I hope revenge porn survivors get their revenge

A group of at least 23 women in the United States has filed a class-action lawsuit for invasion of privacy and causing mental anguish against revenge porn site Texxxan and its hosting service, GoDaddy (like you needed another reason to hate GoDaddy).

Revenge porn is a vile category of online content wherein a person posts nude photos or videos of another person without their consent (usually a woman, often an ex-lover). A cursory Google search will yield pages of sites hosting such content. Many of these sites include the women’s names, contact information and links to their social media profiles. Some of them include maps to the women’s homes.

As we all know, there is no shortage on the Internet of sexually explicit photos or video of consenting women. Porn (with consenting parties) is probably the Internet’s most popular application. The knowledge that women on revenge porn sites have not consented to the photo or video’s distribution is precisely what makes these sites titillating for their fans. One advocacy group, End Revenge Porn, likens it to “cyber-rape”.

Revenge porn perpetuates a culture that sees women’s bodies as public property, regardless of whether or not they have consented. Revenge porn ruins lives. Revenge porn, and a culture that sees it as invariably the woman’s fault, might have been what killed British Columbia teenager Amanda Todd.

Courts in Quebec and Australia have ruled in favour of the survivor in revenge porn lawsuits, awarding damages of $40,000 to the survivor in both cases. Unfortunately one US statute, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, appears to leave American survivors of revenge porn without much recourse. This section protects websites from legal responsibility for any content submitted by users.

John S. Morgan, the lawyer representing the Texxxan lawsuit’s lead plaintiff Hollie Toups, plans to argue that sites which advertise an illegal purpose for collecting user-generated content are not protected under Section 230. He may have precedent. In 2003, California district court ruled that website Roommates.com was not protected under Section 230 for their publication of a discriminatory roommate-finding questionnaire. Their reason? The questionnaire specifically induced site users to express roommate preferences that were illegal.

Revenge porn is yet another example of the legal system struggling to adapt to how much of our communication, transactions, and lives play out on the Internet. I’ll be following this case, and I hope you do too.

3 thoughts on “I hope revenge porn survivors get their revenge

  1. That’s brilliant! I hope they take them to the cleaners. I don’t know about canada, but in the USA, a person legally owns their image, and if someone else profits from it (like a web site does), without their permission, they can sue.

    That said, I would say we need to focus on more accurate laws, and contextual consent laws would be a great place to start. It used to be to film an intimate moment required a large, expensive camera, and time to set it up.

    Now, that same thing can be done by almost every cellphone on the market, quickly, and (if you’re a real git) discreetly.

    I hope we see success in this case, and it gives the gov. a kick in the pants to start looking at these things.

  2. Thank God for your blog, and that SOME people are paying attention to this horrible issue. I’ve come across these sites in my *ahem* “late night research”, and I couldn’t believe they were real. I thought they must be fake (ie fantasy revenge porn… which is also disgusting and should be illegal but less immediately destructive) because I thought surely there would be laws against this stuff. I guess law makers can’t predict what horrible things people will decide to do with new technology, but they need to get their pencils writing new laws fast before more women are victimized.

    While I’m on a harpy tear, I will also say I WISH there were rules against rape/violence porn (despite the consent of the actors). I have absolutely no problem with porn in general (let’s drop the ladylike modesty here – I’m a fan, and not only of explicitly feminist porn) but honestly, some of the things I’ve come across on the net have left me traumatized, feeling like I’ve just witnessed a horrible violent crime being committed. For someone who has experienced sexual assault, these things that – no matter how quickly you close the screen and try to think about something else – can’t be unseen, and leave me disturbed and triggered for days afterwards.

    I remember my Images of Women course at Uni – in the archaic early 2000s when Gender Studies was still called Women’s Studies – my awesome prof did an entire unit on all the various facets and ways of looking at porn. When we talked about violent/rapey porn, we learned that while not everyone who watches it will commit an assault or rape, everyone who commits an assault or rape will have watched it. At this time, the literature was referring to (non-internet) rape fantasy porn where the act begins as non-consentual, but quickly the victim can’t resist and begins to enjoy it. The stuff I’m coming across nowadays, the victim is resisting the entire time, violence is used to combat her/his resistance, and in the end they are left crying and battered (more realistic, more disturbing). Both kinds of rape porn are bad – the former implies that women just need to get warmed up (even if by force) for them to consent, It’s so archaic and hetero-normative, and I’m sure impelled a lot of naive young people to think pressuring someone into sex until they give in was just part of the courtly ritual. But the latter version (including revenge porn) capitalizes on the idea that for some people rape and violence is erotic, and that although they would “NEVER” commit these acts themselves, they get off by watching it. And those who at first find it repulsive, come to find it erotic through the watching of it. That combination, in a culture that already tacitly condones systemic violence against women, surely can lead to no good!

    And it’s so scary to think that these images could for some poor little chilluns, be their FIRST introduction to sex!!! Oh, to go back to the halcyon teenage years in the 90s when I had to squint my eyes just to make out a boob or a vag in the scrambled porn on channel 82 (muted, so my parents wouldn’t hear), or sneak a peek of a boob or beav in a mag at the smoke shop with my best friend in grade five while the shop keep was busy with a customer (and then talk about it together for days!). C’mon, y’all! I’m not saying kids should have to go to such desperate measures to see a little tail, but it’s a little sad to think they could witness “throat fucking” at any time on their iphones.

    Anyway, that ever so lucrative porn industry isn’t going away any time soon, so there should at least be increased and better and earlier education about it, right? My friend who is in gender and sexuality studies at an unnamed university in Toronto recently mentioned that one of his trail-blazing profs did a special class on porn, where they were actually shown it to talk about what it means and what it does, etc. The prof had to hand pick the students who would be invited to join the class, and hold this class at 8 am in order for there not to a huge scandal. (hope the Toronto Sun doesn’t read your blog!)

    Oh wow, I seriously went off on a tl/dr tangent here – thank Gosh for being unemployed on the government dime! (again, hoping to TO Sun doesn’t read.)

  3. Reblogged this on kaimcn and commented:
    I really hope to see the law intervene on “revenge porn” sites and it’s not just as an outsider support survivors (although I do 100%). I get angry and offended every time I hear someone say “if you don’t want it on the internet, don’t take the pictures”. To me that’s victim blaming and body policing that removes responsibility from the abuser (who shares the pictures) and businesses that profit from this abuse.
    When I was 18 I was in a very abusive relationship with a guy who used every power dynamic at his hands to manipulate me and talked me into some abusive stupid shit. Some of the “least” of it is the pictures I let him take. When I finally had the strength to leave him (with 4000 km between us) I was highly aware of those pictures and what our mutual friends and strangers and people I went to school with and possible future employers (or voters? I wanted to be PM once) and my mom would think of them. They weren’t something I was happy about then or something that I consider completely consensual looking back.
    I’ve never looked at those revenge porn sites because I don’t want to know if he held a grudge long enough to keep and share those pictures from 9 years ago. And obviously I refuse to give them the clicks for advertisers. But I have immense empathy and solidarity for the girls women who have had their trust abused by someone looking to say “I saw a girl naked once, no really, look!” or try to destroy what they can’t have. I hope the US gov’t will be understanding.

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