'Revenge Porn' Is About to Become a Criminal Offense in the UK

'Revenge Porn' Is About to Become a Criminal Offense in the UK

The news: In the United Kingdom, the law is about to catch up to technology.

According to the Guardian, "revenge pornography -- the act of sharing sexually explicit images of former partners without their consent -- is to become a criminal offense punishable by up to two years in prison [in the U.K.]" 

British Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling announced the new legislation on Sunday, the Guardian reports. The legislation, which covers the release of explicit images both online and in print, is currently moving through Parliament.

"The fact that there are individuals who are cruelly distributing intimate pictures of their former partners without their consent is almost beyond belief," Grayling told the Guardian. "We want those who fall victim to this type of disgusting behavior to know that we are on their side and will do everything we can to bring offenders to justice. That is why we will change the law and make it absolutely clear to those who act in this way that they could face prison."

"Circulating intimate photos of an individual without their consent is never acceptable," said Secretary of State for Education and Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan. "People are entitled to expect a reasonable level of respect and privacy."

The U.S. is still lagging behind: The U.S. is making its own moves toward stamping out revenge porn. Bills relating to the act of distributing explicit photos without consent were introduced or are pending in 28 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Legislation was enacted in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. In the rest of the country, there's no law stopping you from posting sexually revealing pictures of your ex.

Part of the problem is the state-by-state nature of revenge porn laws. Because they're moving through state legislatures, each bill is different. Arizona's revenge porn bill broadly made the "unlawful distribution of private images" a felony, while Maryland's bill made the offense merely a misdemeanor. 

But the inconsistent legal language is more troubling than inconsistent penalties.  In September, the ACLU sued the state of Arizona, claiming that its new revenge porn laws was "so broad it criminalizes booksellers, artists, news photographers and even historians and is therefore unconstitutional." The civil rights group said the law violates the First Amendment.

Why it matters: The U.K.'s bold new legislation is a signal to other countries about how to address a relatively new form of sexual harassment and invasion of privacy. While the massive celebrity nude leaks of the past few weeks aren't exactly the same as revenge porn (the latter tends to focus on former partners, rather than simply anyone engaged in distributing intimate photos), the question of privacy, consent and sexuality in the digital age has been top of mind for many across the country. 

The too-common refrain about nude photos is often "You shouldn't have taken those in the first place." But for many, this sort of violation isn't just an embarrassing revelation: It's a sex crime. 

"It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation. It's disgusting. The law needs to be changed, and we need to change," said actress Jennifer Lawrence, the center of the massive celebrity nude leak. "Just because I'm a public figure, just because I'm an actress, does not mean that I asked for this. I started to write an apology, but I don't have anything to say I'm sorry for." We see strains of Lawrence's logic in the U.K. legislation, a positive sign that norms of privacy and consent are finally being enshrined in the laws that govern our daily lives.

For those who have been a victims of revenge porn or nude photo leaks, from Lawrence to the residents of Arizona, the U.K.'s new legislation may be a sign that governments around the world are finally starting to take this new brand of sexual assault seriously.

Editors Note: Mar. 3, 2015 

An earlier version of this article cited the Guardian's reporting, but did not include quotations around the cited passage. The story has been updated to fully attribute the Guardian's language.

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Jared Keller

Jared Keller is the former director of news at Mic.

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