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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Criminalizing revenge porn need not violate the First Amendment

Here's one woman's account of her experiences with revenge porn. Notably, her former boyfriend started an eBay auction with nude photos of her, and he linked the auction to several of her employer's Facebook pages. Because she was a professor, co-workers were not alone in viewing the images--several students saw them too.

A year and half later, the images appeared on a porn website.

 

Eventually, she was diagnosed with PTSD and her therapist recommended that she request medical leave. She did. But, her employer was not sympathetic.

The article begins:

UnknownIn February 2010, my ex-boyfriend, Joey (name changed) and I had a fight over a skirt I wore to work. He deemed the skirt too short. He shamed me, called me a hooker, and accused me of sleeping with all my male friends. After watching his jealousy and possessiveness steadily increase over our seven-month relationship, I was at my breaking point. We were over.

The day after the fight, Joey called me at 11:53pm. He was livid. He said he was looking on my Facebook page and from what he could see it was clear I was sleeping with at least three other guys. I tried to rationalize with him, to convince him he was mistaken. But he was too far-gone to hear me.

He threatened to start an eBay auction. If I didn't tell him the truth about how many other guys I was sleeping with, he said he was going to auction off a CD of 88 naked images of me that I allowed him to take after three months of relentless pressure. He said he would send links to the auction to my friends and family, to people at the college where I teach. I shook with desperate fear. I knew no words would change his mind. Joey had flown into a rage, uncontrollable and impervious to reason. I knew my fate, and my only defense was to call the police. I begged and pleaded for him not to carry out his threat.

Then he said the words that would change the course of my life: "I will destroy you."

I called the Baltimore County police and through my sobs tried to explain what was happening and why I needed help. The dispatcher sent an officer to my home who looked down on me as I explained that I wanted him to stop a threat. It was the first of many times I would be told, "There is nothing I can do. No crime had been committed." And at that point, no crime had been committed. I was frantic over a threat, which to the bored officer was nothing to worry about. To me, it was a portent of the misery I'd soon suffer.

The auction went live the following afternoon. I received about three emails from eBay informing me that, "Joseph Mann thought you might like this item on eBay" The link read: (Name of college)MD English Professor Nude Photos!

The concern with revenge porn is not the image, as such. In Jenkins v. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled that nudity was not obscene (one of the original exceptions to protected First Amendment speech): "There are occasional scenes of nudity [in the film Carnal Knowledge], but nudity alone is not enough to make material legally obscene[.]" 418 U.S 153, 161 (1974).

As always, context matters. Screaming "fire" in a crowded theater is not protected First Amendment speech when there is no fire. But, if the concession stand has erupted in flames...

In Brandt v. Bd. of Education of City of Chicago, 480 F.3d 460 (6th Cir. 2007), Judge Posner observes:

Although freedom of speech and of the press...are often loosely paraphrased as "freedom of expression," and clothes are certainly a way in which people express themselves, clothing as such is not--not normally at any rate--constitutionally protected expression...Self-expression is not to be equated to the expression of ideas or opinions[.]

Whether clothing is protected speech, of course, comes down to the context in which the clothes are worn. "Merely wearing clothes inappropriate to a particular occasion could be a political statement," writes Judge Posner; or, "If Irish people were forbidden to wear green on St Patrick's Day, a natural form of protest would be to wear green on that day."

Because revenge porn legislation deals with the non-consensual publication of images and/or videos, the context is different from pornography that is protected by the First Amendment. 

The principle concern with revenge porn legislation is that it will chill protected speech. As Wisconsin Public Radio reported when revenge porn legislation was introduced there, "[S]tate Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, is concerned the bill is too broad and might restrict people's freedom of expression by limiting the creation and distribution of fine art."

This is a stretch. Revenge porn legislation would forbid the non-consensual publication of nude images, not the publication of nude images. Just as an artist could not yell "fire" in a crowded theater and then claim First Amendment protection for video taken as people flee to safety, an artist should not be able to invoke an ambiguous art justification for the non-consensual publication of nude images. Artists using such images are not producing art, they're creating pain. It's a "scouge." As Justice Scalia has written, "[A] physical assault discloses that the attacker dislikes the victim[,]" but that does not transform the assault into protected First Amendment expression. Nevada Comm'n on Ethics v. Carrigan, 131 S.Ct. 2343, 2350 (2011).

Indeed, as UCLA professor Eugene Volokh has written

I do think that a suitably clear and narrow statute banning nonconsensual posting of nude pictures of another, in a context where there’s good reason to think that the subject did not consent to publication of such pictures, would likely be upheld by the courts. While I don’t think judges and juries should be able to decide, on a case-by-case basis, which statements about a person aren’t of “legitimate public concern” and can therefore be banned, I think courts can rightly conclude that as a categorical matter such nude pictures indeed lack First Amendment value.

I agree. I, too, dislike granting judges the authority to determine what constitutes valid artistic, literary, or political expression. Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973). But, what would be (or should be) forbidden by legislation criminalizing revenge porn is not the value of nude images. 

CRL&P related posts:

 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/civil_rights/2013/11/criminalizing-revenge-porn-need-not-violate-the-first-amendment.html

First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, Revenge Porn | Permalink

Comments

What about revenge quotation of speech? "This politician told me in private, he hates black people. " What about revenge whistleblowing? "Leona Helmsley told me, only the little people pay taxes, and that she was deducting work on her private home from business expenses."

Question. if no harm came from the publication, just fear and intimidation, should we cater to overly sensitive people. For example, did attempts to enroll her classes increase or decrease? Did her performance ratings by students and supervisors increase or decrease? Was she traumatized by the pictures or by his anger and stalking? Eugene Volokh has no common sense and is not a libertarian in the least. He is an Ivy indoctrinated lawyer. Although he has a high IQ, he has no idea that the core doctrines of American common law are supernatural.

The term lawyer dumbass is not an epithet, but a term of art. It refers to intelligent, modern students after law school indoctrination, now believing in mind reading, in future forecasting, and that standards of conduct should be set by a fictitious character. He did not even know that character is a stealthy disguise for Jesus Christ, in violation of the Establishment Clause.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 24, 2013 3:23:08 PM

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