Of all the posts I’ve written in my years of running this blog, few have gotten more traffic and response than an article I wrote three years ago on revenge porn. It focused on the malicious revenge porn site, MyEx.com, which posts intimate, personal and sometimes pornographic images often submitted by the subject’s ex-lover. The site’s operators allow posters to spread rumors and make unverified attacks on exes, and even attach links to the victim’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

The MyEx.com story rivets reader attention because of the mortifying shock caused by finding one’s intimate photos or videos published online without consent. Revenge porn can ruin relationships with not only lovers but family and friends, and devastate careers. It may be the worst nightmare of the digital age.

However, the legal and legislative environment surrounding revenge porn is changing rapidly. Courts have issued some critical verdicts against revenge porn purveyors, and state legislators and Congress are stepping into the fray. In the wake of a massive revenge porn scandal in the armed forces uncovered in March, Facebook launched a policy initiative designed to make it easier to remove intimate photos the individual never wanted to be posted online. With all the news on revenge porn, it seems like an appropriate time to revisit the issue with an updated post on the subject.

What Is Non-Consensual Pornography?

Of course the term “revenge porn” is a misnomer. Sometimes there is no revenge motive. Extortion or maliciousness can sometimes motivate posts.  A significant portion of cases “involves people who do not even know each other,” writes Mary Anne Franks a professor at the University of Miami School of Law. “The proprietors of revenge porn websites, for example, do not have personal grievances against the thousands of victims depicted without consent on their platforms.” She added that revenge was not on the minds of the California patrol officers who accessed and shared intimate photos of suspects picked up for DUI or the nursing home caretakers who shared private photos of their patients on Snapchat.

Specialists prefer to use the term “non-consensual pornography” to describe the publishing of intimate photos without the permission of the photos’ subjects.

The roots of revenge porn pre-date the internet, going back to a feature in Hustler magazine in the 1970s and 1980s.  Hustler ran a section called “Beaver Hunt” in which readers were invited to send in homemade photos. One of the first lawsuits involving revenge porn came when a Texas woman named LaJuan Wood found that Hustler had published nude photos of her taken by her husband. It turned out the Woods’ neighbors had stolen the pictures and submitted them to the magazine. The neighbors forged a consent form and made up information about LaJuan’s sexual fantasies.  LaJuan Wood was so distraught, she needed psychological counseling. She sued for defamation and invasion of privacy and won $150,000 in damages.

Celebrities And Everyday People Victimized By Revenge Porn

Of course, with the growth the internet, the number of cases of revenge porn has proliferated. Some cases involve celebrities like Scarlett Johansson or Mischa Barton. However, most victims are people who are pretty much anonymous, or at least were anonymous before their right to privacy was violated.

A 2013 survey by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a  nonprofit group fighting revenge porn, helped shed light on who the victims are and how Revenge Porn damaged their lives. The survey encompassed 361 victims of nonconsensual pornography. Fully 90% of the victims were women, and 57% said an ex-boyfriend posted the material. The vast majority of victims had taken the photos themselves. Meanwhile, 82% said publishing the intimate material had triggered significant impairment either in their social life or at work.  Forty-two percent had sought psychological help. Three percent went so far as to legally change their names and 42% considered doing so.

Lately, some victims have been fighting back more aggressively. Anisha Vora’s ex-boyfriend posted nude photos of her that were picked up by 3,000 websites. Strangers who’d seen the photos showed up on her doorstep. She called the police on her ex, who was later convicted of invasion of privacy. She also became a volunteer at the aforementioned Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, which provides support for victims and information for the general public

Leah Juliett was 15 years old when a male classmate put some nude photos she’d sent him online. On April 1, Juliett, now a college sophomore,  launched an anti-revenge porn march in Brooklyn.

Revenge Porn Statistics

Revenge Porn Victims Statistics

According to a recent survey by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative:

  • 90of victims of revenge porn are women
  • 82reported significant social or occupational issues or impairment in other areas of life
  • 93of revenge porn victims reported suffering significant emotional distress
  • 51of victims experienced suicidal thoughts

US Laws Against Revenge Porn

As victims have become more vocal in decrying abuses, politicians have taken notice. At a national level, California Rep. Jackie Speier introduced legislation in July of 2016 making revenge porn a federal offense punishable by up to five years in prison. Speier’s bill is called the Intimate Privacy Protection Act.

