Revenge Porn: When Sexting Goes Bad

I have been working on a chapter in my new book, The New Age of Sex Education: How to talk to your teen about cybersex and pornography, that addresses the legal ramifications of sexting by minors. While pouring through juvenile sexting law, state by state, I have also been checking out another type of law that has recently made its way onto the legislative floor of some states: Revenge Porn Laws.

To say that everyone sexts today might be an exaggeration, but the reality is that sexting is not uncommon. Sexting among adults is seen as an acceptable practice. Daily, my Google news alert is filled with articles about sexting. Some are about the problems with some teen sexting scandal. The antithesis of these stories are intermingled in my daily news feed. Titles like: 5 fool proof tips to enhance your sexting game from the New York Post or Sexting 101: Best message to get him hot not bothered on Latina.

The messages are entirely counter to each other. Teens should not sext. It is dangerous. It is bad. They aren’t developmentally and emotionally capable to understand the ramifications. But as soon as you turn 18 it is just fine to send sexy texts to your partner. No matter what your moral position is on sexting, we do knowthat people in loving committed relationships do sext each other. People who are dating each other, maybe committed, maybe not, sext each other. Most of the time, this is a practice that can be used to enhance the courtship, flirtation or maintain the bond between two lovers.

What happens when the relationship goes south? What happens to those images once lovingly and voluntarily sent? The answer to that is … well it depends. When a relationship that has involved sexting goes bad, there is a danger. This is where revenge porn comes in. Revenge porn sites are websites that specialize in the posting of images from the sexy to straight out sex videos that were once consensual communications, posted after a break up. The sites change all the time as once they are up, something normally happens, such as an arrest or a law suit and they are taken down. Another site pops right up in its place thereafter.
The premise of revenge porn is that the poster is getting back at or hurting their ex by posting private sexual imagery. These sites have become more common over the past several years causing many states to enact legislation to make the posting of an image (we’re talking adults here as minors fall under other laws) without the other person’s knowledge illegal.

In the state of Pennsylvania (where I practice) a revenge pornography bill was passed by the state judiciary committee on January 2014. The law was amended by the house in June of 2014 and creates a provision under sexual offenses for the unlawful dissemination of an intimate image. A person breaks this law if they post an intimate image with the intent to harass, annoy or alarm a current or former sexual or intimate partner. The law applies to images of nudity as well as sexual conduct. The law does specify that the image is of a former partner which separates it from laws regarding voyeurism or acts such as up-skirting. The law also states that the victim may bring civil action against the perpetrator. The main problem with these laws is that many of the victims of revenge pornography posting do not knowthey are victims. They often find out when a friend or they come across the image.

For those of us who are adults, we all have the choice as to whether or not we wish to send sexual images to our partner via messaging or texting. It all seems grand when the relationship is in full bloom. What we don’t often think about is, “what if this relationship ends”? In our digital age, every digital action has a footprint that really can’t be erased.

So if you are going to sext, do so mindfully.

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