Menu

What Is Revenge Pornography?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 04, 2022

Revenge porn is a type of digital abuse in which nude or sexually explicit photos or videos are shared without the consent of those pictured. Also called nonconsensual pornography, it’s closely related to sexual abuse. A current or previous partner may share such images as “revenge” or threaten to distribute them as a type of blackmail.

You may have sent these private images to a partner. A partner may have convinced you to take explicit pictures, possibly in an effort to control or shame you. An abusive partner could even take sexual or nude photos of you without your knowledge.

Revenge porn isn't limited to romantic partners, though. A co-worker, family member, or stranger could also gain access to your private images and share them publicly for a variety of reasons.

Is Revenge Porn Illegal?

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have laws against revenge porn. Only Wyoming, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Massachusetts lack this kind of law.

There’s no federal law against revenge porn. But in all states, it’s illegal to share sexual videos or pictures of anyone under age 18.

The Communications Decency Act of 1996 regulates porn on the internet. It says websites and internet providers don't have legal responsibility for pictures or videos posted by their users. That means they're not legally required to take down revenge porn unless it breaks copyright or federal criminal laws. Some may do so voluntarily if the content violates their user guidelines.

How Can Revenge Pornography Affect You?

Revenge porn can harm you in several ways:

Psychological issues. You may deal with long-term personal and psychological issues after private images are posted publicly.

One study found that up to 93% of those involved in revenge porn had major emotional distress, such as guilt, depression, paranoia, anger, or suicidal thoughts.

If you're having these feelings, seek help from a mental health professional. Some specialize in sexual trauma. Call the suicide and crisis hotline at 988 or visit 988lifeline.org if you're thinking of hurting yourself.

Social anxiety and isolation. If you're a victim of revenge porn, you might start to withdraw from social settings and become isolated. It can make you feel worthless or ashamed.

But it's important to understand that someone else’s harmful actions aren’t a reflection of your self-worth. Once you've processed your trauma, take steps to reconnect with your community and take part in social activities that you enjoy.

Harassment and harm to reputation. Revenge porn posts may include your name, links to your social media accounts, and even your phone number. In one study, almost half of people affected by revenge porn said others had harassed or stalked them online.

Some victims have reported that revenge porn caused them to lose their jobs or damaged their family relationships. You might decide not to apply for a job for fear a prospective employer would come across your images in an online search.

What Can You Do About Revenge Porn?

It's not always easy to take legal action in revenge porn cases. And all the hoops you may have to jump through can lead to more distress during an already tough time. But it can help you feel less hopeless as well as protect you from further harm.

Here are some steps you can take:

Document everything. You'll probably have the urge to immediately take down any personal images you find on the internet. But if you want to take legal action, you need to document this information. Before you delete anything, collect data. Take screenshots, download images, and turn website pages into PDFs.

Take screenshots of comments on the post, any threats you receive, search results that lead to your images, websites the images were on, and any texts, emails, or conversations tied to the pictures.

Include the sender’s phone number and name, if available. Include the date, time, and URL of any pictures included in the screenshots as well.

Report the images. Once you’ve collected data, you can try to get the images or videos removed from the internet. YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and most other social media site have ways to report sexually explicit or inappropriate content. If they’re on another website, try to contact whoever runs the site. Screenshot and save any such reports you make.

Get in touch with experts. You might start by calling a crisis hotline for cyber abuse or a local domestic violence organization. You can also call the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative's hotline 844-878-2274 or visit their online removal guide.

If your state has a revenge porn law -- and especially if your case involves cyberstalking, child pornography, or domestic violence -- contact law enforcement.

An attorney or advocate who is familiar with revenge porn situations can help you understand the law and make an informed decision. They can show you how to:

  • Get an order of protection, which creates a legal action to stop abuse. It can legally block an abusive person from communicating with you. These orders are public, which means anyone can see them.
  • Get your images copyrighted. This can make it easier for you to get control over them and take them down from the internet.

You can also hire private companies (takedown services) to remove your images for a fee.

What Is Victim Blaming?

If someone sent a nude photo of you to others or posted it online, they might say it was your fault for sending the picture in the first place. That's victim blaming.

Others online, or people you know in real life, may also victim-blame in revenge porn situations.

You’re not to blame for the wrongdoing of another person. If you're shamed for your abuser's behavior, you might not feel safe reaching out to your loved ones or law enforcement for help. It might make you feel ashamed, alone, and confused. But remember, this is not your fault.

In some cases, victim blaming has led people to move to escape embarrassment. Some victims have committed suicide after victim blaming.

That's why it’s important to show compassion and understanding to people in these situations. Never judge someone for the actions of another, abusive person. Call the crisis lifeline at 988 or visit 988lifeline.org if you're worried that someone you know might harm themselves.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Revenge Pornography?

There's always a risk involved in posing for or taking explicit photos or videos.

You can always say no if someone asks you to. If something makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. If you feel pressured or unsafe, tell someone else whom you trust. They can help you decide what your next step should be.

Remember that intimate photos can be more easily used as revenge porn if they:

  • Clearly show your face
  • Show tattoos, birthmarks, or other distinct features
  • Have a well-lit, easily identifiable background

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Love Is Respect: “What is “Revenge Porn?”

Federal Trade Commission: “What to Do if You’re the Target of Revenge Porn.”

International Journal of Cyber Criminology: “Perceptions of Revenge Pornography and Victim Blame.”

Ballotpedia: “Nonconsensual pornography (revenge porn) laws in the United States.”

Women’s Justice Now: “Revenge Porn.”

The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law: “Revenge Pornography: Mental Health Implications and Related Legislation.”

University of Southern California Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work: "What to Do if You're a Victim of Revenge Porn."

© 2022 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved. View privacy policy and trust info