The Attorney Fighting Revenge Porn

Revenge Porn and Internet Privacy

It’s not actually about revenge, or about porn.

It’s about consent and privacy.  This crime got its name from the gross trend of jilted exes posting pictures of women who broke up with them. However, it also includes pictures that are spread by strangers, who may have hacked your phone/laptop/cloud photo storage account. Revenge porn can have huge repercussions for a victim’s relationships, career, and mental health. But it is a relatively new phenomenon, and so it can be trickier to resolve than more traditional forms of abuse.

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In this week’s New Yorker, Margaret Talbot profiles Carrie Goldberg, a thirty-nine-year-old attorney in Brooklyn focusing on sexual privacy and online harassment. “The internet,” in Goldberg’s view, has “given rise to something new in the history of revenge.”

Goldberg tries to impress on her clients that they should not feel ashamed. When asked her how she responds to the argument that people who value their privacy should not send naked pictures in the first place. Goldberg replied that this was judgmental and reductive. She mentioned the case of Erin Andrews, the former ESPN reporter, who was filmed, without her knowledge, by a man staying in an adjoining hotel room. “Are you just supposed to never take your clothes off?” she said. “You can’t get naked, you can’t take a shower?” She spoke of upskirting—the voyeuristic practice of taking unauthorized pictures beneath a woman’s dress. “Are you never supposed to go out in public in a skirt?” Goldberg said. “Or what about images where somebody’s face has been Photoshopped onto somebody else’s naked body? What’s getting distributed isn’t necessarily images that were consented to in the first place. That’s why it’s the distribution you have to focus on.”

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Goldberg was once harassed online by a vengeful ex. She started her practice to “be the lawyer I’d needed.”

In 2004, New Jersey passed the nation’s first such legislation. The statute makes it a crime for a person who knows “that he is not licensed or privileged to do so” to nonetheless disclose “any photograph, film, videotape, recording or any other reproduction of the image of another person whose intimate parts are exposed or who is engaged in an act of sexual penetration or sexual contact, unless that person has consented to such disclosure.”  For a comprehensive listing of states with “revenge porn” criminal and civil laws, and links to those laws click here

Goldberg is emerging as a new kind of privacy champion—less concerned with government surveillance than with the sharing and leaking and hacking of our personal lives. She works on the assumption that, even in a world where graphic porn and Kardashian-style exhibitionism are ubiquitous, some people will want to keep certain intimate matters private, and society will be better off if they’re allowed to do so. It’s a complicated mission, because people do record and share so many images of themselves today. But she believes in protecting privacy as a form of dignity and as a bulwark against disgrace—an old-fashioned word that she is fond of. She’s a feminist lawyer who has turned her own experience of coming under attack into a fighting stance: Gloria Allred crossed with Jessica Jones.

Read the whole profile here.

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