It takes just seconds to transmit information online. In the case of nonconsensual pornography, more colloquially known as “revenge porn,” sexually explicit images of an individual are distributed online, without consent, instantaneously. And in a flash, an individual’s most private moments are exposed and disseminated for the public to examine, comment on, and dissect.
Online posting of private images generally occurs in one of two circumstances. Recent events illustrate the first: the hack. A hacker breaks into someone’s private information and either the hacker or someone else then uploads compromising photographs or videos to public websites. Victims of a hack are not always as famous as Jennifer Lawrence, but the recent hack of celebrity photos has brought this to light in the past few weeks, during which a slew of female celebrities were unwillingly exposed in this manner.
The second route to online distribution is seemingly more vicious because it involves personal betrayal. It occurs when a relationship goes bad, and an individual who had been trusted with sexually explicit photographs distributes those images online without the consent of the pictured individual. Usually the perpetrator is a bitter ex-boyfriend or girlfriend, or a scorned ex-lover who takes what had been shared with them in secret and thrusts it into public view.
Either way, victims are exposed. They are not only publicly humiliated, but are often threatened, stalked, and tormented. Many have trouble finding work or keeping up with school; some even get fired from their current jobs or asked to leave their current schools. In some extreme cases, victims of nonconsensual pornography have been unable to cope with the severity of the online sexual abuse and harassment and have committed suicide.
The Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project was born when two attorneys at K&L Gates recognized an epidemic and realized they could help. David Bateman is an attorney with over 20 years of experience in Internet, technology, and intellectual property law. He is a nationally recognized leader in his field who has been lead counsel in hundreds of lawsuits against spammers, phishers, and other Internet offenders. Elisa D’Amico is a senior associate whose practice focuses, in part, on Internet marketing and general commercial disputes. She became heavily interested in the revenge porn epidemic earlier in 2014 and through her work with the Miami-Dade Chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, Professor Mary Anne Franks, and Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), she recognized a need for a nationwide (and global) revenge porn pro bono project.
Naturally, Bateman and D’Amico put their heads together, and with the overwhelming support of K&L Gates, the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project was born.
The Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project is a global resource for victims of revenge porn and its presence will change lives:
First, the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project provides legal services to individuals who otherwise could not afford legal help or did not know where to obtain an attorney. This is a civil rights pro bono project that aims to rectify serious cyber civil rights violations. Because of its national and international presence, the project has the ability to touch the lives of countless victims without regard for their socio-economic status.
Second, K&L Gates has a prominent cybersecurity and cyberlaw practice, including experienced cyber forensic investigators, among other talented individuals. And the firm also has accomplished intellectual property attorneys as well as lawyers that specialize in other areas. Because all Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project attorneys are K&L Gates attorneys, each client will have access to all of the firm’s legal resources, including much-needed cyberforensics.
Third, the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project founders are located on opposite sides of the United States (Seattle and Miami). But project attorneys are located throughout the United States and overseas. So, clients across the country (and across the globe) can benefit from the pro bono services the project has to offer. This is the first national and international pro bono project dedicated to helping victims of revenge porn.
The Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project is not seeking financial recovery for itself. It is not seeking glory or fame. It is just trying to help give victims a voice and to bring them justice.
Just take a step back and ask yourselves, isn’t it about time to end the revenge?
Visit http://www.cyberrightsproject.com/ for more information about the Cyber Civil Rights Legal Project including how to reach out to them for pro bono legal services.
Have some nude photos and aren’t sure what to do with them? CCRI has created a flow chart to help you make the right decision.
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Miami-Dade’s chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers (MDFAWL) has undertaken significant legislative efforts to assist in outlawing non-consensual pornography.
Often called “revenge porn,” non-consensual pornography is the dissemination of sexually explicit images on the internet, among other places, against the will of those depicted.
Victims of domestic violence are often threatened with these images as a means to keep the victims in abusive relationships. Human traffickers use the threat of publicizing videos of girls and women that were filmed under threats of violence as a means of keeping the victims from going to the authorities. Some of these images were at one time voluntarily provided among consenting adults, but were later posted to websites which host “revenge porn.” There have been suicides, loss of jobs and sexual assaults as a result. There are currently no laws in Florida which explicitly outlaw this.
Miami-Dade FAWL has teamed up with the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), a non-profit organization that seeks to help victims of cyber harassment through both a legal and educational response. CCRI engages in advocacy work through the development of individual campaigns targeted at specific cyber harassment issues, like revenge porn. CCRI was founded by its current President and Executive Director, Dr. Holly Jacobs, who was a victim of revenge porn.
Professor Mary Anne Franks, an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Miami School of Law and Vice President of CCRI has been working tirelessly on drafting model legislation for the State of Florida, which has passed in several other states. Miami-Dade FAWL is committed to working with Professor Franks and with CCRI to get legislation passed in Florida, and even reached out to former Mattie Belle Davis Award recipient and State Attorney Kathy Fernandez Rundle for help. Ms. Rundle has been working on a state-wide basis with legislators and community leaders to ensure that this bill is passed during the upcoming 2014-2015 legislative session. Miami Beach City Commissioner Michael Grieco and Miami-Dade FAWL Director Elisa D’Amico worked with Professor Franks to get a City of Miami Beach Resolution passed supporting legislative efforts to outlaw non-consensual pornography.
