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What You Need To Understand About Revenge Porn Before Sending That Nude Snap

The Internet has given us many wonderful things: Netflix, Grubhub, memes for days and a plethora of social media platforms to feed our ever-growing obsessions.

Unfortunately, the Internet also has its fair share of faults — and they are major.

One significant drawback of the World Wide Web is its ability to serve as a platform for harassment. "Revenge porn" is one form of online harassment that has been on the rise in the last decade and continues to be a major problem today. While you might have read major news stories about celebrities having their sex tapes stolen and distributed on the Internet, or have heard about sharing sites that provide a space for people (usually men) to post photos of their "cheating" exs, there is more to "revenge porn" than that.

In this day and age, with the Internet and messaging apps at the tips of our fingers,  any of us could fall victim to "revenge porn." Here are some things you should know:

1. Revenge porn is ...

Revenge porn is the term used to describe the non-consensual distribution of intimate images. Basically, it's when someone — a hacker, an ex-boyfriend, an ex-girlfriend, a stranger, a website dedicated to revenge porn, etc. — shares a nude or sexually explicit photo or video of someone without his or her permission. This sharing can be done through social media, text message, hosting sites dedicated specifically to the distribution of these types of images or even physically printed.

This problem comes in various forms. You might remember when Jennifer Lawrence's iCould account was hacked and her nude images were stolen and shared on the Internet; that's an example of revenge porn.

Revenge porn is definitely not limited to the rich and famous though, most cases look more like this: You send your significant other a naked selfie and then months later you break up. Your ex then decides to share that selfie publicly over the Internet without your permission, as a form of revenge.

2. The term revenge porn does not accurately describe the problem.

Revenge porn is misleading in two ways. First, perpetrators are not always, as Drake would say, “looking for revenge.” Most act out of a desire to make money, become famous or provide (a sick form) of entertainment.

Secondly, the term revenge porn is misleading because it implies that taking a naked selfie or filming a sexual act and sharing it with an intimate partner, like a boyfriend of girlfriend, is pornographic. Let's be honest, sending naked photos to an intimate partner is pretty common these days. A study by Upworthy found that sexting behavior is common among American adults, with 87.80 percent of the sample reporting having sexted in their lifetime and 82.20 percent reporting sexting within the last year.

The last time your significant other asked for a pic and you hit send, I'm pretty sure you didn't think you were distributing pornography. On the other hand, if your significant other decided to send that intimate pic to all of his/her friends and shared it on social media platforms that can be described as pornographic because it takes the private image and turns it into public entertainment. The better, more accurate term is therefore “non-consensual pornography” or NCP.

3. Victims of revenge porn suffer devastating consequences.

Imagine waking up one day and receiving a notification that an “indecent” photo of you has been shared publicly on the Internet. Minutes, later, you then realize that it was shared by an ex you once trusted, and shortly after, you see that it has been shared not once, but 300 times.

What's worse is that you might notice that not only was your intimate photo shared, but also your full name, home address, phone number, username and maybe even your social security number.

This horrifying experience suffered by thousands of victims of NCP leads to devastating consequences, which include extreme emotional distress, job loss, damaged relationships with friends, family and current partners, destruction of reputation, depression and, in the worst cases, suicide.

In some instances, where a photo was shared with other private information like a home address, victims have been stalked and harassed physically. If you feel like you are a victim of NCP and would like more information on how to receive help, visit Cyber Civil Rights Initiative's website here.

4. Victims are not to blame.

While many try to argue that the person who sent saved the explicit photos or videos shouldn't have done so in the first place and is, therefore, to blame for the photo being shared all over the Internet, that simply doesn't fly. Saying that you shouldn't have taken the naked photo in the first place if you didn't want it shared online is a lot like saying you shouldn't live in a house if you didn't want it burglarized.

These types of arguments, which blame the victim, need to be shifted to place the blame where it really belongs: on the perpetrator. Blaming the victim leaves that person feeling more isolated, ostracized, guilty and distressed, all the while leaving the perpetrator feeling powerful, validated and guilt-free. Just like we can't blame sexual assault victims for wearing short skirts, we can't blame victims of NCP for having taken the photos or videos in the first place.

5. Right now, 34 of the 50 states and DC have laws in place that criminalize revenge porn.

The laws in each of the states vary greatly. Some states provide victims with civil remedies, basically making it easier for victims to sue their offenders. To see if your state has a law in place that criminalizes revenge porn, check out Carrie Goldberg's website here.

If your state doesn't have a law in place you can contact your legislator via email or phone to advocate for change. CCRI has a great resource page dedicated to helping those interested in contacting their legislator.

6. Getting images removed from the Internet is not always easy.

One would think that a website would be quick to acquiesce to a takedown request by a victim whose naked or sexually explicit photos have been shared without his or her consent. While some, like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram, XboxLive and Periscope have banned NCP, and others like Google and Bing have enacted policies and reporting procedures that enable victims to request removal of any search engine result that leads to NCP when the victim's name is typed in the search box, not all sites are as willing to remove the photos or links.

In some cases, websites require that the victim files a formal “takedown letter.” This letter is known as a DCMA takedown notice, and it originates from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). Basically, this act protects websites hosting third-party material from being sued for posting images that others own.

However, if you send a DCMA takedown notice to a hosting site announcing that you own the copyright to a photo, they have to take it down. If you took a photo yourself, you automatically own the copyright to it. Therefore, because most NCP victims took the photos or videos themselves, they own the copyright and can file DMCA takedown notices with the sites hosting the image(s).

For more information on how to get photos posted without permission removed from a website, visit Carrie Goldberg's website here.

7. The United States needs to catch up.

While the States are slowly beginning to enact laws that criminalize NCP on an individual level, the United States lags behind other countries that have criminalized NCP on a national level. Currently, the Philippines, Victoria (Australia), Israel, Canada, the UK and New Zealand have enacted national legislation that criminalizes the distribution of non-consensual pornography.

8. Women make up 90 percent of revenge porn victims.

This statistic was discovered by CCRI in a survey of 1,606 total respondents, 361 of which were victims. CCRI is currently conducting another survey to determine the rate of revenge porn among a younger population (ages 11-25). If you are a part of that age group and would like to help with the research effort please take a few minutes to complete this brief survey.

I could conclude by saying, "Don't send naked photos, if you don't want them shared all over the Internet," but not only is that an unrealistic expectation in this day and age, but it also ignores the fact that within the context of a healthy relationship you should be able to share whatever you want with your partner.

Therefore, I think a more effective message is this: Next time you send scandalous image think — really think — about who's on the receiving end and why you're sending it in the first place. Think about whether that person has your best interests in mind, whether you felt pressured or coerced in any way to send it and whether you're doing it within the context of a healthy, loving relationship. Moreover, if you do find yourself in the position of being a victim of NCP, know that there are people who have dedicated their lives to helping people just like you.