New York State Revenge Porn Law Makes Sharing Nude Pictures Illegal Statewide

Portrait of shocked business woman looking out of her glasses with mouth and eyes wide open staring at her laptop screen.

Imagine that you and your ex-partner work at the same business. When the two of you break up, he or she threatens to send explicit photos of you to your boss, coworkers, even the owner of the company. Then he or she starts making demands. Sadly, this is the reality for far too many New York workers. But now a newly passed New York State revenge porn law is giving the victims this form of sexual harassment a way to fight back.

In this blog post, I will discuss the recently passed New York State revenge porn law. I will compare it to the New York City law already in place. I will also discuss how this law can help employees facing this invasive form of sexual harassment at work.

New York State Revenge Porn Law was 5 Years in the Making

On Thursday, February 28, 2019, the New York State legislature passed a law making so-called “revenge porn” a crime across the state. The law made it illegal to try to humiliate or cause emotional, physical, or financial harm to another person by intentionally distributing or publishing intimate pictures or video. Prosecutors can charge the one distributing the images with a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

The law goes beyond the criminal courts, though. It also includes a private cause of action. That means the victims of revenge porn can sue their harassers and ask the judge to award damages for harm done and order the person to take the pictures down. In a press release on the matter, Assemblymember Edward C. Braunstein said:

"Revenge porn is a pervasive problem that often results in victims being threatened with sexual assault, stalked, harassed, or fired from jobs. . . . Some victims have even committed suicide due to the severe emotional pain. The passage of this legislation sends a strong message that individuals who engage in this type of reprehensible behavior will be held accountable for their actions.”

Many of the victims of revenge porn have been waiting for years for the state to pass this bill. It was first proposed over 5 years ago. At the time, it was one of the first of its kind, imposing criminal penalties for unlawful disclosure of intimate images. But politics got in the way. In the last five years, 41 states have adopted laws outlawing the non-consensual sharing of sexually explicit images, as had New York City and several state counties. But the state legislature remained unable to pass the bill. Then, after the 2018 election, the power balance in the state legislature shifted, allowing the state revenge porn law to finally be passed.

Statute Expands New York City Protections Statewide

The language of the New York State revenge porn law is close to the wording in an ordinance passed in 2017 by the New York City Council. That law made it illegal for residents or those within the city limits to disclose pornographic images or sexual activity, or any image that shows another person’s “intimate body parts.” The law also applies to threats made as long as the pictures or circumstances involved were enough that the victim could be identified.

Now those same protections are available to revenge porn victims statewide. The law is also the first of its kind to authorize judges to order social media platforms and websites where a non-consensual intimate image is found to remove the picture or video. That language was part of the reason the state-wide bill was delayed. The Internet Association, which represents tech giants like Google, Twitter, and Facebook, had resisted the passage of the law out of fear the social media platforms could be held financially responsible. The law in its final form doesn’t allow a plaintiff to go after a hosting platform for damages, but if a website refuses to remove the image it could still face sanctions for contempt of a court order.

Revenge Porn at Work is Sexual Harassment

When revenge porn happens at work it can be disastrous. Sexually explicit images can ruin a person’s career and professional reputation. Victims might even lose their job. There are few other forms of sexual harassment that can more quickly create a hostile work environment. That means the victims of revenge porn at work have other avenues for protection: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the New York Human Rights Act.

These laws say that employers must take reasonable steps to respond to sexual harassment at work, including quid pro quo arrangements or threats by supervisors and the creation of hostile work environments by coworkers. In the case of revenge porn that could include taking the image off company servers, protecting the victim from fall-out or retaliation due to the imagery, and disciplining the person who distributed them. When employers fail to do their job, the victims of revenge porn can often sue the company as well as the person doing the distribution.

At Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, our experienced sexual harassment attorneys know how to put the New York State revenge porn law to work for you to fight back against this form of severe sexual harassment. We can meet with you at our headquarters in the heart of New York City, or conference with you remotely, to help you find protection and compensation under federal, state, and local laws. Contact Eisenberg & Baum, LLP, today to talk to a sexual harassment attorney.

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