Revenge porn, the term for maliciously posting nude photos online without the subject’s consent, could soon be a crime in Illinois if a bill that unanimously passed the Senate Feb. 27 makes its way through the House of Representatives.
Sen. Michael Hastings (D–Orland Hills) introduced the bill that would punish posters of revenge porn with fines of up to $25,000 or a maximum of three years in prison.
If the bill is passed, the law would help curb the number of revenge porn websites and posters, Hastings said.
Illinois is one of 16 states currently addressing the issue of revenge porn and could become the third state to outlaw the act. California and New Jersey have already passed similar legislation.
One in 10 people have threatened to expose sexually explicit photos of an ex online and 60 percent of those issuing threats have actually posted the images, according to a Jan. 3 study by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative’s End Revenge Porn campaign.
However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois believes that criminalizing this behavior is wrong because it may punish the innocent, according to Ed Yohnka, ACLU Illinois director of communications and public policy. He said the way the law is drafted could criminalize people who view and share these pictures rather than going after the website creators and posters of the content.
“There is a First Amendment-protected right to take these pictures, [to] have these pictures or even to share them,” Yohnka said. “But it is not protected in terms of nonconsensual sharing. What we are concerned about is the degree to which the law is drafted that doesn’t make the distinction between that which is and is not consensual sharing.”
Yohnka said victims are able to file civil lawsuits for their photos to be removed from revenge porn websites, which he said is a better alternative to criminalizing offenders.
But Hastings said civil suits are time consuming, expensive and must prove infringement, libel or false light to successfully have the photos removed.
“We are coming out of a recession,” Hastings said. “People do not have the money to spend on an attorney. Those legal fees will cost thousands of dollars and it’s not fair that the rich people get protected more than the poor people.”
Charlotte Laws, a board member of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative whose daughter was a victim of revenge porn, said civil lawsuits are also damaging to victims because they can make personal details a matter of public record. If passed, Laws said the bill could protect victims of revenge porn by making it possible to prosecute the offender without exposing the victim’s personal details.
In 2011, Laws had to cancel meetings and take time off work to remove nude photos of her daughter from the now defunct revenge porn website IsAnyoneUp.com. Website creator, Hunter Moore, was recently arrested.
Laws’ daughter used her cellphone to snap semi-nude photos of herself with no intent of showing them to anyone, Laws said. Her daughter uploaded the pictures to her computer after sending them via email. Three months later, Laws’ daughter discovered that her computer was hacked and her nude photos were posted online.
“It was a nightmare,” Laws said. “It’s a very seedy underworld that I had to absorb myself into in order to actually learn what was going on and to get the pictures of my daughter off the Internet.”
As Laws worked to get the photos removed, she learned that most women pictured on the website did not give consent or were unaware the photos were online. Some victims’ faces were even photoshopped on nude bodies of different women, she said.
According to the End Revenge Porn campaign, once the picture is put online, it is difficult for victims to keep their personal information private and 49 percent of victims said they were harassed or stalked online by users who saw their nude photos, and 93 percent said the content caused them substantial emotional distress.