The Cyber Civil Rights Initiative welcomes the passage of the SHIELD Act as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021, providing urgently needed protection against an egregious form of cyber sexual abuse that disproportionately affects women and girls. As the nation’s leading nonprofit organization focused on the issue of nonconsensual pornography, CCRI thanks Rep. Jackie Speier, Rep. John Katko, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Rep. Ted Lieu, Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, Rep. Stacey Plaskett, and Rep. Veronica Escobar for their bipartisan leadership in support of the SHIELD Act and for submitting the SHIELD Act as an amendment.
The SHIELD Act, originally introduced in 2019, is a bipartisan measure that addresses the devastating and often irreparable impact of the unauthorized disclosure of private, sexually explicit visual imagery. This impact includes loss of employment and educational opportunities, harassment, stalking, threats of sexual assault, deterioration of intimate and family relationships, and psychological trauma severe enough to lead many to contemplate, and some to lose their lives to, suicide. Nonconsensual pornography has proliferated in the digital age due to the ubiquitous presence of virtually undetectable recording devices, the instantaneous communication possibilities afforded by the Internet and social media, and increasingly common cyber attacks that allow hackers and abusers to access private information. Like other forms of domestic violence and sexual abuse, rates of cyber sexual abuse have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, for example, the CCRI Crisis Helpline logged a 38.39% increase in calls.
Women are almost twice as likely to be targeted for nonconsensual pornography and make up the majority of victims exploited on so-called “revenge porn” websites. Photos and videos of their most private moments, often created or obtained without their knowledge, are also distributed through social media, messaging applications, and emails. Not only is nonconsensual pornography a common form of intimate partner violence, but it also plays a role in sexual assault, sex trafficking, and sexual harassment. Domestic abusers threaten their partners with exposure to prevent them from leaving or reporting the abuse; rapists record their attacks for personal gratification and to further torment their victims; harassers use nonconsensual pornography to create hostile environments for female employees and students. In addition to the grave injury the abuse inflicts on individual victims, nonconsensual pornography also chills women’s and girls’ freedom of expression and deters their participation in professional, political, and civic life.
In the past few years, the majority of states have acted to address the growing epidemic of nonconsensual pornography. But variations across jurisdictions in the definition, classification, and remedies for this crime leaves victims at the mercy of a confusing patchwork of laws. In particular, many state laws against nonconsensual pornography only apply in cases where the perpetrator is motivated by a personal desire to hurt the victim. That means that perpetrators who are motivated by profit, voyeurism, a desire for social status, or any other reason can commit this abuse with impunity.
The SHIELD Act amendment to the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 closes that absurd loophole and provides a clear path to justice for victims of this destructive, often borderless, crime. Protecting the privacy and free expression rights of women and girls is an essential part of combating violence against women and achieving gender equality.
About CCRI: CCRI’s mission is to combat online abuses that threaten civil rights and civil liberties. CCRI is the nation’s preeminent nonprofit organization working to protect vulnerable groups from threats such as nonconsensual pornography (NCP), sexual extortion, digitally manipulated audio-visual material (“deep fakes”), and other online abuses. CCRI provides model legislation, legal analysis, and amicus briefs on issues relating to privacy and free expression. CCRI has also provided support to over 7,000 victims of NCP through the CCRI Crisis Helpline.