The bill would make it a crime to distribute a “visual depiction of a person who is identifiable from the image itself or information displayed in connection with the image and who is engaging in sexually explicit conduct, or of the naked genitals or post-pubescent female nipple of a person, with reckless disregard for the person’s lack of consent to the distribution.” Speier has said there is bipartisan support for the measure and she hopes to press it in the next session of Congress.

The national legislative push follows on the heels of efforts by many state legislatures to combat revenge porn. Before 2013, only three U.S. states had criminal laws against non-consensual pornography. Now, 36 states and the District of Columbia have anti-revenge porn statutes on the books.

Laws targeting revenge porn have a mixed record of effectiveness, however. Arizona passed an anti-revenge porn law in 2014. But Arizona booksellers and the American Civil Liberties Union sued to block the law, arguing that it was “unconstitutionally overbroad.” They argued that the law violates First Amendment rights to free expression. The language of the law was so sweeping, opponents argued, that it might ban innocuous baby pictures, or historical photos, like the famous image of the “napalm girl” running from a bombing attack during the Vietnam War.  Arizona courts agreed that the law applied too broad of a brush, and the state passed a new, narrower law last year.

California adopted a law against cyber-exploitation in 2013 that makes revenge porn a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine. However, as I have noted previously, there are flaws in the California legislation. For victims, the penalties do not seem harsh enough. Another limitation of the laws is that it does not cover “selfies,” only images taken by others. Furthermore, the law does nothing to help remove the images from revenge porn websites. It only serves to punish the person who submitted or posted the content.

As of April 2017, 10 states have joined the fight and introduced new bills to make revenge porn a criminal offense. However, it is not uncommon for these bills to get shot down by lawmakers or even the governor, as was the case in Rhode Island last year. There are still 4 States in total that offer their citizens little to no protection in this area and no proposed bills to amend.

Use the map below to see if your state has laws criminalizing revenge porn.

