Being a Woman Online: Rep. Jackie Speier's Plan to Combat Revenge Porn

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Revenge porn can ruin the lives of women.
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Over the summer, YouTube host Anita Sarkeesian posted a video about the sexualization of women in video games. The response from the gaming community became known as #Gamergate, and it exposed what many women already knew: That the internet can be a dark, frightening place for women and girls.

In addition to a barrage of online threats, Sarkeesian was was forced to cancel a college speech because of an anonymous threat against her life. And the threats haven't stopped. Last week, Sarkeesian posted a week's worth of tweets to her Tumblr page, Feminist Frequency. The tweets directed at her were at best, disgusting and at worst, terrifying. 

Comments like these are well-known to women who make their living or simply live their lives online. This week, The Takeaway launches "Being a Woman Online," an exploration of what it's like to be female on the internet. While the anonymity of an online space can foster the worst kinds of abuse, the internet has also connected like-minded women and girls in ways never possible in the pre-online era. 

For Holly Jacobs, being a woman online became a nightmare in 2012, when her ex-boyfriend posted intimate photos of her along with her name and contact information, without her consent.

Jacobs has spent the last three years trying to scrub the internet of those photos without luck. But she finally found a sympathetic ear in Washington, with Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA).

Congresswoman Speier will introduce legislation to combat revenge porn in the next few months. Because "the internet is so universal now," she says, revenge porn "becomes so much more than a photograph—it becomes your entire resume."

The legislation criminalizes revenge porn, she explains, whether it's that "a jilted lover is taking pictures and putting them on the internet, or someone has broken into someone else's phone, as happens to celebrities sometimes." She continues: "No matter how that photograph has been taken, once it's up there and it has been asked to be taken down and it's not taken down, then there is a criminal act."

Congresswoman Speier notes that the First Amendment limits the range of options available to revenge porn victims. "I am a First Amendment fanatic," she says, "but I also recognize that there is an area here that must be addressed." The legislation would, however, provide exceptions for "legitimate public interest," such as the violations at Abu Ghraib prison during the Iraq War.

Given the realities of the internet today, Congresswoman Speier says legislation to stop revenge porn is necessary and urgent. "There are hundreds and hundreds of cases, maybe thousands of cases, where this is destroying peoples lives," she explains.

"Unless you're a celebrity with a fat wallet and high-priced attorneys," she continues, "it's very hard to get any kind of solution or piece of mind."

Join The Takeaway this Wednesday for an online Twitter chat on being a woman online. Get the details here.