Illustration by Amanda Excell
We all have different coping mechanisms for break ups, but now one of the more spiteful tactics has come under the scrutiny of state governments. On Oct. 1, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 255, which states that taking pictures of someone, even “with his or her consent,” and then posting said pictures “with the intent to cause serious emotional distress, and the other person suffers serious emotional distress” would constitute as disorderly conduct. While the bill, more commonly known as the “revenge porn bill,” is meant to protect certain parties in a break up, it is missing a very important piece: there is no protection provided for nude images the victim took themselves, what I’ll call here a “selfie.”
According to Business Insider, a whopping 80 percent of revenge porn consists of photos taken by the victim, so logically, the bill should extend to protect all types of pornographic photos. However, many opponents of the bill claim that the law shouldn’t protect people who put themselves at risk by sending pornographic photos in the first place. Despite the logistics of who took the photos, revenge porn is an act of defamation, which is legally defined as “any intentional false communication…that harms a person’s reputation; decreases the respect…or induces disparaging, hostile, or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person.” It is sheer common sense that revenge porn can cause serious permanent damage to someone’s reputation. The fact of the matter remains that revenge porn is nothing more than the attempt of one individual to inflict emotional pain and suffering upon another. This kind of harassment cannot and should not be tolerated by society, and extending the bill’s coverage to the selfie is the first step toward eliminating these kinds of immature, inappropriate hate crimes.
The entire point of having a system of law is to protect people from physical or emotional abuse through any medium, including the Internet. For this reason, the disciplinary action for revenge porn currently does not fit the crime. Disorderly conduct is classified as a misdemeanor, and first time offenders face punishment of either a fine of up to $1,000, or up to six months of county jail time. According to Senate Bill 255, acts of disorderly conduct include but are not limited to prostitution, public intoxication, and squatting. Lewd conduct lacks the malicious intent and violation of trust that is the bedrock of revenge porn. Revenge and say, squatting, should not face the same caliber of punishment. This reckless kind of behavior can permanently damage the victim’s reputation, and if anything, should be classified as sexual harassment, not disorderly conduct.
The entire concept of revenge porn only further demonstrates the need for our current laws to progress at the same rate as our ever-changing social environment. While many dispute that the bill is a violation of the First Amendment freedom of speech, according to Freedomforum.org, the Supreme Court ruled that misleading statements about another person — or libel — and obscene materials are not protected. Furthermore, the notion of freedom of speech came long before the invention of the Internet, which makes anything and everything permanent while additionally giving anybody a medium to inflict suffering while hiding comfortably behind the anonymity of a computer screen. It is time for the law to be extended into the virtual world, where harassment seems to flourish.
While permitting someone to take pornographic photos or sending ones you took yourself is asking for trouble, this does not change the simple fact that revenge porn should not be tolerated. Everybody makes mistakes, but trusting a person with whom you share an intimate relationship should not be one of them. The time has come for our laws to protect the people from all forms of bullying, harassment, and sexual assault by extending coverage into the virtual world. We cannot continue to let those who believe that revenge is the remedy for a broken heart commit these kinds of tasteless, vicious acts without consequence.