ashamed woman ashamed woman Israel was the first country to enact a ban on "revenge porn." (Photo: Concept photo / Shutterstock)

Israel becomes first country to ban 'revenge porn'

Posting graphic pictures of people without their permission is now a crime.

Posting nude or obscene photographs of people on the Internet without their consent is now illegal in Israel.

The country's vote to pass the so-called "anti-revenge porn bill" made it the first country in the world to impose an outright ban on non-consensual sexual material. In the United States, 13 states – including Alaska, California, Idaho, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah – have passed laws criminalizing it, but there is no nationwide law. The Australian state of Victoria passed its own version of the law in 2013. Canada, Brazil, France and Japan are taking similar steps to draft their own legislation.

The bill came in the form of an amendment to Israel's Sexual Harassment Bill, which passed unanimously in the Knesset (Israel's governing body) in January 2014. It was introduced after an Israeli citizen posted a graphic video of himself and his girlfriend on the sharing site WhatsApp after they broke up. Under Israel's law, offenders could be prosecuted as sex offenders and face up to five years in jail if convicted.

Laws have a tendency to lag behind technology, and the revenge porn issue is no different. It's difficult to prosecute offenders because of the proliferation of sites that appear wholly dedicated to avenging ex-lovers. MyEx.com, for example, allows users to post photos of those who have scorned them, accompanied by unflattering, embarrassing or downright insulting comments. Similarly, social apps like SnapChat and Cyber Dust, as well as Twitter hashtags such as #twitterpurge, make it easy to share photos instantly and with impunity.

Activists in the U.S. are calling for similar legislation to Israel's Sexual Harassment Bill amendment. A column in Slate, written by a lawyer named Mary Adkins who represents revenge porn victims, noted that people have lost jobs, dropped out of school and been forced to move or change their names as a result of their photos being published without their permission. It's a form of bullying, Adkins said, and it needs to stop.

"The nonconsensual exposition of privately taken or acquired images of a person, particularly nude images, coupled with assaultive language amounts to deeply damaging abuse," she said.

Adkins said California's revenge-porn law, passed in the fall of 2013, is a good example of legislators taking the issue seriously. But critics say it violates the First Amendment, or that, as evidenced by the aforementioned hashtags and social apps, it's too difficult to enforce.

Utah's law, specifically, makes it illegal for a person to publish intimate images with intent to cause emotional stress or harm. But it does not cover so-called revenge-porn websites.

Law professor Mary Anne Franks said she's pleased that state governments are finally starting to see the damage that revenge porn wreaks on young people and are taking steps to criminalize it, but she said their legislation doesn't go far enough.

The Pennsylvania law, for instance, falls short because of its requirement of intent – the perpetrator must have intended to "harass, annoy or alarm" the victim, Franks said. It also only applies to people who have, past or present, a sexual relationship with the victim.

"it is really difficult to prove, as a matter of law, that someone is acting with the intent to do something, as opposed to, oh, I did it because I didn't think it was a big deal, or I thought it was funny, or I wanted to make some money for my website, or I wanted get famous, or I thought she was really pretty and I thought she'd appreciate it," she said.

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