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Revenge Porn and Sextortion

Revenge porn, the disclosure of sexually explicit images without consent and for no legitimate purpose, is now against the law in many states of the United States. There have been several high-profile cases over the last few years. Revenge porn can cause immediate, devastating, and in many cases irreversible harm. A vengeful ex-partner, opportunistic hacker, or rapist can upload an explicit image of a victim to a website where thousands of people can view it and hundreds of other websites can share it. In a matter of days, that image can dominate the first several pages of search engine results for the victim’s name; it can also be e-mailed or otherwise exhibited to the victim’s family, employers, coworkers, and peers.

The Internet has greatly facilitated the rise of nonconsensual pornography, as dedicated revenge porn sites and other forums openly solicit private intimate images and expose them to millions of viewers. Several thousand websites host revenge porn. Intimate material is also widely distributed without consent through social media blogs, e-mails, and texts. Victims are routinely threatened with sexual assault, stalked, harassed, fired from jobs, forced to change schools, disciplined at school, and forced to move and change their names. Some victims have even committed suicide.

The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, Inc. (CCRI) ( and Without My Consent (WMC) ( are two organizations leading the way in the fight against revenge porn. CCRI is a not-for-profit organization with the mission to bring awareness to and reduce the occurrence of harassment on the Internet. CCRI’s End Revenge Porn (ERP) campaign specifically focuses on the problem of nonconsensual distribution of intimate images Through the ERP, CCRI advocates for technological, social, and legal innovation to fight nonconsensual pornography and provides direct support to its victims. CCRI collaborates with law firms and private attorneys to provide pro bono legal services to victims around the world. It also operates a 24-hour hotline for victims, providing them with emotional support and referrals for takedown services and lawyers. Finally, CCRI works with major social media and technology companies to develop policies to prevent the proliferation of intimate images and other forms of online harassment. CCRI provides direct services to over 1,500 victims of revenge porn every year and has almost 100,000 unique visitors from 191 countries visit its website. CCRI educates stakeholders on the drafting of criminal legislation prohibiting nonconsensual pornography.

WMC is a not-for-profit organization that provides tools and educational materials free of charge to empower victims and survivors of online harassment to combat online invasions of privacy. The WMC website is a one-stop resource for attorneys seeking substantive information about current statutes, case law, and procedure on the legal topics of personal privacy and online harassment. WMC publishes and updates practical resources for victims and advocates across the United States and provides training to law enforcement, lawyers, and victim advocates on how to effectively fight online harassment through the criminal and civil justice system [8].

In a 2015 landmark case, Craig Brittain, the operator of an alleged revenge porn website, was banned from publicly sharing any more nude videos or photographs of people without their affirmative express consent, under a settlement with the FTC. In addition, he was ordered to destroy the intimate images and personal contact information he collected while operating the site. The FTC’s complaint against Craig Brittain alleged that he used deception to acquire and post intimate images of women, then referred them to another website he controlled, where they were told they could have the pictures removed if they paid hundreds of dollars [9].

According to the FTC’s complaint, Brittain acquired the images in several ways, such as by posing as a woman on the advertising site Craigslist, and offering nude photos purportedly of himself in exchange for photos provided by women. When women provided him with the photos, Brittain posted them on his site without their knowledge or permission. In addition to collecting and posting the images himself, Brittain solicited viewers of his site to anonymously submit nude photos of people to his site, according to the complaint. He required submissions to include sensitive personal information about the people in the photos, including their full name, town and state, phone number, and Facebook profile. Overall,

Brittain’s site included photos of more than 1000 individuals, according to the complaint.

Women whose photographs and information were posted on the site contacted Brittain to have the information removed, citing the potential harm to their careers and reputations. In addition, women cited unwelcome contact from strangers who had discovered their information on Brittain’s site. The FTC complaint notes that in many cases Brittain did not respond to the women’s requests to remove the information. In fact, the complaint alleges that Brittain’s site advertised content removal services under the name “takedown hammer” and “takedown lawyer” that could delete consumers’ images and content from the site in exchange for a payment of $200—$500. Despite presenting these as third-party services, the complaint alleges that the sites for these services were owned and operated by Brittain [10].

In 2015, a revenge porn website operator and an accomplice, Charles Evens and Hunter Moore, were sentenced to 25 months in a federal prison on computer crime and identity theft charges. Evens pleaded guilty in July to one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer to obtain information for purposes of private financial gain and one count of aggravated identity theft. Evens obtained nude pictures that were posted on the revenge porn website operated by Hunter Moore ( [11].

On his website, Moore posted nude and sexually explicit photos that were submitted without the permission of victims. To obtain more photos for the website, Evens hacked into Google e-mail accounts. Moore sent payments to Evens in exchange for nude photos unlawfully obtained from victims’ accounts. Moore then posted the illegally obtained photos on his website without the victims’ consent. Evens admitted that he hacked into e-mail accounts belonging to hundreds of victims [12].

Revenge porn cases have also been reported in Australia [13] and the United Kingdom [14]. In 2015, the technology company Google stated it planned to honor requests to remove revenge porn or unauthorized nude or sexually explicit images from its Internet search engine. Earlier in 2015, social networking site Twitter took similar action, banning intimate photos or videos that were taken or distributed without a subject’s consent. The social forum Reddit also updated its privacy policy so that such content is not posted without the subject’s permission [15]. In 2014, Japan enacted a new Revenge Porn Prevention Act largely because the number of cases were increasing from year to year and in 2013 there were 318 suspects arrested in Japan [16].

Sextortion is a crime closely related to revenge porn in several ways. However, with sextortion a person is being blackmailed to not have photos or videos posted on the Internet, whereas with revenge porn the dynamic is usually the opposite, victims are asked for money to remove already posted material. The Brookings Institute published an in-depth study of sextortion in 2016. Researchers at Brookings searched dockets and news stories for criminal cases in which one person used a computer network to extort another into producing pornography or engaging in sexual activity. They found nearly 80 such cases involving, by conservative estimates, more than 3000 victims [17].

Far too often, former spouses and former lovers are the perpetrators of social media warfare attacks using exposure or deception tactics like revenge porn, stalking, and harassment. Cyberstalking can be defined as the use of the Internet, e-mail, social media, or other electronic communications devices to stalk another person. Few research studies have examined the use of technology in partner or former partner stalking. There are relatively low rates of technology use within the context of stalking in general, but partner stalking victims have reported unwanted contact through e-mail or Internet applications. Clearly, websites or social networking sites can be used to threaten victims, encourage others to contact victims, post personal information publicly, impersonate others to gain information about or access to victims, and spread rumors about victims [18].

One study found that prior relationships between victims and stalkers included marriage (57%), cohabitation (25%), serious dating but not living together (24%), and casual dating (15%). Almost two-thirds of victims had suffered domestic violence in their prior relationship with the stalker. The length of stalking ranged between one month and 38 years, with a median of 12 months [19]. Many U.S. states have passed laws against cyberstalking.

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