Photo illustration by Boone Olson

Playing Dirty
Revenge porn resurfaces following congresswoman’s resignation; state law updates

Imagine yourself in the prime of your life. Young and uncaring, you expose yourself by sharing and engaging in sexually explicit, yet private acts, never believing that your most intimate messages and photos will be posted for the whole world to see. This is exactly what happened to now-former congresswoman Katie Hill, a target of the invasion of privacy known as “revenge porn.”

Hill’s situation is unique as a congresswoman, but the fact that intimate photos were released is common.

Since the rise of instant messaging, “sexting” (the act of sending nude photographs of oneself) has become commonplace between some individuals and couples. Normally, these photos stay private. But what happens to many relationships? They end…badly. A nasty breakup can easily lead to spite, and spite can lead to vengefulness. This is where “revenge porn” aptly gets its name.

Elected last November, Hill resigned from her job after just nine months in office. In the middle of a rough divorce from her allegedly “abusive” husband, photos of their escapades were leaked to the press. With possible political motivations, these photos, showing Hill in the middle of a threesome with a female campaign staffer, quickly circulated among right-wing websites. The original article in which her images were posted was, coincidentally, written by someone who supported her opponent.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that those most likely to fall victim to “revenge porn” are college-aged individuals. A 2017 study conducted by the Journal of Sexual Medicine (JSM) surveyed 1044 undergraduate students about their history with sexting. Nearly half of them had admitted to “sending a sexually explicit cell phone picture” with over 60% receiving one. The JSM’s research also found that, rather shockingly, “over 40% of both males and females” acknowledged they had been minors when the photo was taken.

These pictures also aren’t just being sent back and forth between two parties; a substantial majority of participants who had ever sent a sext forwarded it to four or more people, according to JSM. Datapoints like these show just how exposed people really are at any given moment.

Luckily, Oregon has had one of the strictest anti-“revenge porn” laws in the country for years. This law, Senate Bill 188, makes it a crime to post illicit pictures on the internet without the expressed consent of the person photographed. Originally, it had only applied to images uploaded to an “internet website.” This limitation enabled a large loophole. “Internet websites” are not the only place you can post photos. So, earlier this year, the Oregon legislature updated it.

Passing in June, House Bill 239 closed the “website” loophole by outright removing that requirement and applying it to all other current and future distribution means (text messages, emails, etc.), according to a report from the Oregonian. Not only did HB239 update the state’s definition of “revenge porn,” but the penalties for committing it too. All victims now have the right to sue their offender of upwards of $5000. Keeping in line with the bill’s original charges, those caught will be charged with a misdemeanor for their first offense and a felony for any recurring offenses. Wanting to inflict damage on someone’s reputation by releasing their private photos is not only a severe invasion of privacy, but also an invasion of trust. Katie Hill’s story and her unfortunate resignation concludes one can never be too careful with their indiscretions. Think twice before you share that selfie. You never know what can surface.

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