US woman wins $500K in revenge-porn suit against ex-boyfriend

Filed Under: Law & order, Privacy

Woman and cash. Images courtesy of ShutterstockIn a court decision that could prompt a change in state law, a US woman in Houston, in the state of Texas, has been awarded $500,000 (£366,000) in a revenge-porn lawsuit she brought against her ex-boyfriend for plastering nude photos on the internet without her permission.

Her attorney, Joseph Mathew, said that the court papers have been sealed to the public so as to protect his client.

The woman did, however, tell her story to a local ABC News reporter.

Here's what she said, under the psuedonym of "Rosie":

I loved him. I thought I could completely trust him.

Over the period of seven years, their long-distance romance involved intimate moments shared via photos and Skype chats - the kind of content that you desperately hope you can trust the recipient to delete, or to at least not share.

That's the type of trustworthy guy she thought she was sending nude photos to:

If I ever sent him a picture, I asked him to delete it right away. And he promised me that he did.

He lied. After the breakup, Rosie learned that he had recorded the Skype chats without her permission.

Then the blackmail started:

He started threatening me, blackmailing me with the pictures and video, which I didn't know he recorded.

The videos soon found their way to YouTube and other sites, ABC News reports. Then, her ex-boyfriend kept her apprised of often how many people had seen or downloaded their intimate moments:

He would update me on how many people had seen it, or downloaded it. It's humiliating. It's devastating.

Posting revenge-porn is currently legal in all but two states in the US: New Jersey and California.

Because it's legal in Texas - for now, at any rate - the police couldn't help Rosie.

Because she couldn't file criminal charges against her ex in Texas, she took it to civil court.

After her attorney argued the case in civil court this month, a Harris County jury awarded her a half-million dollars - a sum that ABC News says is the largest revenge porn verdict ever awarded in the country.

Was this case a win for those who fight against revenge-porn?

Yes. But as it is, the lawyer for the ex-boyfriend said that he plans to appeal the verdict.

He could still wiggle out of facing a penalty for the harm he allegedly inflicted.

Man's hands on keyboard. Image courtesy of ShutterstockRevenge porn is now illegal in New Jersey and in California, and legislation is pending in other states. Two Texas legislators are working to make it illegal there, as well.

New York's first revenge porn case was thrown out last week by a Manhattan judge, who found the actions of the accused "reprehensible" but that he hadn't violated any criminal statutes.

Hunter Moore, the most famous revenge-porn star of all, recently pleaded not guilty after being indicted for 15 federal counts including conspiracy and aggravated identity theft.

Moore's trial is scheduled to begin in California on 8 April.

As ABC News points out, critics of revenge-porn legislation say that criminalizing it may violate the US Constitution's First Amendment right to freedom of speech - that if the state or federal government gains the power to restrict speech in this type of instance, the power could creep into other areas.

That's bunk, says Mary Anne Franks, an associate professor of law at the University of Miami School of Law and the vice-president of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

Franks has helped to author legislation criminalizing the "non-consensual disclosure of sexually explicit images."

As she recently wrote in the New York Daily News, such a law wouldn't necessarily trespass on the First Amendment:

There is no reason to think that a carefully crafted law with narrow definitions and clear exceptions for constitutionally protected activity violates the First Amendment any more than careful laws criminalizing voyeurism, threats, obscenity, fraud or identity theft do.

Mathew, Rosie's lawyer, seconded the notion:

I am sure we have enough legal scholars who are smart enough to come up with a law criminalizing 'Revenge Porn', narrowly construed so as not to raise any First Amendment concerns.

There's likewise no reason to believe that Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which now protects sites for being held accountable for content uploaded by users, is a bulletproof screen for websites that profit from ruining people's privacy by posting content from bitter exes.

Sites can't hide beneath Section 230 when it comes to child abuse images, for example, legal experts point out.

Good luck and godspeed to the Texas legislators who seek to protect the victims of revenge porn in a similar fashion.

Images of female silhouette, cash and man's hands on keyboard courtesy of Shutterstock.