revenge porn law interactive map key

Revenge Porn Laws by State

State Penalty About Statute/tort
Alabama Misdemeanor Dissemination of Obscene Material. Ala. Code § 13A-12-200.2.
Alaska Misdemeanor Harassment in the second degree. Alaska Stat. 11.61.120
Arizona Felony Felony Class 4 to intentionally share a sexual photo or video of a person without that person’s permission with the intent to harm, harass or intimidate them. A.R.S. 13-1425
Arkansas Misdemeanor Unlawful distribution of sexual images or recordings, Class A misdemeanor. Arkansas Code 5-26-314
California Misdemeanor Disorderly conduct: misdemeanor with six months in jail and a $1,000 fine with additional fines for repeat violations. California Penal Code 647(j)(4), SB 255
Colorado Misdemeanor Posting a private image for harassment , Posting a Private Image for pecuniary gain There is currently no law protecting the citizens of There is currently no law protecting the citizens of both are class 1 misdemeanors. Colorado Revised Statutes 18-7-107 and 18-7-108
Connecticut Misdemeanor An act concerning the unlawful dissemination of an intimate image of another person. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-189c
Delaware Misdemeanor Violation of privacy; class B misdemeanor and class G felony if aggravating factors present. Section 1335, Title 11
Florida Misdemeanor Sexual Cyberharassment.  Misdemeanor first degree, felony in third degree for repeat offenders. Florida Statutes: 784.049
Georgia Misdemeanor Invasion of privacy:  Prohibition on nude or sexually explicit electronic transmissions. GA Code16-11-90
Hawaii Felony Violation of privacy in the first degree, class C felony Hawaii Revised Statutes 711-1110.9
Idaho Felony Video voyeurism felony Idaho Code 18-6609(2)(b)
Illinois Felony NonThere is currently no law protecting the citizens of consensual dissemination of private sexual images; class 4 felony Illinois Criminal Code Sec. 11-23.5
Indiana None There is currently no law protecting the citizens of Indiana
Iowa None/ in the works House passed File 526 making it a crime to post a sexuallyThere is currently no law protecting the citizens of graphic picture or video online or send it to someone else via text or email without the consent of the person pictured. (March 27, 2017)
Kansas Felony Breach of Privacy Kansas Code 21-6101 – Breach of privacy.
Kentucky None/ in the works 2017 Senate Bill 148 would make it a misdemeanor
Louisiana Misdemeanor Nonconsensual disclosure of a private image. R.S. 14:283.2
Maine Misdemeanor Unauthorized dissemination of certain private images, Class D crime. Sec. 1. 17-A MRSA 511-A
Maryland Misdemeanor Stalking and harassment. Maryland Code § 3-809
Massachusetts None There is currently no law protecting the citizens of Massachusetts
Michigan Misdemeanor Criminalizes the Intentional posting of sexually explicit visual material of another person without consent. Amends 1931 PA 328 (MCL 750.1 There is currently no law protecting the citizens of 750.568) by adding sec. 145e. MI – SB508, Sec. 145e
Minnesota Misdemeanor Nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images. Felony if causes financial loss, intent to profit, intent to harass, posted to porn site, other factors. Minn. Stat. § 617.261
Mississippi None/ in the works State Senate Bill 2907 passed in Feb. 11, 2017. Bill which now goes to the House prohibits a person from disclosing a photo or other visual image without permission of a person’s intimate parts exposed or of the individual engaged in sexual conduct.
Missouri None/ in the works Rep. Jim Neely introduced House Bill 706 on Feb. 14, 2017 criminalizing the dustribution of sexually explicit content without the subject’s consent.
Montana None/ in the works State Senate unanimously rejected the same revenge porn Bill (129) that the House passed 2 days before.
Nebraska None There is currently no law protecting the citizens of Nebraska
Nevada Felony Unlawful dissemination of an intimate image, category D NRS, Chapter 200, Sections 2-6
New Hampshire Felony Nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images. N.H. Rev. Stat. § 644:9-a
New Jersey Misdemeanor Invasion of privacy, third degree. New Jersey Code § 2C:14-9
New Mexico Misdemeanor Unauthorized Distribution of Sensitive Images a Crime.  Fourth degree felony if recidivist. New Mexico Criminal Code HJC/HB 142
New York None/ in the works For three years proposed revenge porn legislation has languished. In September 2016 lawmakers announced a new bill to criminalize Revenge Porn.
North Carolina Felony Disclosure of private images (Class 1 misdemeanor if under age 18) General Statutes Section 14-190.5A
North Dakota Misdemeanor Distribution of intimate images without or against consent. Section 12.1-17-07.2 of the North Dakota Century Code
Ohio None/ in the works Senator Schiavoni intorduced Senate Bill 353 (Prohibits circulating private sexual images) on September 8th, 2016. No vote has taken place.
Oklahoma Misdemeanor Nonconsensual Dissemination of Sexual Images. Section 1040.13b of Title 21
Oregon Misdemeanor Unlawful dissemination of an intimate image, Class C felony for recidivists. ORS 161.005 
Pennsylvania Misdemeanor Unlawful dissemination of intimate image. Title 18 Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Section 3131
Rhode Island None/ in the works After Governor Raimondo vetod a bill to prohibit the posting of “revenge porn” in 2016, the Rhode Island House of Representatives has again passed a bill on March 21, 2017.
South Carolina None/ in the works A Revenge Porn Act was preThere is currently no law protecting the citizens of filed by Sen. Darrell Jackson in the South Carolina Legislature on Dec 13, 2016
South Dakota Misdemeanor Invasion of Privacy. Class 6 Felony if Person Depicted is a Minor and Perpetrator is at least 21 years old. Section 4 of Chapter 22-21
Tennessee Misdemeanor Unlawful Exposure. Tenn. Pub. Act ch. 872
Texas Misdemeanor Unlawful Disclosure or Promotion of Intimate Visual Material, Class A misdemeanor;   [Effective Sept 1, 2015] Texas Penal Code 21.16
Utah Misdemeanor Distribution of intimate images. Utah Code 76-5b-203
Vermont Misdemeanor Disclosure of Sexually Explicit Images without Consent Sec. 2. 13 VSA Sec 2606
Virginia Misdemeanor Unlawful dissemination or sale of images of another person Virginia Code § 18.2-386.2
Washington Misdemeanor Wrongful distribution and disclosure of intimate images. Class C Felony on second or subsiquent offense. Title 9A RCW
Washinton D.C. Felony Criminalization of NonThere is currently no law protecting the citizens of Consensual Pornography Act of 2014. D.C. Law 20-275.
West Virginia None/ in the works Revenge porn bill passed by Senate on Deb. 23, 2017, now moves to House. The law would make it a misdemeanor and offenders would be subject to fines of $1,000 to $5,000 and up to a year in jail.
Wisconsin Misdemeanor Representations depicting nudity. WI Stat § 942.09
Wyoming None There is currently no law protecting the citizens of Wyoming

