The national fight against revenge porn

Holly Jacobs tried to do damage control the day a nude image of her appeared on social media.

She went to a half dozen attorneys.

To police and the FBI. To officials at the university she attended. To therapists.

She sought out victim’s advocates and search engine optimization specialists.

That’s when she realized there was nobody there to really help her with the nonconsensual porn, known commonly as revenge porn.

“I was told, ‘What’s happening to you is perfectly legal,” Jacobs said. “I knew in my heart that it shouldn’t be.”

Revenge porn is one of the latest digital violations in the expose-all era of social media. It attracted headlines in 2014 when a man hacked the online accounts of more than 30 celebrities and released nude images of A-listers like Jennifer Lawrence.

But what happened to J-Law and Jacobs occurs to people worldwide: an angry ex posts a nude photo that was sent or captured consensually during the time they were dating.

With no victims resources and no place to go, Jacobs launched an organization: the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), an advocacy group that provides resources for victims. CCRI also created a hotline that provides help on everything from what to say to the police to pro-bono lawyers to contact.

“The launch of the organization was a little bit, at the beginning, kind of a selfish project where I was like, ‘I need something in place to help me,’” Jacobs said. “It grew into a very selfless project where the mission then became, ‘I want to build a place for others who are going through this so that they don’t have to struggle through.’”

Since founding CCRI, Jacobs has worked with lawmakers and tech companies, presenting resources like CCRI’s Online Removal Guide, to bring about change in the world of revenge porn. There are now consequences, such as fines or jail time. To date, 34 states plus the District of Columbia have passed laws against nonconsensual porn.

In 2004, New Jersey became the first state to pass such legislation. Tech companies and social media platforms created policies and guidelines against it.

Through it all, Jacobs and CCRI were there to help draft legislation.

“It was like we had become a lighthouse for anybody who cared about this issue to contact us and say, ‘We want to help,’” Jacobs said. “Contrary to what you might think, we weren't reaching out to legislators. They were reaching out to us.”

A new survey found that 4 percent of internet users in the U.S. may have been victims of revenge porn. That may sound small, but numbers wise, that’s 10 million people.

The fight against revenge porn can be timely and costly.

Cybersecurity attorney Brad Shear cited the case of Erin Andrews, who was a victim of nonconsensual pornography when she was filmed in her hotel room through a peephole.

Shear references Andrews’ case like that of a game of Whack-a-Mole: even though it’s taken down on one site, it could show up elsewhere.

“She had plenty of resources to hire legal counsel and go through the process with law enforcement,” Shear said. “To this day, you can still find her video online. Even after revenge porn laws, even after multi-million dollar lawsuits, she’s gone to great lengths and has the resources to get this taken down and it’s still there.”

Lawyers like Shear and New York-based attorney Carrie Goldberg are actively fighting revenge porn in hopes to help victims get justice.

Of the states with criminal nonconsensual porn laws, 11 also have civil codes. A Texas woman whose boyfriend uploaded their sexually explicit Skype sessions to porn sites was awarded $500,00 in a civil lawsuit in 2014.

When Margaret Talbot wrote about revenge porn in the New Yorker, she said, “Victims don’t often pursue civil actions, in part, because most potential defendants are what lawyers call ‘judgment-proof’: they lack the money to pay a big settlement.”

Shear’s advice to victims is to be proactive and not take naked photos.

“It’s like safe sex,” he said. “When I was growing up, it was all about using a condom and practicing safe sex. Now, it’s: ‘Don’t take naked selfies. Don’t take a naked picture.’ … Every life moment is not meant to be recorded for prosperity and for forever.”

But Jacobs and CCRI are giving victims more chances than ever to help with the shame and the blame.

Then Jacobs was introduced to Jackie Speier, a California congresswoman.

Speier works in the state where copyright is highly respected – and where technology and being a celebrity go almost hand-in-hand. Through the years, she has seen the triumphs and pitfalls of both industries.

She saw the two collide in 2014 when those celebrities’ private images were exposed, after which she began to draft a federal bill that would apply a legal cease and desist on the federal level.

“The push for our legislation was that there were 34 laws that were created with different elements that were not consistent,” Speier said. “We wanted a foolproof law that would pass constitutional muster.”

The Intimate Privacy Protection Act (IPPA) would make it illegal to “knowingly distribute sexually explicit material with reckless disregard for the victim’s lack of consent.”

After two years of drafts and development. Speier introduced the IPPA in July 2016. Jacobs was at the U.S. House of Representatives and spoke at the bill’s press conference the day it was introduced.

The bipartisan bill had the support of the U.S. District Attorney and several victims’ right and legal organizations. It called for a maximum five-year sentence for the crime.

The bill saw no further action after its introduction, despite bipartisan support. Speier will be pushing a “revenge porn” bill again this legislative season.

“I’m actually very hopeful we’ll get it passed this year,” she said. “I see it as a fundamental right to privacy, in an era where the web is so ubiquitous.”

Jacobs also hope that more places like major corporations and universities will be interested in introducing nonconsensual porn policies into their employee and student handbooks.

Any advancement will be another way for Jacobs and CCRI to support victims from what was there when this all started about six years ago.

 

READ MORE: Online media nonconsensual porn policies

“They did nothing wrong, sharing images with an intimate partner is perfectly healthy, especially these days with how integrated technology is in our lives,” Jacobs said. “We’re here to help in every aspect ….”

She paused and took a deep breath.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s hard to go back there and think.”

It is no longer perfectly legal in all 50 states to post revenge porn. Jacobs was broken and managed to build herself again with her advocacy. Now, CCRI is there to help the next revenge porn victim in search of damage control.

You do have options these days,” Jacobs said. “There is a way out of this nightmare that you feel like you’re in.”

(© 2017 KHOU)


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