As public awareness of "revenge porn" continues to grow, Maryland Carey Law Professor Danielle Citron, an internationally recognized authority on cyber civil rights, has joined forces with nonprofit advocacy groups and public officials to work on new legislation that will combat the phenomenon and protect its victims.
The legislation, which Maryland Delegate Jon Cardin ‘01 plans to introduce when the state’s General Assembly convenes again in 2014, would make it a crime to post on the Internet explicit images or videos of a former partner without his or her consent. The felony would be punishable by up to five years in prison, a $25,000 fine, or both
"This bill is a huge step forward for the protection of privacy, especially for individuals who consensually shared personal photos during a relationship of trust and whose trust was breached,” said Citron, who provided technical assistance to Cardin in drafting the bill.
The personal and professional consequences of revenge porn can be acute. “For months after I discovered that nude pictures of me and my personal identification were posted on the Internet, I was afraid to leave my house,” said Annmarie Chiarini, a Victim Advocate for the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a non-profit organization that raises awareness about online harassment. “My job was in jeopardy, and my health deteriorated. I reached out to law enforcement officials for help and was told no crime had been committed. It was dehumanizing. But rather than hiding in shame, I am choosing to speak out and see the laws in Maryland and other states changed, so victims have prosecuting power and their civil rights are protected.”
If the General Assembly passes the bill, Maryland would become a leader in addressing the problem and the third state to enact legislation that punishes revenge born. New Jersey has an invasion-of-privacy law that treats revenge porn as a crime, while in California it is treated as a misdemeanor.
“Criminal law should have a role in deterring and punishing revenge porn,” says Citron, “because revenge porn and its ilk raise the risk of offline stalking and physical attack. Fear can be profound. Victims don't feel safe leaving their homes.”
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 850,000 people in 2006 experienced some form online stalking with a ‘significant’ online component.
“We live in a rapidly changing world, and we need to recognize that vindictive ex-lovers aren’t only tormenting their exes through harassing phone calls or stalking any longer — they’re releasing privately shared and sexually explicit pictures onto public websites specifically designed for vengeful ex-lovers to humiliate their ex,” Cardin said. “Whether or not the decision to send that graphic image was a good choice in the first place, no one has the right to use the Internet to ruin someone’s life.”
Citron has been widely quoted in the media on the issue of revenge porn—or what’s also been called involuntary pornography--and was recently highlighted in an ABA Journal article on the subject.
Maryland Carey Law faculty members frequently lend their legal expertise to assist in drafting legislation that benefits all Marylanders, noted Phoebe A. Haddon, JD, LLM, dean of the UM Carey School of Law. “As Maryland’s public law school, we are proud to assist elected officials of all political persuasions across a wide range of policy issues,” she added.
Neither the University of Maryland nor its Francis King Carey School of Law endorses individual candidates for office. The participation of the School of Law faculty in drafting legislation should not be construed as an endorsement by the law school or the University of the legislation itself or its sponsor.