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Revenge Porn and Its Effect on Survivors’ Mental Health



Revenge porn is a form of sexual assault that can cause long-term emotional trauma for its survivors. This type of abuse can involve the distribution of intimate pictures or videos without the consent of the person pictured. Survivors often feel violated, embarrassed, and degraded after their private images, which were taken typically under confidential circumstances, are shared without their permission as a way to get revenge against a former lover or friend. Revenge porn can create a host of symptoms in survivors, including shame, guilt, sadness, paranoia, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts. In fact, Representative Kate Hill (D-California) admitted to comtemplating suicide when nude photos of her were leaked in 2019 in a news blog.


Many people may not consider revenge porn an act of sexual violence, but I do. Revenge porn is not physical, but it still has the power to harm someone emotionally and irreparably. Not all sexual violations are forceful or even scary. The World Health Organization defines violence as "the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”


Some people wave off revenge porn as an unfortunate consequence of taking “risqué” photos, which is a hurtful simplification of such a violating act. It is also indicative of ‘blaming the survivor’ mentality. Many people do and say things in the confines of a relationship that they don't expect to be shared. It's really up to the person receiving that information to act with integrity no matter what the outcome of the relationship. It's simply not OK to use pictures of someone that were taken for a specific purpose against them later out of anger or pain.


Thankfully, Maryland has a law against revenge porn to provide some form of justice for survivors and to hold perpetrators accountable. In fact last month, former Cambridge Mayor Andrew Bradshaw pled guilty to five counts of distributing revenge porn online. Bradshaw admitted that he created Reddit accounts and posted at least 10 separate images of his ex-girlfriend along with humiliating and degrading captions. The former mayor was sentenced to a year and a day for each count, with all of the incarceration time suspended. He was also sentenced to three years of supervised probation and fined $1,000 for each count.


While it is reassuring that Maryland has laws against this disgusting behavior, it’s important to note that punishment for this crime only comes after much damage to a person’s reputation and self-esteem has already been done. As with other crimes, the law doesn’t stop us from behaving badly; it offers consequences once we do.


Also, consider that, while 46 states and Washington DC have laws against this behavior on the books, only 12 states consider it a felony. Most states, including Maryland, classify it as a misdemeanor, which carries fewer consequences. This sure does seem like very little consequence for a crime that can literally ruin a person’s professional and social life. Four states (Wyoming, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Massachusetts) don’t have any laws related to revenge porn.


If you or someone you know has been affected by revenge porn, please reach out for help. Also, consider filing a police report.


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