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‘Revenge porn’ victims pursue new laws, but ACLU urges caution

WASHINGTON — Annmarie Chiarini’s long-distance boyfriend was goading her to pose nude. The pictures would be for his eyes only, Chiarini recalls him saying, because she was so beautiful and because he missed her so much. He promised, she said, they would be stored on a compact disc and hidden in his drawer.

Chiarini believed him — until they broke up and the CD was auctioned on eBay with a link e-mailed to her friends and family. Copies were later mailed to her son’s Catholic school kindergarten teacher and the department head at the college where Chiarini taught English. The images eventually wound up on a pornographic video-sharing site, earning 4,000 views in less than two weeks.

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‘‘I was horrified,’’ said the 42-year-old single mom living in Towson, Md. ‘‘The night he said he was going to do it, I called the police in an absolute panic and tried to explain what was going on. I said, ‘He’s threatening to put these pictures of me on an eBay auction,’ and they [said], ‘So?’ ’’

It’s called ‘‘revenge porn,’’ and it is legal in every state but California and New Jersey. A person shares a sexually explicit photo or video with a partner, only to see those images pop up online months or even years later, typically after a bad breakup. The images are often tied to the person’s name, address, and phone number. And in a particularly disturbing twist, some of the sites appear to be running side businesses offering ‘‘reputation protection services’’: Dump $500 into a PayPal account, and maybe they will take down your photo.

An increasing number of states, including Maryland, Wisconsin, and New York, are considering whether to make it illegal to post any sexually explicit image online without that person’s permission. But groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation say they worry such proposals run afoul of the First Amendment.

‘‘We generally don’t think that finding more ways to put people in prison for speech is a good thing,’’ said Adi Kamdar, an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. ‘‘A lot of times, these laws — if they aren’t narrowly focused enough — they can be interpreted too broadly.’’

Maryland Delegate Jon Cardin, who is running for the Democratic nomination to become state attorney general, is among the latest of several state legislators to propose a new revenge porn law. His proposal would make it a felony to intentionally distribute sexually explicit digital images of another person without consent, punishable by up to five years in jail and a $25,000 fine.

Nude images a Maryland woman sent to a boyfriend wound up on a pornographic video-sharing site.

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The bill would exclude images deemed to have ‘‘public importance’’ — an exemption carved out in response to critics who say such laws would criminalize the publishing of explicit photos by journalists. The legislation also wouldn’t hold liable anyone who links to a revenge posting.

Still absent from Cardin’s list of vocal supporters is the ACLU. Its California office worked this fall to dilute similar legislation. That bill, signed last month by Governor Jerry Brown, makes revenge porn a misdemeanor but contains a big loophole: It applies only to images captured by the partner, exempting self-portraits.

Holly Jacobs, a Florida woman who founded EndRevengePorn.com after her own self-shots wound up online — along with her name, where she worked, and details on her doctoral program — says attempts to exempt ‘‘selfies’’ from the law shows that most people still ‘‘blame the victim.’’ She estimates that 80 percent of the 1,000 victims of revenge porn who have contacted her in the past year took the images themselves.

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