Problematic, Pathetic, Predictable?: Revenge Porn in Light of Recent Events

Or: The Blac Chyna/Rob Kardashian scandal has people talking about a very real issue for many women

5th July 2017: the day after Independence Day when many are back at work, feeling much more relaxed after their 4th July parties. But for Blac Chyna it would lead her into a potential legal battle against the father of her child who had purposefully shown the whole world her naked body. But for many women this event is something they have to worry about. In this day and age when content can go viral in a matter of hours, is this the new danger for 21st century women?

Blac Chyna heading to court on Monday (credit: Backgrid)

Revenge Porn is determined by the UK government as “the sharing of private, sexual materials, either photos or videos, of another person without their consent and with the purpose of causing embarrassment or distress” and in the UK applies to both on and offline wherein if the image is shown to somebody in person it still is applicable for prosecution and, if found guilty, worth up to 2 years in prison. It criminalises the sharing of sexual material which doesn’t just include media showing genitals (as happened to Blac Chyna) but anything that “a reasonable person would consider to be sexual” — although this may raise issues leaving individual cases up to judicial review as what any one person constitutes as sexual may differ from any other person. In the US it differs state to state with New Jersey — which was the first US state to introduce a “non-consensual porn law” in 2004 — giving up to 5 years in prison and/or up to $15,000 in fines. However, these fines may not be all that helpful considering a victim of Hunter Moore (the man behind isanyoneup.com) spent ~$10,000 in legal fees to get her photos removed from his website which was renowned for revenge porn with compromising photos of (mainly) women and as many details as him and his followers could find, including victims’ full names, social media links, occupation and even addresses.

93% of victims suffered “significant emotional distress”

While Chyna has sought (and gained) a temporary restraining order against Rob Kardashian, most victims do not have the money for, the access to or the want to deal with the justice system — many victims are left traumatised and if they want to take it court are often faced with an unsympathetic and confusing legal system. In fact, research from the End Revenge Porn Campaign found that 93% of victims suffered “significant emotional distress” and 82% said they had “significant impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning” due to being a victim; this affects people deeply and can change their lives in all aspects including their familial and workplace relations. One such example was that of Kayla Laws in the case against Hunter Moore, as in her testimony in the she described how she lost her job, lost her role in a movie and was humiliated in front of countless people. Not only this but both her and her mother (Charlotte Laws, who was the driving force in the case) had been stalked and received threats, many of them sexual or murderous in nature; she had even been contacted by porn star Ron Jeremy to “talk business” — this woman had had some private pictures stolen from her email account and with one fell swoop by hacker Charlie Evens her life had been ruined. Even if the victims decide to take it further some states do not even have laws against this or if they do, some have the wording “with intent to harass”. This is problematic because some perpetrators, like Hunter Moore, promote these images for money, or for some twisted form of pleasure and dominance like in the recent Marines United scandal. But with an unhelpful and unsympathetic legal system filled with loopholes, is there any justice to be gained for the victims?

“It is not a matter of changing our laws or our technology or our culture; it is a matter of changing all of them” — Mary-Anne Franks

One of the arguments against these victims is that they “shouldn’t have taken the photos if they didn’t want them to be shared” — as well as this being a prime example of victim blaming and a common response given by the authorities, it doesn’t address the true issue. Mary-Ann Franks (a professor at the University of Miami School of Law) told Wired “like domestic abuse and sexual assault, non-consensual pornography is the product of a culture that does not view women as fully human and deserving of the same bodily autonomy as men”. The argument that if you don’t want them shared them do not take them completely disregards the idea that women have a right to privacy, which is fundamental human right. If women wish to share these photos then they can, and they can decide whom they share them with, and when. But some of these women do not even send these photos to anyone, or, in the case of Erin Andrews, were not aware they were even being photographed. Erin Andrews (the former ESPN reporter) was filmed without her knowledge while in a hotel by a man in an adjourning hotel room — how was she meant to avoid this? By keeping her clothes on and never showering or changing? This also applies to the horrific trend of ‘upskirting’ — are women just meant to wear trousers or shorts in public at all times to prevent a violation of one of their basic human rights? Unfortunately, this attitude exists in the legislative and judiciary branches, and often the people in charge only support these women through the views of the women in their lives. For example: in the case against Christopher Marcos, the ruling judge, Judge Ravin, started off the judgement with “as a parent with a daughter, I could say plenty” — also this appears to be a feminist-style sentiment it should be that people are against this violation because they respect women, not because they have a woman in their life who reminds them that women have value. This sentiment was heard a lot after Trump’s infamous “grab her by the pussy” remarks; women should not only be viewed by their relationship and value to men but as humans in their own right.

So where does this leave us? Blac Chyna has won her restraining order and with their celebrity statuses, the world will be watching to see how the issue will be treated. With the attitudes seeming like they are slowly changing and more sentencing it looks promising but it is up to us to work towards progress and make sure all women feel protected in their right to their privacy and bodies.