Distributing nude or sexually explicit photos of an ex-partner is about the sleaziest form of retribution imaginable.
The worst part is that “revenge porn,” usually spread via social media, has quickly vaulted from the imaginary to the everyday, prompting lawmakers in three dozen states — including Washington — to recast this behavior as not just despicable, but also criminal.
Is it too much to hope that leaders at the U.S. Capitol will soon do the same?
High-profile national cases have drawn attention to this form of emotional terrorism, committed mostly but not exclusively against women. A recent military scandal centered on hundreds of nude photos of female Marines and other women disseminated on a secret Facebook group. The images were shared and sometimes recorded without the victims’ knowledge.
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But the unauthorized posting of intimate images could just as easily originate with a computer down the street, courtesy of a wifi connection near you.
In Pierce County, 43-year-old Michael Andrew Hart awaits trial on revenge-porn-related charges after he allegedly sent revealing photos of an ex-girlfriend to her Facebook friends. (Hart’s problems don’t end there; he was charged with felony harassment last week based on evidence he made 50 menacing phone calls to emergency dispatchers.)
The Pierce County prosecutor’s office says this is the first time it’s used the 2-year-old law. Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said via email Tuesday that he supported the bill in Olympia because it keeps pace with technology and sends a message: “Revenge porn can be incredibly damaging to the victim, the damage can last forever, and it’s illegal.”
The offense goes by different names in the states that have criminalized it: sexual cyberharassment, video voyeurism and the like. In Washington, lawmakers created this class of crime not a moment too soon. While the vote was unanimous, the legislation wasn’t finally approved until June 2015 — offering hope that smart laws can, indeed, arise from overtime sessions in Olympia.
Knowingly disclosing an intimate image without consent is now a gross misdemeanor in Washington, a felony on second offense. Youth offenders get a bit more grace — the act must be intentional and malicious — because their brains haven’t developed as fast as their social media skills or the raw impulses that drive them.
Anyone who uses the First Amendment to justify revenge porn should crawl out from under the Constitution and slither back under the rock they came from. Subjecting an individual’s most private moments to the world’s prying eyes has less to do with free speech than it does domestic violence or sexual assault.
Images can keep popping up in the lurid corners of the Internet, upending reputations and careers. The dread of being violated again can drive women to shame, even suicide.
A California congresswoman last year introduced the Intimate Privacy Protection Act. It could help victims in ways that states cannot, such as by taking the fight to interstate website operators who traffic in non-consensual pornography.
It is to be hoped that Congress passes the law in 2017. And President Donald Trump, if he aspires to get past the “locker room banter” ignominy from last year’s campaign, would do well to support this bill and take a clear stand against sexual power plays.