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Revenge Porn Can Haunt You for Years

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The cost of NCP can go far beyond legal fees. Many victims leave their professional fields entirely, and those who might have considered going into public fields like politics decide not to do so, according to Mary Anne Franks, the president of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI). That’s a cost that, according to Franks, we can’t even quantify — the victims who elect not to strive for public notoriety because they’ve had people warn them that they will ruin their lives.

Katelyn Bowden, a victim of NCP who went on to found BADASS, a grassroots organization dedicated to helping educate victims and marshall resources on their behalf (such as monitoring the web for images and giving them copyright takedown requests to send), says the financial and psychological costs can’t be disentangled.

“We come across people every day that are like, ‘I need help, I’ve got PTSD, and I can’t find a psychiatrist that handles this sort of thing, or that I can afford,’” Bowden said.

Bowden has worked with many victims, and said that these images often resurface years later, even once victims think they’ve all been taken down. She said this is because once an image is uploaded to the internet, it’s often locally downloaded onto someone’s computer. So even if a copyright takedown request is sent, which can compel websites to remove images, the photo can pop up again months or even years later.

The after-effects pile up, Bowden said. People miss work. They grow depressed. They’re anxious. And of course, the images always seem to resurface right before a victim has a big presentation or something of importance going on, according to Bowden.

“It definitely affects your ability to work and your ability to function,” Bowden said. ”That day that you find the photos are out there? You’re panicking.”

Franks thinks the psychological cost is the one we should be paying the most attention to, even though it’s hard to rank the numerous issues that come with having your photos distributed against your will. She points to the experience of CCRI founder Dr. Holly Jacobs.

“She was a graduate student trying to write her dissertation, and simultaneously she was writing these desperate letters to every site she found her pictures on, pleading with them to take it down,” recalled Franks. “She had done this for so long that one day, she says that she Googled her name, and the pictures were gone. And she feels like, okay, it was terrible, but I did it right. I got them all down.”

The next morning, according to Franks, Jacobs Googled herself again, and her pictures were back up on 300 more sites and there were 45,000 total search results for her name. She then gave up and changed her name because that’s the only thing she could do.

In many states, victims must be able to prove that the perpetrators demonstrated intent to harm or harass them in order to pursue a case involving NCP, Gagnier, the privacy lawyer, said. The recently passed New York law, for example, positions disseminating nonconsensual pornography under the umbrella of harassment. Because of this, Franks said, prosecutors are legally required to show that an individual operated with the “the intent to cause harm” for it to fall under the state’s NCP law.

Advocates say that the intent requirement misunderstands how revenge porn spreads online and restricts the number of cases that can be pursued. But once those photos are uploaded to the internet, people trade them as if they are playing cards, according to experts like Gagnier. The people sharing them aren’t necessarily doing so with an intent to harm the victim — even if their actions certainly do so — and therefore fall outside the purview of laws like New York’s.