offenders.

The criminal offence aspect here covers three factors which need to be proven and, these are:

  • Proven disclosure of a private sexual photograph or film – this includes private messaging, posting on the internet and social media and, the distribution of printed material.
  • No consent from the person depicted.
  • The intention of causing that person distress.

While this law is a major step forward, it does not, yet, include doctored photographs. For example, if the perpetrator superimposes a photograph of the victim’s head onto the body of another person, they are unlikely to be liable to prosecution. There are many calls for the laws to be extended to include any and all sexually charged content posted online.

Another problem does exist is consent. It can be incredibly difficult for victims and defendants to conclusively prove whether or not consent was given for material to be published.

The US

Since February 2021, 46 of 50 USA states, plus Washington D.C, have passed the State Revenge Porn Laws. This law seeks to actively prevent and prosecute cases the distribution of non-consensual pornography.

The four states that didn’t enact this bill were Wyoming, Mississippi, South Carolina and Massachusetts. This is an update from The Communciation Decency Act of 1996 which actually protected websites and service providers from any liability, should such imagery be published.

Although the 46 states now actively seeks to outlaw and prosecute perpetrators of revenge porn there are, at present, no plans for this to be brought into Federal Law across the United States.

Is Revenge Porn a Universal Problem?

We’ve mentioned in this article just how harmful revenge porn can be, however, there are those who still disregard the matter as a ‘feminist issue’ rather than a criminal one. This line of thinking assumes that the people speaking out against revenge porn are women who are in the habit of speaking out on all the ways in which women are treated differently from men. There are two problems to this theory and, these are:

Gender

Not all victims of revenge porn are female. While the majority of revenge porn are women, there are also countless men who have fallen victim to this deeply unpleasant crime. One such example is that of Australian staffer, Nathan Winn, who was sacked for lewd conduct after an explicit video was posted online which showed Winn performing a sex act on a man in Parliament House.

Liberal MP, Warren Entsch, immediately leapt to Winn’s defence, stating that the incident was clearly a case of revenge porn and should be reported to the Australian Federal Police for a full investigation. On taking the case, Australian lawyer, Greg Barns, said, ‘The ACT laws make it very clear that the distribution of intimate images is a criminal offence unless there is real, informed consent by the person portrayed in the image’.

While this was an extremely public case, it’s thought that most male victims are reluctant to come forward for fear of being ridiculed by their male peers. Furthermore, this would account for the disproportionately small number of cases featuring male victims.

The Name

The fact is that the very name ‘revenge porn’ is a problem as this suggests that the victim has, in fact, committed some offence which ‘deserves’ an act of revenge. In reality, the victim is usually guilty of no more than finishing a relationship or turning down the advances of a would-be suitor. The best weapon that legislators can fight for is to denormalise the use of this term and replace it with terminology which leaves absolutely no doubt as to the criminality of these activities.

Shortcomings in the Legislation

In the UK, 200 cases of revenge porn were tried in court in 2016, and a further 337 in 2018. Despite this, figures show that the number of cases being brought to court has been on a steady decline since then.

Many suggest that this is due to the fact that, a lot of the time, victims are simply not receiving the support that they need in order to have the confidence to go to trial. Subsequently, in 2018, over a third of victims ultimately decided not to proceed with their cases. 

Ms Mortimer of the Revenge Porn Helpline blames these dropped cases on a lack of anonymity for victims, saying, “We’d also like to see it made a sexual offence because that would guarantee anonymity for victims.”

Ms Mortimer also voiced concerns about how cases are handled by the police, adding, “It’s all very well changing the law and making these things illegal, but if the frontline services don’t understand what the law actually means then you’ve only done half the job.” Ms Mortimer’s claims are backed up by a police officer survey by the University of Suffolk which found that 95% of the officers surveyed revealed that they had received no training at all specific to revenge porn legislation.

Is the US Doing Enough to Tackle Revenge Porn?

The internet allows us the opportunity to express our opinions and to share imagery with just a few clicks of a button. It was always inevitable that, in the wrong hands, it could be used to cause harm.

In 2022, many people feel that laws around the world don’t go anywhere near far enough in addressing the very real harm that can be caused by revenge porn. Further calls for it to be classed as a sexual offence can be expected in the near future. 

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