Google Revenge Porn Policy Makes It Almost Go Away

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young desperate and depressed freelance worker or student woman working with computer laptop alone late at night in stress suffering internet bullying victim of social network

Credit: OcusFocus

young desperate and depressed freelance worker or student woman working with computer laptop alone late at night in stress suffering internet bullying victim of social network

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Carrie A. Goldberg is happy about Google‘s announcement that it will help victims of revenge porn remove harmful images. But while she calls it revolutionary, she won’t really be happy until there’s a federal law.

“Nothing is enough until it’s outlawed everywhere,” says Goldberg, an attorney and victim advocate who regularly represents victims of revenge porn and other crimes of sexual violence in her Brooklyn-based law practice.

While victims now rely on various state statutes for legal protection, a federal law is expected to be introduced to Congress, perhaps as soon as before the summer recess, scheduled to start on Aug. 10. “We need a universal law that reflects our priorities as a society and sends a strong message that [revenge porn] will not be tolerated,” says Goldberg.

Nonetheless, she notes that Google‘s announcement is a useful tool that victims can access directly to mitigate the potential damage to their online reputation.

The impact that Google‘s policy change will have will be dependent on a number of factors, including when Google makes the form available to the public and how quickly it processes requests for links to be removed.

At the time of this writing, Google had not yet changed its removal policies online to allow victims of revenge porn to request that search results be removed.

As widely reported, in June Google said it would allow users to request that it remove certain search results that contain nude or sexually explicit images and/or video that were posted without the user’s consent on the Internet. This content, known as revenge porn, is often posted on websites dedicated to sharing explicit images of victims — often women — as well as their full names, addresses and other identifying information.

House in Middle of Nowhere

Because Google is the gateway to the Internet for many people, the links that show up in search results dictate what websites are visited. If there is no link to a particular site, it may as well not exist. Goldberg likened this to a house in the middle of nowhere.

“If there are no roads to get there, then it exists but no one knows about it,” she says.

Prior to this announcement, Google would only remove search results that linked to child pornography or sites that published an individual’s personal information such as Social Security numbers and bank account numbers.

While Google‘s policy change will not eliminate revenge porn websites or remove photographs or video from the Internet, it will help eliminate the chances that other users of Google such as prospective employers or romantic partners will stumble upon graphic images that were posted without consent.

Those opposed to laws prohibiting revenge porn often cite the First Amendment, and there are some that say the way to prevent these images from ending up on the Internet is to not take them in the first place.

Goldberg says blaming victims of revenge porn is the equivalent of the “short skirt of the Internet.” In other words, it’s the same type of victim blaming that occurs after a sexual assault when the discussion turns away from the criminal conduct of the perpetrator and focuses instead on how the victim was dressed.

Goldberg says we all have a vested interest in making sure that all people can participate fully in society, including the Internet. If victims of revenge porn are unable to participate fully in the online community because sexually graphic images of them are distributed without their consent, the presence of those images may negatively impact their ability to obtain employment or even a date.

Growing Awareness

Prior to 2013, only three states had laws that specifically prohibited the nonconsensual disclosure of sexually explicit images or videos. Since that time, a growing awareness of the issue has prompted 17 other states to pass legislation banning revenge porn. The laws vary from state to state, and not all include a private right of action.

In states where the legal protections fall within penal law, the prosecution of revenge porn crimes depends upon the engagement of law enforcement, including police and the prosecutor’s office. (Consistent with other criminal prosecutions, in other words, the victim is not the plaintiff, and does not have control over the course of the proceedings.)

Google‘s new policy provides them with a way to deal with the situation directly, while not foreclosing their ability to work with law enforcement and seek protection under the law.

While instances of revenge porn often involve a former partner posting sexually explicit photos or videos on the Internet, the scope is much greater. In some cases, photographs of victims are Photoshopped onto nude images and posted around the Web.

Numerous websites profit from revenge porn. Some have extorted money from victims who seek to get images removed. A California man who ran one of these sites and collected about $30,000 from victims was convicted under California law earlier this year and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

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