The Death Of Revenge Porn: One mother’s journey to effect serious change

March 7, 2014 by Luke O’Neil

The Death Of Revenge Porn: One mother’s journey to effect serious change

She set about tracking down as many other victims as she could find, and from her informal survey, estimates that about 40 percent of the photos on Is Anyone Up?, and 20 percent on similar sites (and there are hundreds of them), come about through illegal hacking. Now here was something that law enforcement could sink their teeth into.

After a condescending dismissal from the Los Angeles Police Department (“They acted as if it was Kayla's fault for taking the photo”), she finally got the FBI to pay attention to her complaint.

“I had a lot of research at that point, had located many victims, and they felt it was a fairly big case now, not just about my daughter,” she said.

Getting anyone, nevermind law enforcement, to take a case like this seriously can be an uphill climb. Many victims don't want to come forward, to have their names further exposed through the media. “That's why for so long people didn't even believe these were victims,” Laws said. “If no one is speaking up, it must not be a problem.”

It's akin to the ways that victims of rape and sexual assault are often unwilling to come forward, for fear that they either won't be believed, that they will be blamed themselves, or that going through it all again in a legal proceeding will force them to undergo further harm.

Like in cases of rape, this isn't really about sex or titillation. It's about power and humiliation, as another young woman who has had her life turned upside down by being put through the revenge porn ringer explained in an interview with Salon. “There’s plenty of naked women on the Internet who are there by their free will and would love to be looked at,” she said. “I’m not one of them. That’s the appeal of this.”

“The guys who write me the first time they see them and say, 'You’re such a slut,' what is the point of that?” she went on. “What’s been most difficult for me is that I don’t understand it. I don’t understand the motivation to do it. I understand wanting to watch a naked woman, I get that. Like, who doesn’t like that? But what is the point of humiliating her too? Where does that come from? It’s very destructive, and it says a lot about how a lot of young men feel about women—that you should hate sexualized women and that they should be humiliated for you wanting them.”

The Death Of Revenge Porn - Charlotte Laws, Photo By: Jeremy Saffer“I believe that's why Hunter Moore was doing the hacking,” Laws says. “The self-submissions were not interesting. Nobody cared about them because you couldn't humiliate them, the people who did want to be on that site.” No one wants to see someone naked unless they don't want you to, so to speak. Moore admitted as much. The content is most appealing, he said, “when you're not supposed to see it, if it was given to somebody else.”

“...It's like you're taking away something from them. You judge them and compare yourself to them and feel better about yourself. It's all about what you're not supposed to be doing. It's like saying, ‘Don't press that big red button’—then everybody wants to do it.”

“There is this mindset that it's the woman's fault for taking the picture, or a rape victim's fault for walking down the alley, or wearing a skirt that's too short,” Laws says.

Many of the reactions to stories like this on traditional news sites and the revenge porn sites themselves back this up. The women—and they are most frequently women, although it is an issue that affects men as well—are seen as “sluts” who are “asking for it.” If they didn't want a picture of themselves naked on the internet, the argument goes, then they shouldn't have taken one.

Perhaps, but that's like arguing that the only way to protect against pregnancy and STDs is by preaching abstinence-only sex-ed. It's simply not going to work. And besides, as Laws explains, many of the photos on sites like these are often of one woman's head digitally edited onto another's naked body, with their personal information listed next to it. She spoke with one victim who had a photo from an operation done at the doctor's office emailed to her that had been hacked as well.

“Anybody can be a victim of this is what I think is important to realize,” Laws says. “And even if you do send the picture to someone, they shouldn't have the right to send it to anyone else. When I go to a restaurant and give my credit card to a waiter, that doesn't mean the waiter can go charge everyone else's meals to it.”

What's right, and what's illegal, of course, don't always overlap. The first “revenge porn” case in New York against a man who shared nude photos of his girlfriend on Twitter against her wishes was thrown out by a judge this month because none of the laws under which he was charged applied. As CBS News explained in a report, “The state's 'dissemination of an unlawful surveillance image' statute requires that the perpetrator obtains the image unlawfully, which wasn't alleged in the case, the judge ruled.” In other words, it's not illegal if you gave the photo out freely yourself in the first place.

While there are only three states with revenge porn statutes on the books, including New Jersey, Alaska and the one passed in California earlier this year–in part due to the efforts of Laws–they can leave plenty of wiggle room. In California, for example, the law does not apply to “selfies,” which make up the vast majority of the images shared on such websites. A new amendment recently introduced by Senator Anthony Cannella would close that loophole. Thirteen other states have bills currently pending that would address the issue with various degrees of severity.

As more and more victims of revenge porn fight back, Laws hopes public sentiment for laws against it will continue to grow. Most victims of Moore's were too afraid of him to fight back, she says. She was afraid herself at first.

If you've been a victim of revenge porn, there are steps you can take to get the photos removed and to regain your online reputation. Visit Laws' site End Revenge Porn for suggestions on how to have them taken down, informational resources and a list of attorneys who have taken up the cause.

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