From the Editors: September 30, 2015
Nowadays you can click a button and buy a book, meet your spouse, or ruin someone's life.
Remember when bullying ended once the school dismissal bell rang? When a breakup was bitter but personal? When photos you'd rather not share with the world could be destroyed with a lighter or scissors?
Enter the internet. Unquestionably phenomenal. Infinitely useful. And — if your ex-partner wants revenge — potentially terrifying.
It's hard to comprehend the loss of privacy we've embraced along with the internet. For the most part, privacy breaches are simply inconvenient. Even in cases where real damage is done — stolen identities, hacked bank accounts, and the like — there is a clear path toward recourse. Pursuing justice may be a nuisance, but at least — with the law on our side — we survive relatively unscathed.
Revenge porn isn't like that at all. It's devastating. And until recently, there wasn't much victims could do if angry ex-partners made their intimate lives go viral.
Revenge porn laws still only exist in half the states. Federal copyright laws are often stand-ins. But, as the ever-brilliant John Oliver pointed out in June on Last Week Tonight, they can require victims to protect their privacy by sending naked photos of themselves to the copyright office. Pennsylvania enacted revenge porn laws in July, 2014.
While researching revenge porn for his piece in this issue, Dan Schank found little local evidence of perpetrators who've been brought to justice, victims who've been awarded damages, or caseworkers who've chaperoned those suffering through the legal system.
If we were optimistic — and utterly naive — we might assume that's because we don't have a revenge porn problem here. More likely, though, is the fact that most victims have been enduring the compounded anguish of the violation itself and the feeling of sheer helplessness.
Oliver addressed myriad ways women are victimized online, but particularly through revenge porn. And even more appalling, how a "distinctive victim-blame-y sentiment of, 'If you didn't want this to happen, you shouldn't have taken photos' is hard-wired into mainstream culture."
"Sometimes these photos come from hacked webcams," Oliver continued, "but regardless of that, it doesn't matter how it happens."
"It comes down to fundamentally changing the way we think about the internet," Oliver explained, "because too often, you hear people playing down the dangers of the internet by saying, 'Relax. It's not real life,' But it is. And it always has been … Nowadays you can click a button and buy a book, meet your spouse, or ruin someone's life."
We hope featuring this legal approach to revenge porn — as related by litigator Elisa D'Amico — will raise awareness of the issue itself and assure victims that they don't have to suffer alone: helpless, hopeless, and living a ruined life. Publicly.