A few days ago the constantly-updating newsfeed on my smartphone was blanketed with the news that rapper 50 Cent was filing for bankruptcy.
Thinking it was just another tale of celebrity excess and woe, I initially ignored the story until I saw a headline explaining the reason for Mr. Cent’s bankruptcy: Revenge porn. “Revenge porn” is commonly defined as the distribution of sexually explicit or suggestive content of an individual to the public without the individual’s consent, usually with the intent to embarrass or humiliate.
50 Cent used revenge porn to embarrass and humiliate his rival, rapper Rick Ross, by posting an intimate video online of Ross’s girlfriend, Lastonia Leviston, without her permission. Just days before filing for Chapter 11 relief, a jury ordered 50 Cent to pay $5 million to Leviston for the violation; an additional award of punitive damages is expected to follow.
Currently, there is little the law can do to protect victims of revenge porn. Several states have recently passed laws criminalizing revenge porn, but the laws have had mixed results.
A New York conviction was recently thrown out by the state’s appellate court on constitutional free speech grounds. Last month, former NY Jets linebacker Jermaine Cunningham pleaded guilty to a revenge porn charge in New Jersey. Washington does not currently have any laws criminalizing revenge porn.
As with the civil case against 50 Cent, some victims have found success in the civil court system, but many victims do not have the financial or emotional fortitude to survive the lengthy civil litigation process.
Unfortunately, revenge porn is not limited to beefs between professional rappers. A recent study by Internet security company McAfee reported that almost 50 percent of women have used their mobile devices to share sexually explicit content with a partner.
“Sexting” is becoming so common, that the Oxford English Dictionary added the word to its lexicon in 2011. Problems begin to arise when the relationship ends, perhaps badly, and one partner decides to publish the private, intimate images on the Internet with identifying information.
Revenge porn can have devastating effects for victims, as the private images are made available for potential employers, co-workers, and even family members to discover with one simple Google search.
Employers must be prepared to deal with the issue of revenge porn in the work environment as it becomes more commonplace. I recently heard a story from an employer about a male employee who had “hooked up” with a female employee and taken nude photographs of her on his cell phone. The male employee then brought the phone to work and shared the photographs with another co-worker who reported the incident to the employer.
The employer took immediate action by disciplining the male employee, notifying the female employee of the incident, and ensuring that the photographs were deleted from the male employee’s phone. By taking quick action to limit the effects of the incident, the employer likely avoided larger problems in the workplace.
Victims of revenge porn are often vulnerable to workplace harassment and emotional stress when private images are distributed to co-workers. Employers should make sure that managers and supervisors are prepared to deal with any issues that arise quickly to limit the fallout from the incident and to ensure that the employee does not experience any harassment from co-workers.
Employers concerned about revenge porn can take several steps to curtail its impacts in the workplace:
• Act quickly to diffuse the situation by discussing the situation with the employee to ensure the employee continues to feel comfortable in the work environment
• Provide the employee with information about victim’s resources from organizations like End Revenge Porn or Without My Consent
• Take steps to keep the incident as confidential as possible
• Ensure that anti-harassment and workplace violence policies are clear and include prohibitions on cyber- or internet harassment
• Have a clear Internet and social media policy that prohibits the distribution of or access to offensive and/or pornographic materials while at work
• Evenly enforce your policies and take appropriate remedial and/or disciplinary measures against employees who violate the policies
• Utilize online security tools to ensure that access to offensive content is blocked on your servers
Erin McCool is an attorney with the Wenatchee office of Ogden Murphy Wallace, P.L.L.C., practicing in the areas of litigation, employment & labor law, and land use & water. She reminds you that love can be fleeting, but the internet is forever.