Revenge Posts: Why damage to your online profile can be severe

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Addresses, Social Security numbers, and medical information are things you consider personal and private. You and the people or businesses you deal with go to great lengths to keep it that way. What about pictures or videos? Those aren’t always protected and many people are finding themselves in a bad place – victims of revenge porn.

“It was like being raped,” said Megan Borash as she described the feeling after her private, nude pictures popped up on a website.

On the site, people posted explicit photos of ex-lovers without permission. The site’s creator then set up a second website where victims had to pay up to $350 to get the photos taken down.  A jury convicted 28-year-old Kevin Bollaert on 27 felony counts of identity theft and extortion. He received an 18-year prison sentence, as reported by our sister station KSWB. That case happened in San Diego, California this month.

While humiliating, there were laws in place to protect those victims. If that happened to you or someone you love here in Alabama, essentially there’s not much you could do.

An ex-lover or spouse wants to get back at you, hackers get access to your private pictures and videos, a crook finds your lost smart phone and sees an opportunity to blackmail you -- all these scenarios could leave you exposed and not in a good way. Police say there's not much they can do.

“There’s no specific law in Alabama that applies to posting explicit images of adults on the internet,” says Huntsville Police Lt. Darryl Lawson.

Without a minor being involved, Lawson says there’s technically nothing a person can be charged with.

“The only thing we could make a case for would be harassment and that’s borderline if we would be able to get a warrant for that or not,” explains Lawson.

So then what do you do?  Some social media sites have taken a strong stance against the behavior. Facebook, Reddit, Instagram and Twitter, to name a few, work quickly to remove reported images. However, that doesn’t mean it’s gone for good, especially in the age of Google searches.

“It’s basically putting somebody on a platter naked for the whole internet to devour,” says Carrie Goldberg, a lawyer based in Brooklyn, New York and board member with the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

Goldberg believes this issue needs to be addressed immediately.

“We need criminal laws in every state and federal criminal laws,” describes Goldberg. “It would be great to get modification of our internet laws to shift the liability to the online service providers that host revenge porn.”

Currently, 15 states have existing revenge porn laws: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.

revenge porn existing laws map

The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative oversees the End Revenge Porn Campaign and website. Goldberg and many others spearhead efforts to get laws passed or changed. They also work to change public opinions.

“This is an issue of sexual consent,” says Goldberg. “I’d like to think as a society we’ve advanced beyond the point where we blame women for the abuses that happen to them.”

The longer it takes for it to become illegal, the more victims suffer.

“There really are tremendous, tremendous harms,” says Goldberg. “This results in loss of jobs and the inability to get a job because frankly nobody hires anybody without consulting Google.”

While criminally you’re without options in Alabama, you could go the civil route for a resolution.

“Just because there’s no criminal law against posting images like that, it does not prevent anybody from any civil litigation,” says Lawson. “Obtaining their own attorney and possibly filing a lawsuit against someone that would put those images out there.”

That of course requires money and patience, which is something victims may not have. Lawson says any laws prohibiting revenge porn would be up to the state legislature. WHNT NEWS 19 reached out to several local legislators to get their opinion on this matter and to see if they were willing to champion this effort to get a law added to protect victims. Rep. Mike Ball did respond to us and said he’s willing to learn more about this issue before the next legislative session.