Intimate photos that wound intimately

Bill seeks to punish 'revenge porn'

  • Pin It

In a scene in the HBO series "Newsroom," brainy financial reporter Sloan Sabbith confronts her spurned lover, who has posted nude pictures of her on the Internet as payback. The pictures are an immediate sensation — they have their own Facebook page — and she is in danger of being fired.

She responds by politely interrupting a meeting he is conducting and, in front of his colleagues, she kicks him in the groin and delivers a right cross that knocks him down and bloodies his face.

Few women — and it is almost always women — get that kind of satisfaction when an ex punishes them by posting intimate pictures on one of the many websites now available for what is called "revenge porn."

A bill that Baltimore County Del. Jon Cardin will propose in the next legislative session would make it a felony to humiliate and endanger someone by posting nude or salacious photos on the Internet without permission, even if the photos were OK with everybody when they were taken.

He is working closely with University of Maryland law school professor – and international cyber privacy expert – Danielle Keats Citron as well as advocate Annmarie Chiarini, herself the target of revenge porn, to gather testimony about the devastating consequences of this kind of harassment and to address the First Amendment issues that are part and parcel of any attempt to criminalize expression.

The law would not, for example, suppress the crotch shots former Congressman Anthony Weiner sent to women, who later shared them without his consent, because those would be considered to have news value.

But it would make it a crime punishable by up to five years in prison or a $25,000 fine to release explicit images or videos of an ex-significant other on the Internet. Its proponents hope it would make anybody think twice before trying to punish an ex in this way.

There is no doubt about the damage revenge porn can do. By providing identifying information and suggesting that the woman in the photograph is available for sex, it puts those women at physical risk. And how humiliating must it be to know that everyone you know, and a lot of people you don't know, has seen you in flagrante.

Where does the woman come up with the hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars the websites demand in exchange for the false promise that the pictures will be taken down? Or the money to hire a lawyer and pursue a civil suit against a slug of a guy who doesn't have any money to pay damages anyway? And what about the boss or the employer who wants no parts of that girl in the photograph?

In fact, the law is aimed at the behavior of a particular group — Millennials who are open to exploring their sexuality with the aid of a cell phone camera, and who can reap the whirlwind if the relationship goes south. While the proponents hope the law will be a deterrent to posting those pictures in revenge, I am hoping this whole conversation will be a deterrent to taking them and sharing them in the first place. Find another way to stoke the fires of passion, people.

This point of view puts me dangerously close to blaming the victim, a young women caught in a nightmare that has caused some to consider suicide and others to act on that impulse. But we should be telling our daughters and our young women friends that they can't count on the police, the courts or the legislature to protect them from the consequences of their own poor judgment.

Not because they don't deserve that protection. They do. But because they should not be putting the tools to wound them so horribly into the hands of someone else in the generally unjustified hope that the state will have their back, no matter how safe and committed a relationship they believed themselves to be in.

The future is unknown and photos unleashed on the Internet can never be retrieved. And few are as vulnerable as those who love or as unpredictable as those who have loved and lost.

Have this conversation with the young women in your life.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

  • Pin It

Negative campaign ads [Poll]

Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler rolled out the first negative advertisements in the Democratic primary campaign for governor last week, criticizing the leadership of front-runner Anthony G. Brown. Do you find such ads useful in a political campaign?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not sure

EDITORIAL POLL

PHOTO GALLERIES