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Maryland Is The Latest State To Try To Ban ‘Revenge Porn’

By Tara Culp-Ressler on October 31, 2013 at 10:57 am

"Maryland Is The Latest State To Try To Ban ‘Revenge Porn’"

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A Maryland lawmaker has introduced a measure to criminalize “revenge porn,” the act of disseminating explicit photos online without the subject’s consent. The practice is often perpetrated by angry exes who spread this content in an attempt to hurt their former partner, but it’s also recently become an element in sexual assault cases, too.

Maryland’s Democratic candidate for Attorney General, state delegate Jon Cardin, unveiled the legislation on Wednesday. Cardin pointed out that the criminal code needs to catch up to the current reality. A recent study found that 50 percent of the respondents had exchanged intimate photos with a romantic partner, and one in ten of them had been threatened by an ex who said they would expose those photos on the internet.

“It’s absolutely just a new form of victim-blaming,” the founder of the group “End Revenge Porn,” Holly Jacobs, explains.

Cardin’s bill would punish that crime with up to five years in prison or a $25,000 fine, or both. Existing state laws typically offer victims protection for stalking and harassment, but often leave little recourse for punishing the proliferation of revenge porn.

Advocates for this type of legislation eventually hope to convince Congress to enact a national ban on revenge porn — but until then, they’re pursuing a state-by-state approach. In addition to founding the End Revenge Porn group, Jacobs also started the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative and recruited a lawyer, Mary Anne Franks, to help her start writing draft legislation. So far, California and New Jersey are the only states to officially outlaw the practice. But the advocates have already seen a lot of other interest in their cause.

“It really is pretty much every week we’re hearing from another legislature,” Franks explained in an interview with Politico. “In addition, we’re hearing from advocacy groups and victims, because I really do think what’s happening across the country is now that this has become something people feel safe to talk about.”

Franks pointed out that revenge porn often leads to serious consequences for the women who fall victim to it. Women are stalked, harassed, and sometimes forced to leave their jobs. In some tragic cases, the abuse has led some victims to commit suicide.

Particularly when it comes to teens, the act of sharing explicit photos with partners is often mischaracterized as a public health concern in and of itself. The media frequently seizes on the opportunity to moralize about the dangers of sexting. As the issue of revenge porn clearly illustrates, however, the decision to snap a racy photo isn’t actually the concern. The problem arises when one of the people involved violates their partner’s consent and shares that photo without permission. In discussions about sexting, the emphasis is often specifically placed on dissuading young women from taking sexy pictures of themselves. But studies have found that young men are actually the ones who are much more likely to cross the lines of consent and distribute a sexually explicit photo among their peers.

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