One in 25 Americans have been a victim of a new type of invasion of sexual privacy, where photographs or videos that you intended to stay private with your partner end up on the Internet for everyone to see, after your (now) ex-partner posts the content online without your consent.

Known as “revenge porn,” this activity has increased dramatically over the last few years with technical advances of smartphones, and with the rise of social media like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, where uploading occurs with the touch of a button. Postings can lead to embarrassment, can interfere with employment and education opportunities, prompt online bullying from third parties, and cause self-harm or suicide.

Is there a law against revenge porn in Maryland?

Maryland joined several other states on October 1, 2014, making it illegal for someone to post sexually-suggestive or naked pictures or videos of someone on the Internet with the intent of causing that person emotional distress and without the other person’s consent.

Under Maryland Criminal Law Code § 3-809, it is illegal “to give, sell, transfer, disseminate, publish, upload, circulate, broadcast, make available, allow access to, or engage in any other form of transmission, electronic or otherwise” any visual representations of intimate parts or sexual activity. Per the law:

“Distribution of private visual representations of another prohibited. — A person may not knowingly distribute a visual representation of another identifiable person that displays the other person with his or her intimate parts exposed or while engaged in an act of sexual activity:

(1) with the intent to harm, harass, intimidate, threaten, or coerce the other person;

(2) (i) under circumstances in which the person knew that the other person did not consent to the distribution; or

(ii) with reckless disregard as to whether the person consented to the distribution; and

(3) under circumstances in which the other person had a reasonable expectation that the image would remain private.”

What is the penalty of violating the law?

Anyone convicted of distributing revenge porn may be imprisoned up to 2 years and/or fined up to $5,000. It is considered a misdemeanor crime.

Are there any problems with the law?

Enforcement is difficult. Once an image or video is released online, the file can be quickly copied and distributed all over the Internet, making it extremely difficult to identify the source and perpetrator of the original posting.

It may be challenging to prove the “emotional distress” component of the law. The perpetrator may argue that he/she did not post the content to intentionally hurt the victim, but because it was fun or profitable.

The law does not allow the victim to remove the material from the Internet. As stated above, because of the ease of re-posting of images and videos, a victim may not be able to stop the dissemination of the leaked footage.

Victims may be afraid to come forward to report revenge porn, as it opens to door to have to testify about the incident, confront the perpetrator face-to-face in court, and re-live the shame and embarrassment all over again.

The perpetrator may argue the law violates his/her First Amendment right of expression.

What should I do if I am a victim of revenge porn?

Although imperfect, the revenge porn law in Maryland is an important step forward for law enforcement to control online harassment in the digital age, and for victims to have a legal remedy to regain a sense of control and dignity. If you have been a victim:

  1. Act quickly. Capture the image or video immediately with screenshots from every website or app where the content appears, being sure to note any identifying information from the perpetrator (Facebook username, Twitter handle, phone number, etc.).
  2. Contact the websites that host the content and ask them to remove it. This may not work, but it may help your case to prove that you did not consent to the distribution of the content.
  3. Document any contacts you had with the perpetrator prior to and/or after he/she posted the content online, as this may help bolster your claims of emotional distress.
  4. Contact your local Commissioner or State’s Attorney’s Office to press charges.

If none of this works, or if you have questions about how to move forward, contact McCabe Russell, PA. Our attorneys fight to protect the interests of our clients. To schedule your consultation with one of our Fulton divorce attorneys call 443-812-1435, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact form. We maintain additional offices in Rockville, Columbia, and Bethesda.