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By Jack Linshi
December 4, 2014

Exchanging nude photos is a more common activity than you’d think. But that practice doesn’t come without risks.

Aside from the threat of having your nude photos hacked, another danger is revenge porn: the non-consensual distribution of a person’s nude photos, often with the intention to inflict severe emotional harm. Some states have passed laws criminalizing the practice — California’s year-old revenge porn law saw its first conviction just this week. However, there’s still a battle being fought to pass similar laws in other states, as well as make sure they’re actually working in the states that already have them.

What does the California conviction mean?

A Los Angeles man was convicted under California’s revenge porn law for allegedly sharing topless photos of his ex-girlfriend on Facebook, accompanied by harassing messages. The conviction sends “a strong message that this type of malicious behavior will not be tolerated,” the Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney said in a statement.

It’s also a chance for more lawyers and victims to learn that such a law exists. California’s revenge porn statute was signed into law in October of last year, meaning it took over a year for the state to see its first conviction. That was because of an awareness gap, says Meaghan Zore, a California-based attorney whose practice areas include data privacy and human rights.

Which states have revenge porn laws?

Fifteen states currently have criminal revenge porn laws, according to information compiled by Carrie Goldberg, an attorney specializing in revenge porn and cyber civil rights:

The laws vary from state to state, which is why the National Conference of State Legislatures counts only thirteen states. Some consider revenge porn to be only the non-consensual sharing of photos, while others tack on an additional requirement — an intention to inflict emotional harm. (Examples of revenge porn range from big websites seeking to embarrass women or one person’s malicious social media posts.)

However, some observers worry that revenge porn laws which include language about intent don’t address situations like the celebrity nude photo hacks that happened earlier this year.

“If we were trying to prosecute [celebrity nude photo hackers], it would be really hard to claim they were trying to cause the victim’s emotional distress. They were in it for the ‘LOLS [laughs],'” Goldberg said. “We really have to encourage legislators not to include the language that requires an intent to cause emotional distress, because it excludes a huge subset of revenge porn that occurs.”

Will revenge porn laws keep your private photos safe from hackers?

Probably not — it’s hard to imagine that revenge porn laws would discourage hackers when hacking itself is already illegal.

Why isn’t revenge porn already criminalized?

Those against criminalizing revenge porn believe it’s a matter of free speech. Arizona’s revenge porn law, for example, doesn’t include language about intent, and has thus come under fire from opponents who claim it makes illegal images like “Napalm Girl,” the iconic photo of an unclothed Vietnamese girl running from a napalm bomb, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

However, some revenge porn law advocates believe that rules against posting revenge porn actually benefits free speech by making it more safe for people to express themselves. “Really, by having these laws, we’re also promoting free speech — free private speech,” said Goldberg, a member of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, which is in favor of revenge porn laws. “I don’t see the activity of taking and sharing nude pictures consensually diminishing. And without these laws, we’re going to have an increase in people who are wounded.”

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