One in 25 Americans has been a victim of “revenge porn,” according to the Center for Innovative Public Health Research and, until recently, victims often faced challenges pursuing legal action against their perpetrators.

Now, victims of so-called “revenge porn” in New York State will soon have the opportunity to pursue damages and injunctive relief against those who unlawfully disseminate or publish intimate images of them without their consent, thanks to the passage of a bill by the New York State Legislature.

New York will become the 44th state making it a crime to disseminate or publish intimate photos of someone without their consent, effective 60 days after the bill is signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, which he said he plans to do. The measure will amend the New York State Penal Law, Criminal Procedure Law, Family Court Act and the Civil Rights Law, effectively establishing the crime of “unlawful dissemination or publication of an intimate image.”

Highlights of the new law include:

  • Offenders could be subject to up to a year in jail.
  • Victims can sue the individual who posted the revenge porn.
  • Judges will have ability to order websites and social media platforms to remove the photos or videos (the first in the nation to call for this).
  • Offenders under 18 also will be held accountable under the new law, but, as minors, would appear before a Family Court judge.

What is revenge porn?

The term “revenge porn,” although frequently used, is somewhat misleading, according to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. “A more accurate term is nonconsensual pornography (NCP), defined as the distribution of sexually graphic images of individuals without their consent,” according to the Initiative’s website, which states that 43 states, plus the District of Columbia, currently have “revenge porn” laws.

The unlawful dissemination and publication of intimate images is often provided to Internet websites, and features photos sometimes accompanied by disparaging descriptions and identifying details, such as where the victims live and work, as well as links to their social network pages, the bill states. “Posting these photographs online is damaging to the reputations of the victims. These photographs have extensive negative effects, including destroying future intimate relationships and educational and employment opportunities. Victims are routinely threatened with sexual assault, stalked, harassed, or fired from jobs.”

Images are often created in the context of mutual, intimate relationships, when there may have been an expectation of privacy. Sometimes images are the product of threats or coercion, and in other situations, the personal images may have been digitally manipulated.

Regardless of the circumstances of their creation, personal images distributed by an ex-intimate partner were most likely never intended for public view, and their dissemination obviously can have devastating impacts on the victim.

New York City law

In November 2017, the New York City Council voted to make revenge porn a crime, prohibiting the nonconsensual distribution of sexually explicit videos or images of another person, “with the intent to cause harm to the person depicted in such videos or images.”

The New York City law also prohibits any “legitimate threat to do so,” according to the text of the bill, which became law in early 2018. Individuals found to be guilty of sharing someone’s intimate photos without their consent can be subject to up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of revenge porn, it is advisable to contact an attorney who can provide the appropriate guidance for seeking damages or injunctive relief.