Childhood sexual assault is a crime that carries a lifetime of consequences for its victims. The physical, mental, and emotional trauma can affect the survivors of these crimes on into adulthood. Now, as the first generation of these survivors are coming of age, they find themselves facing a new challenge: being forced to relive their trauma when images and videos find their way back online.
The creation and distribution of child pornography is a serious crime that includes severe penalties for those convicted. One reason those penalties must be so steep is because once something is posted on the Internet, it is almost impossible to remove completely. Some survivors of childhood sexual assaults are finding that years, sometimes decades later, those photos and videos have re-emerged as prosecutors across the country have seized mobile phones, computers, and cloud storage of pedophiles.
A recent investigation by the New York Times into the effects of online storage and social media on the survivors of child sexual assault. The newspaper tells the story of two sisters, who choose to remain anonymous because they fear child molesters and other sexual predators seeking them out:
“Ten years ago, their father did the unthinkable: He posted explicit photos and videos on the internet of them, just 7 and 11 at the time. Many captured violent assaults in their Midwestern home, including him and another man drugging and raping the 7-year-old.
“The men are now in prison, but in a cruel consequence of the digital era, their crimes are finding new audiences. The two sisters are among the first generation of child sexual abuse victims whose anguish has been preserved on the internet, seemingly forever.”
In their interview, the sisters explain that online predators sometimes stalk people in the photos and videos they download. Even though the sisters are now 17 and 21 years old, they continue to relive their trauma whenever a man looks at them or asks, “Have I seen a picture of you when you were a kid?” They fear that their trauma will be there forever since the video of their childhood sexual assault is online for all to see.
Perhaps the worst part of this story is the fact that the tech industry has the tools to remove child pornography and other illegal and illicit content from its servers, but it refuses to use it. In 2009, Microsoft and Professor Hany Farid, now at the University of California, Berkeley invented a software known as PhotoDNA. It allows computers to compare photos against databases of known illegal images and flag illicit content for removal. You can see how PhotoDNA works in the New York Times article on their investigation.
But even though tech companies use this software for facial recognition, malware detection, and copyright enforcement, many refuse to apply the same software to stop the storage and distribution of child pornography:
“‘Each company is coming up with their own balance of privacy versus safety, and they don’t want to do so in public,’ said Alex Stamos, who served as chief of information security at both Facebook and Yahoo. ‘These decisions actually have a humongous impact on children’s safety.’”
But there is some good news for those survivors of childhood sexual assault living in New York State. New laws passed in 2019 give them the tools to take on the tech industry and get their images removed, even years after the fact. Taken together, the state’s revenge porn law and the Child Victims Act create an opportunity to enforce their privacy even against tech companies who value their consumers’ privacy over the victims of sexual assault.
The state’s law against the “dissemination or publication of an intimate image” went into effect on February 25, 2019. The law includes a private right to go to court and ask a judge for a court order requiring any website within its jurisdiction to permanently remove images or video from its sites and servers.
The New York State Child Victims Act, passed into law on January 24, 2019, gives those survivors more time to file their claims and get the relief they need. Civil lawsuits related to child sexual assault can be filed anytime until the victim turns 55 years old. There is even a one-year grace period for those whose cases are too old to fall within the statute. Taken together, these laws give survivors of child sexual assault the ability to fight back against the pedophiles that stalk them and the tech companies who shield those bad actors from justice.
At Eisenberg & Baum, our sexual abuse attorneys to stand beside child victims and their families against their abusers and the social media companies. We know how to use all the tools the law provides to get those images removed and protect their identity. We can help you file a claim and receive the compensation you deserve and the injunctive action you need to stop reliving your trauma online. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.