Articles / 07.05.2018

Revenge Porn: College Students Beware!

By Susan Stone and Kristina Supler

When college students Kathryn Novak and Brandon Simpson broke off their relationship last October, Simpson headed to a secret Facebook group to share photos and videos of their sexual encounters with a group of his Delta Sigma Phi fraternity brothers at the University of Central Florida. The videos clearly showed Novak’s face and were posted without her consent. Novak, a student in Arizona, found out about the posts earlier this year, and last month she filed a lawsuit against Simpson, the fraternity and four of the fraternity brothers alleged to have watched the video.

It’s a phenomenon known as “revenge porn,” and it takes the concept of consent out of the bedroom and onto the internet. It’s legally referred to as non-consensual pornography, and arises most commonly after the break-up of a relationship, when the spurned partner posts photos of his or her ex online in order to humiliate the person depicted.

Revenge porn causes embarrassment and humiliation in social, academic, and professional settings. According to research relied upon by Facebook’s when revising its own policies, 93% of victims report significant emotional distress and 82% report significant impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of their life. This is a new area of law involving the overlap of privacy rights, civil rights and criminal law.

States taking action against revenge porn

Due to the severity of the impact that revenge porn can have on an individual’s life, lawmakers in 40 states plus the District of Columbia have passed legislation criminalizing revenge porn. Last week, Ohio became the latest state to adopt such a measure; the Ohio House of Representatives passed Ohio House Bill 497, which “prohibits nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images with intent to harm the individual in the image.” In states that don’t have revenge porn statutes, posting explicit images of a partner without their consent can be prosecuted under invasion of privacy or harassment statutes.

Facebook is taking action as well – last year, the social media giant announced it had created artificial intelligence tools that would prevent such revenge porn posts – once they are reported to the company – from being shared on Facebook, Messenger and Instagram. It rolled out this initiative in Australia last November, and is now being expanded into U.S., U.K. and Canadian markets. But the idea raises an entirely new privacy concern and has drawn criticism – the algorithm requires that you give Facebook the nude photo or video so it can use photo-matching technology to identify and remove the offending image.

What revenge porn victims can do

For victims of revenge porn, legal representation is essential due to the newness and ambiguity of the issue. Counsel can issue cease-and-desist letters and advise an individual as to his or her legal options as it relates to the filing of a civil suit. For a student who has been the victim of revenge porn, counsel can assist with the filing of a Title IX complaint at an academic institution, filing of a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights, as well as navigating the criminal justice system.

In addition, legal counsel is also highly recommended for those who are accused of distribution of explicit media without consent of depicted individuals. Repercussions can be serious and long-lasting. This new territory for dispute can be confusing and complex; an attorney can help make sense of it, and help reach the most satisfactory results possible.

To learn more, contact Susan Stone at scs@kjk.com or 216.736.7220 or Kristina Supler at kws@kjk.com or 216.736.7217.

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