November 17, 2014 12:47 PM EST

As modern technology has allowed for the rise of selfies and sexting, it has also allowed for a new form of betrayal: revenge porn. The act of posting or sharing explicit images or videos of a person without his or her consent can wreak havoc on a person’s personal and professional life.

In the UK last week, campaigners scored a win as Luke King, a 21-year-old man from Nottingham, England, became the first man in Britain to be jailed for posting revenge porn.

A 12-week sentence was handed down on Nov. 14, after King pleaded guilty to harassment, after posting a naked image of his ex-girlfriend to the mobile messaging service WhatsApp. The woman, who hasn’t been named, had sent King the photo while they were still together. After the break-up, King threatened to upload the photo, which is when his ex first reported him to police. Although he was warned by police that posting the image online would be a crime, King followed through with his threat in August.

King’s case is the first in Britain since it was announced in October that a new legal amendment will deal with revenge porn directly. King was prosecuted under an existing law, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, but those found guilty under the new amendment — which is currently going through Parliament — could face up to two years in prison.

The District Crown Prosecutor at the Crown Prosecution Service East Midlands, Peter Shergill, said at sentencing, “Prosecutors are now following guidance issued in October that clarifies how we can use existing legislation to prosecute perpetrators of these intrusive offences.”

But the direct attack on revenge porn that the UK has taken raises the question of whether the US will follow suit.

There is no current US federal law against revenge porn, because, as University of Pennsylvania law professor Paul H. Robinson notes, “under the US Constitution it is the states that have the police power and it’s not within the power of the federal government to create criminal law offenses unless there is some special federal interest.”

And, in fact, many states have been making moves to criminalize revenge porn. According to the End Revenge Porn campagin, 15 US states already have passed laws against revenge porn and those laws actually have been used to prosecute men who’ve posted naked photos of their former partners. Another seven states have also introduced legislature against revenge porn. The problem, however, lies in the many remaining states where revenge porn is legal.

Though some believe that existing laws against harassment or copyright infringement could be used to tackle the problem, many individual cases have proven that revenge porn often slips through the cracks. As Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland and the author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, noted in Slate last year, “Harassment laws only apply if the defendant is persistent in his or her cruelty.” Posting a single explicit image to a highly-trafficked site could have disastrous consequences for the person pictured, but it wouldn’t count as “persistent.” What’s more, copyright only applies if the image was a selfie as the photographer (or videographer) owns the rights to the image.

So what will it take to ensure that revenge porn is illegal across all of the US?

According to Mary Anne Franks, a University of Miami law professor who is working with Californian Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier to draft a federal bill that would criminalize revenge porn if passed, pushing a nationwide ban has been difficult because “there’s a general prioritization of the First Amendment in the US” and “we [have been] slow to come to the realization that this isn’t an infringement of free speech.”

To pass US-wide laws, it’s essential, according to Franks, to reframe revenge porn from a free speech issue into a privacy issue. “We don’t view an image of someone’s naked body as [deserving of] the same privacy as someone’s medical records,” she says, but suggests views are shifting.

Franks notes that campaigns such as End Revenge Porn, which is part of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, and Women Against Revenge Porn have done much to spread awareness about the issue — 12 of the 15 states with laws against revenge porn passed them within the past two years. That awareness, along with the widely publicized hacking of celebrity nude photos, has done much to shift people’s perceptions about the harm that posting a nude image without someone’s consent can cause.

Unfortunately, until all of the US is covered by anti-revenge porn laws, there are millions of people for whom a total loss of privacy is only a vengeful upload away.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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