Revenge Porn: Redefining the Meaning of Consent December 5, 2016

By Susan C. Stone and Kristina W. Supler

Everyone thinks he or she understands consent when it comes to sexual relationships.  The idea of consent quickly becomes murky, however, in an age of selfies, sexting, and hacking.  Photos initially taken for only an intimate partner’s eyes are now being widely disseminated on the Internet without the permission of the person depicted.   The unauthorized dissemination of such pictures has been labeled “revenge porn.”  Revenge porn is a new area of law involving the overlap of privacy rights, civil rights, and criminal law.

Recently, New Yorker Magazine featured a highly discussed article called “Taking Trolls to Court.”  This article highlighted some of the issues surrounding revenge porn.  Revenge porn, legally referred to as non-consensual pornography, is the non-consensual distribution of sexually graphic images.  In real life, revenge porn arises most commonly after the break-up of a relationship when the spurned partner posts nude photos of his or her ex online in order to humiliate the person depicted.  Revenge porn causes embarrassment and humiliation in social, academic, and professional settings.

Many states have recently enacted laws making it a crime to post pornographic photos of an ex without consent. Thus, those accused of posting revenge porn must be sure to seek legal counsel.  In September, lawmakers in Ohio introduced Senate Bill 353, which seeks to criminalize the act of distributing sexually explicit pictures without the knowledge of the person depicted.  Depending on the circumstances of the situation, such an act may currently constitute Telecommunications Harassment in violation of R.C. § 2917.21.  In states that do not have specific revenge porn statutes, those posting nude photographs of another without consent risk prosecution under invasion of privacy and/or harassment statutes.

For those who have been the victim of revenge porn, legal representation is also essential. Counsel can issue cease and desist letters and advise an individual as to his or her legal options as it relates to the filing of a civil suit.  For a student who has been the victim of revenge porn, counsel can assist with the filing of a Title IX complaint at an academic institution and/or filing a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, as well as with navigating the criminal justice system.

Revenge porn is a new twist on an old problem – creating mutually agreed upon boundaries in intimate relationships.  As social media continues to pervade our lives, this new territory for dispute has emerged.

If you are interested in legal representation, please contact Kristina Supler and Susan Stone who are well versed in legal matters involving consent.

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