‘Revenge porn’ victim tells story, fights for change

Holly Jacobs\' nude photos she had shared with a boyfriend were posted online after they broke up. She\'s an advocate to toughen laws against \'revenge porn.\' (Courtesy M.A. Williams)

WASHINGTON – “It was completely devastating when I first found the pictures – I could feel myself go into shock.”

Holly Jacobs had no idea the racy photographs she’d shared with her boyfriend would be used against her in a publicly humiliating way after they broke up.

Yet, in 2009 a friend called to say Jacobs’ Facebook account had been hacked and a nude photo was online.

And it got worse.

“My photos and a video of me were up on a revenge porn website,” says Jacobs, who legally changed her name in the aftermath.

With her name, phone number and email address posted online, Jacobs was bombarded with unwanted attention.

Her photos and videos were even sent to her boss.

Revenge porn sites make no bones about why they exist.

“They bill themselves as places in which we can get back at our exes,” says Professor Danielle Keats Citron of the University of Maryland law school.

And in most cases the sites are legal, says Citron.

New Jersey is the only state to make it a felony to share a person’s nude images without that person’s consent, although a bill cracking down on revenge porn in California is expected to be in the hands of the state’s governor shortly, Bloomberg reports.

“If this happened in Maryland it would be prosecuted under a statute called ‘Misuse of Electronic Communication,'” which is a misdemeanor with a maximum prison sentence of one year, says Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler.

“It’s basically cyberharassment, which is an attempt to harass, alarm or annoy without any legitimate purpose to do so,” Gansler says.

In Virginia, harassment by computer is also a misdemeanor.

See more on the California effort in the video below:

Florida, where Jacobs lives, recently rejected a call to toughen its laws to protect against revenge porn.

After four years of trying to get the images taken down, Jacobs has sued her ex-boyfriend, Ryan Seay, who reportedly has said someone hacked into his computer and posted the photographs of Jacobs. Seay’s attorney, Charles Arline, denies the allegations against his client.

“We’re anticipating making these legal arguments very soon,” he tells WTOP.

Jacobs also has created an advocacy website called End Revenge Porn.

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Holly Jacobs is an advocate to toughen laws against revenge porn. (Courtesy M.A. Williams)

The website refers to revenge porn as “a form of cyber-rape.”

Jacobs warns women to protect their privacy by avoiding sharing potentially compromising photos.

“I know you might love and trust your boyfriend, but you just never know what’s going to happen when you break up,” says Jacobs.

Having personal images go viral is painful for any victim, Jacobs says.

“Imagine telling your dad that there are nude photos and a video of you on the Internet,” says Jacobs.

Citron is advocating for Congress to amend the federal cyberstalking law to cover the use of any computer service that produces or discloses a sexually graphic image of a person without that person’s permission.

WTOP’s Randi Martin contributed to this report.

Follow @WTOP and @WTOPtech on Twitter.


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