Successful Prosecutions Against Revenge Porn

Given the limitations of the revenge porn statute, California prosecutors have had to use creative and aggressive legal strategies to put a dent in online abuses. In 2015, California prosecutors won the state’s first conviction of an operator of a revenge porn website. Rather than applying the state revenge porn law against 28-year-old San Diego resident Kevin Bollaert, prosecutors charged him with felony extortion, conspiracy and identity theft. Bollard ran two revenge porn-related sites, UGotPosted.com and ChangeMyReputation.com. He posted photos, lewd commentary, and victims addresses on the first site and ran a “reputation management” service which charged victims to remove the content on the second site.

“Just because you are sitting behind a computer, committing what is essentially a cowardly and criminal act, you will not be shielded from the law or jail,” California Attorney General Kamala Harris said after the conviction. Bollaert is now serving an eight-year prison sentence for his crimes.

Harris later succeeded in prosecuting the head of another revenge porn site, WinByState.com, on extortion, attempted extortion and conspiracy charges. Casey Meyering, the site’s operator, had also sought payment from women for removing photos. He was arrested in Oklahoma but had a California-specific user forum on the site with more than 400 postings. Meyering received a three-year prison sentence.

Despite the occasional court victory against revenge porn purveyors, MyEx.com and many other sites continue online, causing heartbreak and havoc for their victims.

4Chan, 8chan, And Other Anonymous Porn Discussion Forums: The New Frontier Of Revenge Porn And Cyber Harassment

The trouble is, revenge porn is a hydra-headed phenomenon. When legal pressure forces one site to tone down content or shut down completely, nonconsensual pornography often just migrates to other sites.

One of the newest frontiers  is 4chan, described by the New York Times as ““one of the darkest corners of the Web.” 4chan is organized by threads covering subjects ranging from Anime and Manga to Hardcore porn. It’s similar to Reddit, but users never have to register or use an account name.

The anonymity 4chan offers posters makes it an ideal venue for revenge porn. In 2014, hackers caused an enormous ruckus by posting nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton posting nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence, Kate Upton and other stars on 4Chan. Meanwhile, 4chan begat the even more toxic 8chan, which Fusion called “the world’s most vile website.”

Marines United: A Possible Landmark in Revenge Porn

The emergence in March 2017 of a massive revenge porn crises within the armed forces could turn out to be a watershed moment in sparking action against the abuses.

The case centered on an invitation-only online group called Marines United, which was made up of about 30,000 active duty Marines or veterans. The group shared naked photos of female service members through a private Google Drive account. Group members not only uploaded images of dozens of servicewomen, but also listed the women’s names, ranks, and bases. Marines United even posted screenshots of the women’s social media accounts. Service members who participated in photo sharing were stationed across the world, from Japan to North Carolina, and represented a range of military branches from air wing to infantry, according to the military website, The War Horse, which first broke the story.

The group’s activities have caused a wave of outrage. Congress is holding hearings. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the navy’s primary law enforcement arm, is also pursuing an investigation.  However, non-consensual pornography of a service member is now a crime in the Navy and Marine Corps as of April 19, 2017. An interim revision to a statute prohibits Navy and Marine Corps personnel from posting intimate photos “if the person making the distribution or broadcast does so without legal justification or excuse,” the regulation reads.

But none of this has been much solace to victims. As authorities have shut down Marines United,  explicit photos collected on the site have ricocheted around the Internet, already turning up for sale on the dark web.

On March 15, 2017, a California lawmaker announced legislation that criminalizes non-consensual pornography in the military. Introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier, the bill comes in the wake of the national new coverage of nude female Marine Corps members images being spread through Facebook.

