New York City Is Making Revenge Porn A Crime Punishable By Prison Time Or A Fine

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For years, lawyers have struggled to represent their clients in revenge porn cases. The laws protecting victims from non-consensual sharing of intimate photography and videos have been weak, or in many cases, nonexistent. While many individuals and lawmakers have lobbied for change, no federal regulations or bans have been instated. But that's about to change in New York City. Revenge porn will soon be criminalized in the Big Apple, thanks to a Thursday vote by members of the New York City Council.

CNN reports that intending to cause harm to someone by disclosing or threatening to disclose intimate images of them will soon be considered a misdemeanor. The offense will be punishable of up to one year in prison, a $1,000 fine, or both.

Eric Rosenbaum, assistant district attorney in Queens County, praised the unanimous decision at a press conference.

"For years, prosecutors have been frustrated by our inability to effectively respond to a problem we see with increased regularity," he said. "Special victims and computer crimes prosecutors across the city are hopeful that would-be offenders will now be deterred from engaging in this conduct."

Thirty-eight states and Washington, D.C. have revenge porn laws in place. New York is actually behind on the move to legislate the practice. Largely, this is pinned on a statewide bill that was introduced three years ago but has never been voted on. As the legislation continues to stall, city politicians took it upon themselves to take action.

The bill was introduced last year by Councilmen Rory Lancman and Dan Garodnick. It also is supported by Mayor Bill de Blasio, as well as the New York City Police Department. Once the bill is signed by the mayor, the civil portion will be effective immediately. The criminal portion will take place 60 days afterward.

"For people, primarily but not exclusively women, this can be devastating and traumatic. I think it's one of the lowest things one person can do to another—we want to deter that conduct and we want to hold people accountable," Lancman told Gothamist last year, when the bill was first presented.

Studies have demonstrated that revenge porn has become a rampant issue in recent years. The Data & Society Research Institute found in 2016 that about one in 25 Americans have been victims of revenge porn.

Another study, by the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, found in 2017 that one in eight Internet users was a target of what the study refers to as "nonconsensual pornography." However, according to the Initiative, 79 percent of those who disseminated nonconsensual pornography said they didn't intend to harm the person whose images they shared. This serves to underscore reservations that some have expressed about New York City's impending new law — the bit that requires prosecutors to demonstrate an intent to harm victims.

New York attorney Carrie Goldberg, for example, told CNN, "that protection should be regardless of the motives of the offender." Despite its apparent shortcomings, however, she did ultimately praise the bill:

Insofar as New York state goes, the future of the sitting revenge porn bill is still unclear. In 2014, Governor Cuomo signed a bill that banned the distribution of explicit images and videos taken without the subject's consent. But it didn't pertain to photos which were willingly taken, and often become fodder for those who would disseminate revenge porn.