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What is Revenge Porn, and Why Should You Care?

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In middle school I was once called to a school assembly regarding a chain text message that had been sent around my grade. The text included self-taken pornographic photography that a girl sent to her former boyfriend. However, once separated, the young man sent those photographs to some of his friends, who passed them on, so on and so forth. This brings us to a rising topic in university justice: “Revenge Porn”.

As always, consent seems to complicate things more than one might guess. To start, the term “Revenge Porn” is not really indicative of its actual meaning. It could be better described as “Non-Consensual Pornography Distribution”. We must examine the often multi-headed snakes at play. To start, the notion that the time at which the sexually explicit photography was sent, it was sent consensually, is irrelevant. The offense occurs when the sensitive material is sent to another party without the consent of the person revealed in the content. You could equate this to a common agreement between a person dining at a restaurant and a waiter/waitress. When you go to pay for your meal, if you pay using a credit or debit card you are consensually giving the server your financial information. However, if they distribute your information along the way to the register without your permission, you might find yourself with a very serious problem. Even considering all of this, more often than not these cases involve pornographic material that was taken without any consent at all.

So, what does the law have to say about all of this? Thirty four states as well as the District of Columbia have laws prohibiting forms of “Revenge Porn”. Most states consider it a Class A Misdemeanor, which is punishable up for up to a year in prison. Other states consider it serious forms of privacy violation or harassment.

The consequences might not end there however. If you are in a school or a university setting you can expect a tremendous response. The first thing to acknowledge about what schools can or cannot do, is that “Revenge Porn” is a crime. This notion right here probably gives any educational institution to remove you from its organization. To add to that, “Revenge Porn” seen in the context of severe invasion of privacy and harassment, as well as non consensual pornography gives institutions to remove you on the grounds of protecting the safety of other students. As seen in most legal codes regarding the crime, there is very little argument to defend the crime. However, the significantly lower standard of proof and harm done to a victim required by a university to take action seems to propose an obvious suspension, and a probable expulsion.

Perhaps the only consideration to this crime is the literature of the law itself. There is no doubt that overly-broad laws will reap unintended consequences. So who exactly do we want to be liable for the crime? For example, if someone posts an explicit photograph or video without the consent of the subject in the pornography to a link aggregating website, are they liable? If it is sent around in a chainmail style text message is only the original sender responsible for the crime or is everyone that forwarded the message also guilty? What about those who received it but did not forward it, or even open it? There is still a lot of progress to be done on these laws and their repercussions, but the best way to never find yourself in the situation is to stay clear of it entirely.