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Marines Photo Scandal: What Can Revenge Porn Victims Do?
Article by: NBC
March 15, 2017
Views: 2,764,687

The exposing of a secret Facebook group where Marines are accused of posting nude photos of female service members — without their knowledge or consent — is renewing calls for the strengthening of victim protection laws across the country.

The problem, according to organizations that fight online sexual exploitation, is that such laws don't exist in every state — and even if they do, they can be a patchwork of protections that don't have teeth.

We've been successful in encouraging legislators in these states to take up these laws, but that doesn't mean that these states have come up with good ones," said Mary Anne Franks, a professor of law at the University of Miami and the legislative and tech policy director with the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

Before her nonprofit group began pushing the issue with lawmakers in 2013, there were just three states with respective legislation. Now, 35 states and Washington, D.C., have some form of so-called "revenge porn" laws, which make it illegal to use a sexually exploitative image or video of someone online without their permission.

Victims advocacy groups say the term "revenge porn" can be a misnomer because the perpetrator might not necessarily be seeking revenge against someone they personally know. The term "non-consensual pornography" is usually preferred.

Prosecution typically originates out of the state where the offender is located.

Most states have laws that require proving there was an intention to harass a victim, but Franks said harassment in the traditional sense isn't always a part of these cases and instead are examples of one's privacy being violated.

But she cited the Illinois law, which took effect in 2015, as being particularly strong because it puts aside the suspect's motive in favor of focusing on the harm done to the victim. And it also goes after people who post the indecent images secondhand.

In Rhode Island, the office of Attorney General Peter Kilmartin said law enforcement has had to turn away numerous victims of these cases because there are no applicable laws in that state. The cases have included one woman who said her ex-boyfriend sent revealing photos to her employer as revenge for her breaking off their relationship and another woman who said her estranged husband posted revealing photos on social media during their divorce, Kilmartin's spokeswoman, Amy Kempe, told NBC News.

"We believe there to be many more similar and worse cases, but they are often not brought to our attention as police departments know that in most circumstances, charges cannot be filed," Kempe said.

That could change if Rhode Island legislators pass a bill this year after one was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo, who had argued that it could impair freedom of speech.

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