Non-consensual pornography increasingly an issue that must be addressed, via the SunJournal:
(Article 3 of 4 for Sexual Assault Awareness Month)
In this world, our private information is less private than ever. With the click of a button, private images can be posted for millions of people to see. In an era of digital communication, Maine’s sexual assault support centers are seeing that non-consensual pornography is increasingly an issue for the clients we serve.
A bill before the Maine Legislature — LD 679 — would criminalize non-consensual pornography, commonly known as revenge porn. The bill, which has dozens of co-sponsors, would make the intentional distribution of explicit material without permission illegal if the subject is identifiable. The bill would make such distribution a Class D crime, a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
To some, that may seem like a small price for offenders who have sought to ruin the lives of their victims.
It is difficult to quantify the impact of non-consensual pornography. However, we know that victims of this behavior face significant and specific harm, including harm to relationships with friends, family, and co-workers; and harm to future educational and professional prospects.
Sexual assault advocates across the state work with victims of revenge porn each year. After her name and intimate photos of her were posted on several websites by an ex-boyfriend, one Maine victim has moved out of the community where she has lived all of her life, is in the process of changing her name, has developed severe anxiety and agoraphobia, feels humiliated and ashamed, and has told the advocate she is working with, “I will never be in a relationship ever again.”
Unfortunately for some victims, the impact does not end there. Due to the public nature of non-consensual pornography, victims often receive threats of additional sexual violence, stalking and harassment. This is especially significant, given that a recent study of victims demonstrates that, along with distributed images, 59 percent had their full name posted, 26 percent had their email address posted, 16 percent had their physical home address posted, and 14 percent had their work address posted.
Sometimes, in addition to the images, further information is shared, including the names of siblings and parents, bank account information, passwords and links to social media accounts.
In another Maine case, the link to the website where a victim’s photos were posted (without her consent) was sent to organizations where she was applying for internships — all from her email account, which had been hacked.
People who choose to take photos of themselves often do so with the understanding and firm belief that the photos will never be shared outside of their consensual relationship. Sometimes, those relationships change and the photos are then distributed, or a threat to distribute them is made. In other circumstances, the photos are taken under duress or via coercion.
And yet, victims are often blamed for an offender’s actions. Instead of asking, “What would make someone do that to someone else?” victims are generally asked, “Why did you send him that photo in the first place? What were you thinking?”
However, blaming the victim means we refuse to hold the real party responsible — the offender. Just like other forms of sexual violence, preventing revenge porn includes holding offenders accountable. Criminalizing revenge porn will help mitigate its consequences.
With all types of sexual activity, consent must be free, willing and ongoing. The same standard must be applied with regard to the disclosure of private images. The law recognizes that a customer’s consent to giving his credit card to a waiter to run a tab is not consent for that waiter to use the information on a personal shopping spree.
Permitting someone use of information in one context does not — and should not — mean consent in other contexts.
Cara Courchesne, a Lewiston native, is the communications director at the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.