'Revenge porn' is no longer a niche activity which victimises only celebrities - the law must intervene

“Don’t snap in the first place” might be advice worth repeating to teenagers, but it's of little practical use to adults who've fallen victim to a vindictive ex.

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Here’s something it hardly bears thinking about on a Monday morning: your ex-lovers, should you have exchanged erotic pictures with them (people do) and should they later reveal themselves to be kind of monstrous individuals (it happens), can today share footage with the internet through one of hundreds of “revenge porn” websites online. The phenomenon is, depressingly, less niche than it sounds. It’s also a legal nightmare. Is Anyone Up, one notorious site, was strewn with thousands of ex-girlfriends and drew in 30 million page views a month before it closed (to reopen elsewhere) in 2012.

For “revenge porn” victims, this closure was a minor victory in a narrative of more or less unrelenting misery.

Last week Holly Jacobs, a Florida-based PhD student, spoke out. In January 2009, a month after a relationship had ended (on amicable terms) her ex posted pictures of her naked online. These promptly ‘went viral’. After changing her name, being forced out of her job, and suffering the almost unimaginable stress of thousands of strangers not only knowing who she was but how she loved, Jacobs eventually stopped trying to chase down the photos – which experts said could have spread to as many as 100,000 sites. She has since set up the End Revenge Porn campaign and become the first person in Florida to sue an ex for invasion of privacy and emotional distress.

Some on the more Palaeolithic side of public opinion like to chip in at this point with a verdict along the lines of: “don’t snap in the first place” – which, while it might be worth repeating to schoolchildren, holds a lot less water for consenting adults. As Jacobs said, “my mistake was not taking the pictures but trusting such a jerk… Everyone is naked in the age of the net”.

She’s right. And since we can't expect people to treat each lover as a potential scumbag, the law has work to do. At the moment only the rich and famous can wield it to effect. Tulisa's lawyer noted her civil suit, which she won last year against ex-boyfriend MC Ultra, should give “public figures” with “means and resolution” hope they can get sex clips off the web. Meanwhile "private” figures like Ms Jacobs - with the resolution but perhaps without the means - are left to languish in a hell ever only a Google away.

It's a state of affairs that cannot continue. In New Jersey, an anti-revenge porn law was passed after a stung Rutgers University student killed himself. Canada is considering something similar. How many more victims will it take for us to catch up?

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