Revenge porn sites feature explicit photos posted by ex-boyfriends, ex-husbands and ex-lovers, often accompanied by disparaging descriptions and identifying details, like where the women live and work, as well as links to their Facebook pages. The sites, which are proliferating, are largely immune to criminal pursuit. But that may be changing. California lawmakers this month passed the first law aimed at revenge porn sites.With cellphone cameras ubiquitous and many Americans giving in to the urge to document even the most intimate aspects of their lives, revenge porn has opened up new ways to wreak vengeance.The effects can be devastating. Victims say they have lost jobs, been approached in stores by strangers who recognized their photographs, and watched close friendships and family relationships dissolve. Some have changed their names or altered their appearance.
As the sites have increased, legal scholars and women’s advocates have begun to push for criminal penalties for people who post on them. Only New Jersey has a law that would allow for criminal prosecution, although it was not written with revenge porn in mind.But proposals have met opposition from critics who worry that such laws would infringe on the First Amendment. A bill addressing the issue failed in the Florida Legislature this year.
Women who have been victimized by disgruntled exes have filed civil suits based on claims of copyright infringement, invasion of privacy or, in some cases, child pornography.In Michigan, a federal judge last month issued a default judgment for more than $300,000 in a suit filed by a woman whose photos appeared on yougotposted. The Web site continues to operate despite at least four lawsuits filed against its operators, including one that alleges that the site published images of under-age girls. The alleged owners and operators of yougotposted have either not responded to the lawsuits or have denied the allegations.
Aaron McKown, a lawyer representing GoDaddy, which has filed an appeal contending that Section 230 of the federal Communications Decency Act exempts it from liability for posted material, said in an e-mail that the company does not comment on pending legislation.Messages left for a lawyer representing Hunter Taylor, the operator of the Web site, were not returned. (In a document filed with the court denying the allegations in the lawsuit, Mr. Taylor said, “Attempts to contact Hunter T. Taylor by the press will be of no use, as there will be no comment.”)
Revenge porn first drew public attention in 2011, when Hunter Moore, the unapologetic creator of a site called isanyoneup.com, said in a television interview with Anderson Cooper that he had no qualms about profiting from public revenge.“Why would I?” Mr. Moore said. “I get to look at naked girls all day.”Mr. Moore — who shut down the Web site in 2012 but was reported to have earned $10,000 a month in advertising when it was operational — drew outrage, including from the hacker collective Anonymous. In a video announcing the creation of “Operation Hunt Hunter,” the group called Mr. Moore a capitalist who “makes money off of the misery of others” and said, “We will hold him accountable for his actions.” Mr. Moore is under investigation by the F.B.I.
An example of what such a law might look like has been drafted by a law professor at the University of Miami, Mary Anne Franks, and posted on the Web site endrevengeporn.org, founded by Ms. Jacobs.Professor Franks said that opposition to legislation often stems from a blame-the-victim attitude that holds women responsible for allowing photographs to be taken in the first place, an attitude similar in her view to blaming rape victims for what they wear or where they walk.