LOS ANGELES—Break-ups are never easy: Most include tears, anger, grief, and tubs of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. But for the current tech-savvy, sexually promiscuous generation, the consequences can be much worse. Scorned lovers now turn to the internet to post explicit pictures or videos of their former partners.
The growing trend of “revenge porn” has California officials concerned, as angry exes often include the person’s name and contact information next to the images, leading to harassment and destroying lives. The California legislature is considering a bill to make it a misdemeanor to distribute sexually explicit images to cause others distress. Gov. Jerry Brown is considering separate legislation to criminalize impersonating or bullying a domestic violence victim online.
“Right now law enforcement has no tools to combat revenge porn or cyber-revenge,” said Sen. Anthony Cannella, a Republican from Ceres who proposed one of the bills. “Unfortunately it is a growing trend and there are a lot of victims out there, a lot more than I ever imagined. … It’s destroying people’s lives.”
For instance, Holly Jacobs, the founder of End Revenge Porn, has shared her story with news publications to spread awareness about the practice. Jacobs, now 29, was in a long-distance relationship with Ryan Seay for years before the two broke up in 2008. A month later, she found her Facebook profile picture changed to a nude photo she sent Seay while they were together. While Seay denied he did it, no one else had access to the photos.
During the next couple of years, more and more of her images started popping up on revenge porn sites, and no matter how fast she tried to take them down, more cropped up. By November 2011, a collage of her photos went viral on more than 200 websites, accompanied by an explicit video from a web chat Jacobs says was secretly recorded. The posts included her full name, email address, and the name of the Florida university where she worked. She started getting emails from strangers trying to set up liaisons.
“Emotionally, the situation put me through hell and back,” Jacobs said.
After spending months trying to get the photos removed, repeatedly changing her phone number and quitting her university job, Jacobs legally changed her name. In her darkest moments, she considered suicide.
Last April, Jacobs became the first person in Florida to sue her ex for distributing private images of her in order to cause distress. She is also petitioning states to create laws to make it easier to prosecute those who spread the images. So far, only New Jersey has laws against revenge porn.
And the practice will only grow as hurt and angry people expose deeds done in secret. As sexting increases among teens—a recent study showed 20 percent of teens send nude or semi-nude images of themselves—the latest trend could be an opportunity to talk to children about integrity and the importance of keeping sex within the marriage covenant.