May 21, 2018
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I think my friend uploaded revenge porn. Should I tell his ex?

Emily Yoffe
By Emily Yoffe, Slate

Dear Prudence,

A few days ago a friend sent me the link to a porn video that stars the (recent) ex-girlfriend of a mutual good friend. The video is clearly shot in private, and although it shows her face it doesn’t have her name on it. This girl behaved really badly and completely shattered my friend’s heart, and while I don’t want to believe he would put something like this online, he is so hurt that it’s not outside the realm of possibility. She would lose her job and her career if this video was found, and she comes from a very conservative family. My questions: What are my obligations here? Do I ask my friend about it? Contact the ex? Part of me wished I could forget that I saw it at all.

— Porn Confusion

Dear Confusion,

In my day people took sexy Polaroids of each other then hid them in the sock drawer. After a bad breakup, they took the pictures out of the gym sock and burned them. It’s too bad that one can no longer memorialize one’s hotness with such nonchalance. As my colleague Emily Bazelon recently described, this new plague of revenge porn is ruining lives and there is currently little legal recourse. (California just passed a law making posting such material a misdemeanor.) I talked to expert Danielle Citron, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and author of the forthcoming book, Hate 3.0, about what can be done for this woman. First of all, contact your friend. If indeed he is the perpetrator, you should tell him that you have now seen the video. Tell him you know his ex did him wrong, but he should not compound the wrongdoing by exacting such vicious revenge. Citron says if he posted to a site where he controls his content, he could simply take down the video. Let’s hope it hasn’t been more widely disseminated and that her name hasn’t gotten attached. But if he gave it to a revenge porn website, then unfortunately he’s really lost control of it.

You should also contact the ex-girlfriend. She’s entitled to know the bad news, which has the potential for painful professional and personal consequences. Citron says that if the video was a selfie, the woman would own the copyright. In that case it would be worth it for her to hire a lawyer to write a letter to the site operator where it’s being posted without her permission. But its being taken down is far from assured. If the woman is sure that the images were posted by her ex, Citron laid out other legal avenues she could explore, such as filing a civil claim of infliction of emotional distress or seeking criminal harassment action be taken against him. But Citron notes pursuing a civil lawsuit would be expensive and that law enforcement has taken a lax attitude toward these cases. Sadly, because of technology, people need to be aware when giving sexual photographs or videos of themselves to a paramour that love may die, but the images could live on forever.


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