Facebook Faces Up to Revenge Porn

Amid the firestorm, Facebook was compelled to take action. On April 5, Facebook announced new tools aimed at preventing revenge porn from being shared on Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram. Under the new policy, a person victimized by revenge porn would be able to report the abuse to Facebook’s community operations team. In most cases, the team will disable the account that was sharing the intimate images without permission, Facebook said. Beyond that, Facebook said it would apply photo matching technology to block anyone else from attempting to share the photos on Facebook, Messenger, or Instagram.

However, groups representing servicewomen were not satisfied.  A leader of “Not in My Marine Corps,” an organization of Marines, veterans and civilians fighting sexual harassment, sent an impassioned open letter to Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, who is known for her activism empowering women to get ahead in the workplace

“Facebook has been negligent in removing pages, groups, and users, that actively promote non-consensual intimate photo sharing and incite sexual violence and harassment,” wrote Erin Kirk-Cuomo, co-founder of Not in My Marine Corps. She added: “Further, the reticence of Facebook to take prompt action on this issue has cultivated a belief that this behavior is tolerated. In the wake of the Marines United unmasking, dozens of similar and copycat groups have been created. The current screening and reporting process remains largely ineffective. I have heard from concerned users that they have been forced to report these pages multiple times a day for weeks in order for Facebook to review the validity of the claims all while hiding behind automated and couched responses. This slow removal process allows this cancer to metastasize.”

The tech magazine Wired agreed that Facebook’s measure fell short of resolving the problem, noting that “revenge porn inflicts damage the first time it’s shared, so removing something after it’s already been posted is a second-best solution. And this measure wouldn’t even catch the non-consensual porn shared within a closed ecosystem like the Marines United group. “ Also, Wired noted that reporting the non-consensual porn on Facebook would not stop its spread to other sites on the internet. In the long-term, the magazine stated that resolving the problem could well depend on advances in Artificial Intelligence technology designed to scan and block revenge porn images before the are posted. Until that time comes, however, individuals will need to rely on measures that are already available to them to remove non-consensual imagery from the Internet. Such measures include contacting the host site to remove the images and sometimes hiring an attorney.

Permanently Remove Revenge Porn From the Internet

The easiest way to avoid becoming a victim of revenge porn, of course, is to avoid sharing intimate photos in the first place. All too often love doesn’t last. But the photos one lover sends to another do, and that can cause endless grief if the split is acrimonious.

If you do become a victim, it’s important to take screenshots of the websites the intimate material turns up on. This can provide important evidence. I good resource and to use to record evidence in forms that are admissible in a court of law is a company called Page Vault. I highly recommend contacting them for one time or ongoing services to properly preserve online evidence.

If you live in one of the 36 states with laws against revenge porn, you may be able to take legal action against the website or the person who posted your photos. You’ll need to contact legal counsel to find out how the law works in your state.

If the photo that was posted against your will is a selfie, you may have another legal outlet: copyright law. It’s possible to get the photo removed from Google index if you can prove the photo is yours and you own the copyright. Competent legal counsel is essential before going this route.

Usually, the easiest tactics to remove Revenge Porn is by sending DMCA takedown requests to the websites that hosted the content. Law enforcement can also sometimes be contacted and sometimes will be helpful (although not always) and lawsuits can also be filed to get court orders and injunctions to have the material removed from websites and search engine results and to pursue the culprits for damages. Lastly, most major search engines like Bing, Yahoo, and Google also have direct forms to contact them to specifically remove revenge porn also, although this does not remove the images from the Internet at their source.

If these relief tactics don’t work, however, and content goes viral, or anonymous perpetrators are continuing to engage in the malicious conduct of spreading the images or other wrongful acts occur (like extortion), it then becomes necessary to hire legal counsel who is experienced in these matters to assist and resolve the issues. This is an are of law that I have a lot of experience with.

Don’t Let Someone’s Personal Vendetta Destroy Your Personal & Professional Life! Make The Abuse Stop by Working With An Internet Defamation Lawyer

If MyEX.com or a similar website contains materials that are false, baseless, and defamatory about you or is spreading private images of you online, The Internet Defamation Lawyers at Minc Law can fight to have it removed from the Internet. Our firm often GUARANTEES the full removal of your information, or you will receive your money back. We work to uncover the identity of malicious Internet posters so that they can be held accountable. To schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation call (216) 373-7706 or schedule a meeting online.