The Watering-Down of NC’s Revenge Porn Law

Revenge-pron

>>Revenge-pronFive years ago, I didn’t know what revenge porn was or why we needed a bill about it. Neither did >>Annmarie Chiarini>>until she became a victim. In 2010, Annmarie’s ex-boyfriend posted on ebay, auctioning a CD of 88 nude photos he had pressured her into letting him take. He sent links of the auction to her family, friends, and co-workers, forever changing the course of Annmarie’s life.

I met Annmarie in 2012 when we became graduate school classmates. Even then, the work she was trying to do — get Maryland to draft a law against revenge porn — seemed incredibly important, yet insurmountable.

But she did it. And because of her hard work and that of the organization she works with, the >>Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, laws protecting victims of revenge porn are being passed in several states. Her organization (working with Representative Jeff Spear) even just submitted a federal bill.

When I heard that the punishments for violators of North Carolina’s proposed Revenge Porn law had been >>lessened from a Class H felony, I called Annmarie for her take on >>House Bill 792’s proposed punishments. The new proposal changes from offenses being punishable with anywhere from 4 to 25 months in jail (depending on aggravation and prior record) to a misdemeanor for first time offenders under 18 years old and a felony punishable by eight months of jail time for an adult with a clean record.

When it comes to felony charges, I’m honestly very torn, Annmarie told me. “As a victim and as an advocate, I have  trouble with revenge. There’s a part of me, of course, that’s very, very hurt and that feels ‘Hell, yeah it should be a felony; hell, yeah, they should be marked for life,’ but on the other side I have a tough time in my heart justifying that someone should be a felon for life because sometimes it’s an act of blind anger, or immaturity. I don’t know if someone’s life should be defined by the whole thing.

There are over 3,000 sites dedicated to revenge porn. I also think that the effort that it takes to post on each individual site should be taken into account when discussing penalties and looking at the severity and posting of the behavior. It’s tough to write laws like that, but I think felonies are definitely appropriate for repeat offenders.

I was surprised that a victim wouldn’t want a felony sentence for her offender and to clarify, I asked, “You’re saying for people who are over 18, the first offense shouldn’t be a felony, unless it’s been extreme?”

Here’s the thing and it’s tough, Annmarie said. The CCRI, when we are crafting these laws and getting these laws passed, our goal and hope is that these statutes will serve as a deterrent. We don’t believe in mass incarceration. We don’t believe in throwing people in jail and ruining their lives. Yes, there are plenty perpetrators who deserve to be locked up for a long time, but that’s not the goal. So a felony charge is contributing to that culture of mass incarceration and I feel…it wobbles too much on the edge of being very, very incarceration-driven and having said that I feel like it misrepresents the organization to a degree.

Misrepresentation or not, it’s a positive step that North Carolina is trying to get a law passed. And even if the bill isn’t perfect — its  language excludes male victims and doesn’t address people who hack into victims’ computers and distribute the images for internet notoriety or profit — it has some great elements, like civil penalties for each day the images are left on-line. To see what Annmarie thinks a perfect bill looks like she recommends checking out >>Illinois’s.

So, all in all, I asked, does it seem like North Carolina is moving in the right direction?

Any state that passes a decent law is moving in the right direction because the hardest part is getting a law on the books, Annmarie answered. Once it’s passed, you can go in and have it amended. That right there is the key. Having it on the books is the ultimate deterrent and then we can move on from there.

And, with or without a law, how can people protect themselves?

Victim blaming is prevalent in cases of revenge porn, and the easy answer is to not take pictures. But Annmarie doesn’t “believe in censoring one’s sexuality at all.” Instead she says that people need to understand the risk. So women need to listen to their instincts and trust themselves. If they don’t feel comfortable, they shouldn’t think the problem is with themselves.

That goes back to the cycle of victim blaming. “Look at the big picture, step back, say no, and if he acts like a [jerk], he’s a [jerk] and walk away. It’s better to be hurt short term than have those pictures end up on the internet.”

While many victims are women in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties because that’s when they have the most to lose, victims can be any age and gender. North Carolina’s senate has amended the bill and sent it back to the house. Let’s help protect each other by making sure it doesn’t die there, because an imperfect law is better than no law at all.

>>Cropped Jennifer BrickJennifer Brick is a writer and teacher in Durham, North Carolina. She earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College. Follow her on Twitter @jenbrickwrites.




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  1. Crystal

    My sister-in-law is a victim of revenge porn. Her perpetrator didn’t put it online, he text the images to her brother, my husband. The is the first case in the greater Charlotte Metro!!
    The bill passed in December 2015 and is considered a class H felony!!


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