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Do New Laws On 'Revenge Porn' Serve The Needs Of All Victims?



Sweeping reform in the last decade criminalized the nonconsensual distribution of intimate images (NCDII), better known as “revenge porn,”, in 48 states, providing victims a new legal remedy.


Before the criminalization of NCDII, victims had one route to seek recourse through the civil court system requiring often unachievable legal standards to be met. This reform came only after cases of “revenge porn”

involving public figures took center stage in the media, unleashing the court of public opinion to scrutinize the lack of options in the criminal justice system.


Despite this new wave of policy changes, new research suggests it may be too narrowly focused on “revenge porn” to serve all victims of NCDII effectively.


The threshold of what qualifies a NCDII as a crime may vary by state, some requiring that the action be driven by a desire to seek revenge or cause harm and embarrassment to the victim. Others require the image to include a romantic partner.


“Revenge porn” is only a subsection of NCDII, which is most often committed by men against women. Much of the current legislation regarding NCDII is constructed around the concept of “revenge porn.”


Using 713 college student survey responses, a recent article in the Journal of Interpersonall Violence by Iman Said and Rachel McNealy, set out to explore the perceptions and attitudes about NCDII, and the demographics of NCDII victims and offenders.


Most often NCDII by college students was not motivated by revenge nor were the images posted online, but instead characterized by people showing images to their friends in jest or to gossip about the photo subject. Also, the images often did not contain current or past romantic partners.


This behavior was often preceded by the receipt of an unsolicited explicit image, a violation itself, which is reflected in the findings describing prior victimization, sending an explicit image, and receipt of unsolicited explicit images as the strongest predictors in perpetration of NCDII.


Also, this subtype of NCDII was more frequently perpetrated by women than men. differing from prior research focused on the male “revenge porn” offender.


Perceptions and punitive attitudes were explored using a vignette experiment to assess gender bias in how students viewed different offender-victim combinations. Students were more willing to label any sharing behavior “revenge porn” when the perpetrator was male regardless of the gender of the victim. Also, when the offender was female there was a decrease in perceived need to report.


The responses reflected a strong confidence in the capacity of police but did not share the same sentiment regarding police ability to handle “revenge porn” cases. Perception of police inability to handle NCDII cases could impact the likelihood of reporting and who will end up reporting.


The form of NCDII revealed in this study would often fail to meet the legal standards for a NCDII criminal charge and could suggest that current legislation may be ineffective in addressing the needs of all NCDII victims.


Even though this type of NCDII may not be recognized as having the same harmful effects as “revenge porn” it is still believed this behavior causes emotional distress and could exacerbate mental health issues for those who are victims.


Ultimately, more research should examine the ways women participate in NCDII and legislation should be carefully constructed to recognize diverse ways in which NCDII victimization can occur.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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