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Revenge Porn Might Soon Be Illegal, But Should It Be?

Revenge has colored our society for some time now. As long as there have been people getting scorned, there have been those seeking vindication. In the Victorian Era, you would probably have soured someone's reputation. Perhaps in the Stone Age the cavemen stole your latest fur pelt.

But with new corners of cyberspace opening up everyday, revenge has a greater reach than ever before. One particular revenge craze that is sweeping the nation is revenge porn. If you haven't heard of it because you stay on good terms with your exes, it is exactly what is sounds like: after a (usually particularly nasty) breakup, one ex posts nude or similarly compromising photos of the other online. These photos were often once taken with consent. Revenge porn is getting so popular that there are entire websites dedicated to the pursuit. And now, lawmakers are starting to take notice. Their well-intentioned efforts, however, may be a move in the wrong direction.

There is a bill making its way steadily through the California legislature that would send the perpetrators of revenge porn to jail for up to a year, and similar bills are in works in New Jersey and Florida. Though revenge porn may seem trivial, it exists in the crux of free expression. Is there such a thing as photos that are public and those that are private? If so, does the government have the right to differentiate between the two? What about internet freedom? Is there a statute of limitations on consent? Revenge porn brings up all of these controversial questions. And since it is a practice that has such emotional undertones, it is rapidly gaining attention.

Legislating against revenge porn is sticky business. Having no emotional involvement in the predicament, I can assume that I would never want to be a victim of it. And so, ideally I would appreciate measures taken against such actions. But on the other hand, it places a considerable limit on freedom of expression and paves the way for further restrictions. Language in the California proposal specifically attacks the people who distribute images "with the intent to cause emotional distress" in order to differentiate from sites with just promote porn.

But how do you measure that? There's not going to be a survey before each posting that asks "Do you intend to cause emotional distress by distributing these images?" And though you can prove a tumultuous end to a relationship, demonstrating intent beyond a shadow of a doubt would become quite difficult.

Artists have even begun to capitalize on revenge porn. Hoping to make a statement, Brooklyn's Bushwick Art Gallery will exhibit "Show Me More: A Collection of DickPix" and will feature over 300 NYC penises — without the owner's knowledge or consent. But this isn't necessarily revenge porn. While hoping to make a statement about consent, and our loss of privacy, the four women behind this collection solicited "DickPix" from friends and strangers alike, but with no malicious intent. But it raises an interesting question: the victims of revenge porn arguably suffer as much as the men featured in this gallery, so where is the line between what is illegal and what is expression?

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