Revenge porn not ‘free expression’

Revenge porn not free expression

Last week, the country was outraged by a loophole in Oklahoma law that allowed a rapist to walk because the incident involved oral sex upon an intoxicated girl. A few days later, the Legislature pushed through another sexually-charged measure that probably already should have been on the books, but wasn’t.

By the time you read this, Gov. Mary Fallin may have signed into law Senate Bill 1257, which will make the dissemination of so-called “revenge pornography” a misdemeanor. The bill doesn’t ban publication of explicit images per se, though many of the staunchly religious at the statehouse would do so if that pesky First Amendment didn’t prevent them. SB 1257 prohibits the use of such material with the intent of harassing or humiliating its subject – which most of the time is a woman.

There have been many cases where an individual has allowed her partner to take racy photos either of her as an individual or as part of a couple or group. Then later, the couple has divorced or separated, and the bitter man gets back at his former lover by broadcasting the private images all over the Internet. Sometimes men are the victims.

It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what could happen. A prospective employer Googles the woman’s name, and up pop the private pictures. That might not be an issue for some employers, but for the more traditional among them, the phrase “moral turpitude” comes to mind. An otherwise highly qualified woman could be denied a job for which she is ideally suited just because of a “mistake” she made years ago, even if that mistake didn’t involve breaking the law.

SB 1257 makes it a crime to disseminate an “identifiable” image of someone who is nude or engaged in sexual conduct, if the image was gleaned in a way that a “reasonable person” would understand it was private; and if the image was made public with the intent to “harass, intimidate, or coerce” the subject, who clearly didn’t intend the photo for public consumption. Upon conviction, the perpetrator could be jailed by the county for up to a year, and fined up to $1,000. A judge can also order the photo’s eradication, if possible.

The law won’t stop everyone from taking revenge in this way, but it might slow down many people who would act on the spur of the moment, then later regret it.

The most ardent free speech advocates may cry foul over SB 1257, but the constitutional right to “free expression” is not absolute. In other words, you should not have the right to express yourself in a way that will destroy someone else’s life. Even the media must take into account the questions of libel, defamation of character, and invasion of privacy.

With the latter two standards, even if the material is accurate or true – in other words, not libelous – that doesn’t necessarily make it fair game. Lawsuits can erupt when publication of material is deemed to cross those lines. If the professional media must adhere to these standards, then in these days of widespread Internet access and social media interactions, the general public should adhere to them, too.

Revenge never ends well, and it should be eschewed, both in public and in private.

Please note: Parts of this story were removed because we felt the comments were victim blaming.