Miami-Dade FAWL is working side-by-side with The Women’s Fund and is putting together a formal program to educate the judiciary and State Attorneys’ Office, so that judges and prosecutors can be on the lookout for signs that revenge pornography may be a factor to consider in a case.
Click HERE to watch a clip from the City Commission Meeting, where Professor Franks discusses this resolution in front of the Miami Beach City Commission.
Media Contact: Brendalyn Edwards, email@example.com
Miami-Dade FAWL is a volunteer bar association dedicated to actively promoting the advancement of women in the legal profession, expanding the leadership role of its members in the community at large, and promoting women’s rights. For more information about Miami-Dade FAWL, its officers, directors or programs, visit www.mdfawl.org.
On August 31, a series of nude photos of female celebrities were released, after having been allegedly hacked from the iCloud accounts of those celebrities. The incident has been referred to as a “hack,” a “leak,” a “nude photo scandal.” We’d prefer to call it what it really is: a form of sexual abuse, a gross violation of privacy, a reprehensible way to victimize an innocent person, and just one of the many forms of nonconsensual pornography.
As noted on our FAQs page, nonconsensual pornography is defined as the distribution of sexually graphic images of individuals without their consent. This term is applicable to images voluntarily shared with an intimate partner (e.g., as in cases of “revenge porn”) as well as images obtained through hacking. It applies to recordings of forced sexual activity, including those of sex trafficking victims and rape victims, that are distributed. Cases can include situations where innocuous photos of one person are posted next to explicit images of someone who resembles them, or cases where someone’s head is photoshopped onto someone else’s nude body and the photos are distributed. When intimate images are disclosed without consent, they become nonconsensual porn.
Product of our Culture
Nonconsensual porn seems to be a product of a misogynistic culture that tells men they are entitled to women’s bodies and that women who deny men access should be punished. This view is supported by some of the tweets that one celebrity victim received on Monday: “You deserved this because a girl like you would never date me in real life, no matter how nice and courteous I was. Karma!” or “Sorry but it’s not fair that only the guys of your choosing get to see the photos while the ugly, less fortunate guys do not.”
For some readers, these quotes might bring back chilling memories of watching videos of, or reading portions of the memoir-manifesto by, the “Santa Barbara Killer” Elliot Rodger in which he described the motives behind his killing spree: “Women should not have the right to choose who to mate and breed with, that decision should be made for them by rational men of intelligence;” and “It’s not fair. You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it.” This tragedy showed us that this way of thinking can have deadly consequences.
The most recent celebrity case of nonconsensual porn seems also to be a product of the public’s overinflated sense of entitlement to gain access to celebrities’ lives. The common refrain is “you put yourself out there in the public eye by virtue of being a celebrity, so we (the public) have a right to gain access to your private life, and you have no right to be upset about it.”
No matter what category of nonconsensual porn a case falls into—whether the material was obtained lawfully or unlawfully, whether it depicts a celebrity or a private individual—we continue to see the same victim-blaming that we see with all other forms of sexual abuse and assault.
Internet trolls hiding behind pseudonyms as well as public figures using their own names are telling victims that if they don’t want the material to be shared with the world, they shouldn’t have it in the first place. Take Ricky Gervais, for example, who tweeted “Celebrities, make it harder for hackers to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer.” CCRI board member, Mary Anne Franks responded applying that logic to other crimes:
— Mary Anne Franks (@ma_franks) September 1, 2014
— Mary Anne Franks (@ma_franks) September 1, 2014
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the age of the Internet: a space where you can not only cultivate friendships and farms as you do offline, but one where you can also be sexually assaulted, abused, and victim-blamed. Lena Dunham acknowledged this new form of victim-blaming in a tweet on Monday:
The “don’t take naked pics if you don’t want them online” argument is the “she was wearing a short skirt” of the web. Ugh.
— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) September 1, 2014
It feels as though we’re repeating history in this new arena that was once promoted as the safe escape from the offline world full of discrimination, harassment, and abuse.
It is long past time to change our approach to sexual abuse. Instead of condemning and holding the victim responsible, we must shift the blame and punishment where it really belongs and can be most productive: onto the perpetrator. By blaming the victim, we are adding to the shame, despair, and anguish that a victim already feels, potentially driving them towards responses that could significantly damage or end their lives. We are making them feel more alienated and alone than they already feel in light of this violation. The perpetrator, on the other hand, runs free, unscathed and oftentimes more empowered, already lining up his next victim.
If we really want to solve this problem, shouldn’t we be shaming the perpetrator into inaction instead of the victim?
Private photos are private photos whether they’re consensually shared within the confines of an intimate relationship, captured on a phone and stored in iCloud, or snapped as polaroids and locked up in a fireproof safe bolted to the floor of a bulletproof room. Just because an individual consents to something in one context (such as sharing a nude photo with one person) does not mean that he/she consents to it in others (having the photo shared with the entire world via the Internet). By consenting to sex with one man, a woman isn’t consenting to have sex with all of his friends. Consent is limited to the context in which it is given.
Pain is pain, a victim is a victim, and they all deserve our support.
CCRI is seeking research that examines revenge porn, online harassment, or the occurrence of either of these within cases of domestic violence or sexual assault. We are also in pursuit of a large (500 people or more) representative sample that can be surveyed. If you or your organization has access to any of these, please contact Dr. Holly Jacobs (Holly@cybercivilrights.org) or Professor Mary Anne Franks (firstname.lastname@example.org).