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15 Responses to US woman wins $500K in revenge-porn suit against ex-boyfriend

  1. Blake · 150 days ago

    Good for her. This should already be illegal throughout the country.

  2. TonyG · 150 days ago

    Glad someone nailed such a despicable person. Doesn't matter how badly you fall out, posting private intimate pictures without consent is never justified.

  3. Rick · 150 days ago

    The old adage still applies: "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure".

  4. RF · 150 days ago

    Wow. Posting revenge-porn is currently legal in ALL but two states in the US. Why do I think that if men were the ones being humiliated that this statistic might be very different?

    • Richard Klimming · 150 days ago

      Uh, it has nothing to do with the fact that it's women being victimized. Do you honestly think our founding fathers predicted this would happen? The only reason it's "legal" in states is because laws have not been passed to make it illegal; you act like there should've been laws existing for this already, when in fact it could not even exist hundreds of years ago.

      • Miranda · 149 days ago

        If this were mostly men being victimized, if a man's sexuality being out in the open were half as consequential to him as it is to most women in this society, the laws would change faster. How long did it take for it to be illegal for a husband to rape his wife, simply because she was his wife? I'm not saying all men are evil or want things this way,or that they don't face emotional trauma with these type of things, I'm just saying that unfortunately we still live in a mostly patriarchal world and it's interesting that this mostly happens to women. This has been happening to people,mostly women, for the past 10 years.

        • wac · 26 days ago

          You say mostly patriarchal world when many laws of the world give death penalties to men but not to women. The military service is usually for men and not for women. You women always bark when you think something is against you but are so hypocrite and silent when is convenient for you. Is time for a change laws should not be sexist anymore and criminal women should pay the same as criminal men. Period. There are pedophile women, murderer, bully, evil and all the thing. Time for a change.

    • Jade · 129 days ago

      Obviously you don't know what Revenge Porn is. Men are being humiliated as well. Hunter Moore's site, had more ex-boyfriends posted than ex-girlfriends.

  5. *deskhead*

    File DMCA.

    If you took the picture, you can get it taken down. Sue the bugger for copyright infringement.

    Embarrassing? Yes.
    Effective? Hell yes.

    At $150,000/uploaded file, the liability award would be enormous.

  6. Richard Klimming · 150 days ago

    When you say long distance relationship, do you mean they never met in real life, they just "dated" online? If that's the case, it was a terrible idea to disclose any intimate photos to him in the first place. You can't trust somebody you've never met face to face; that's some of the stuff you tell your 5 year old when they want to use the computer.
    At any rate, it was still wrong for the guy to share the videos/photos with the public, and he got what he deserved. People just need to be more careful.

  7. Keith Roberts · 150 days ago

    This sort of thing should be illegal here in the UK as well.

  8. Miranda · 149 days ago

    Apparently if people can find a way to rape you without consequence they will. When an individual sends photos nude or sexual in nature to any audience without that person's consent, knowing that it would hurt them, it is using that VICTIM'S own sexuality to exert dominance over them.

  9. Bella Aby · 131 days ago

    Thank you so much for this article. I am facing really stressing times because of my ex with this same situation. I wish I could afford a lawyer, because I'd charge him with all sorts of things. My ex is also threatening me with the same thing, that he is going to show his friends and put them online. The photos were taken with my camera and we both agreed that they would be kept secret. He has also lied about deleting them recently. Is there anything I can do to make him delete them?

    • phil · 129 days ago

      I saw a notice in the back of a solicitors car some years ago-'DONT GET MAD, GET EVEN'. He is possibly 'threatening' because he knows you will retaliate - at it will cost him dear. See a solicitor for advice and maybe send him a solicitors letter telling him of the consequences of his actions. He will hopefully crawl back under the rock that he came from.

    • If he is blackmailing you, you should go to the police. If they wont act have you considered a free legal aid centre such as a University law clinic. I work at one in Hull University and I suspect we could help (assuming you're even in the same country as me).

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.