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Canadian Revenge Porn Victims Can Now Sue — But Only in One Province

Manitoba has became the first Canadian province to allow victims of revenge porn or anyone whose intimate photos or videos are shared without their permission to sue the perpetrators.

by Tamara Khandaker
Jan 19 2016, 11:00pm

Flickr Creative Commons

Manitoba has became the first Canadian province to allow victims of revenge porn or anyone whose intimate photos or videos are shared without their permission to sue the perpetrators.

"Revenge porn" is the non-consensual dissemination of intimate images by an angry ex or anyone else who may have access to them.

The province's Intimate Image Protection Act, which came into effect on Friday, applies when someone circulates or threatens to circulate such images without the consent of the person in them — if that person is identifiable, nude or engaged in a sexual act, and had a reasonable expectation of privacy when they were taken.

The mother of a child porn victim, who said her daughter's experience from two years ago continues to haunt her, spoke tearfully at a press conference on Monday in which officials trumpeted the advent of the law.

Her daughter, whose name is under a publication ban, was 14 when she trustingly sent shots of her exposed breasts to an 18-year-old man on Facebook. The man asked her to send more and added two more people into the conversation, who joined him in harassing her for nudes and videos of her performing sexual acts, and threatening to tell her parents if she didn't listen.

"It is not easy for me to stand here and tell you about the damage that has been caused because my daughter's images were shared," said her mother. "She is my baby girl. I would not wish this reality on any child or on any parent."

'It is not easy for me to stand here and tell you about the damage that has been caused because my daughter's images were shared.'

"It's bad enough that she was victimized but to have these images shared, that she has had so much trouble getting away from, can be too much to bear," she continued, stressing the need to act quickly in such instances, to intervene and to "remind people that what they are doing is illegal and has consequences."

The province is also investing $175,000 in the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, which helps victims of revenge porn to get content removed from the internet, reach out to anyone who may have shared the image, or refer them to police if necessary.

The center's director Signy Arnason said a realization that the province was "playing catch-up on this issue" triggered the creation of the law, which will "provide other tools and options for those who are impacted and don't necessarily want to go down the criminal justice path."

"The idea that you'd have to go through a criminal court process and have that image further exposed… could be incredibly humiliating and difficult to deal with," she explained.

More often than not, she says, people just want the images taken down.

Since March 2015, the centre has received 350 tips from across Canada of unwanted intimate images being distributed, and 65 percent of the victims have been underage, with the majority being between 15 and 17 years old.

Sgt. Stephen Rear of the Manitoba RCMP's internet child exploitation unit said his office receives two to three such reports each week, adding that the new law and investment help people in cases where images don't fit the definition of child porn—where the victim is over 18, for example, or an image in which the victim isn't fully nude, but is embarrassing nonetheless.

Arnason also said child porn laws are "way too blunt an instrument to be dealing with the core behavior that's at issue — when peers are sharing intimate images."

Related: Free Expression Has Trounced a Law Against Online Harassment in Canada

What makes Manitoba's law particularly effective, Toronto-based privacy lawyer Michael Power told VICE's Motherboard, is that it nullifies two defences that perpetrators might otherwise be able to use in court — consent and ownership. In a province where such legislation doesn't exist, and where victims rely on privacy laws to sue, the accused might argue that since the photos or video were provided voluntarily, they did nothing wrong by sharing them.

Thanks to the new law in Manitoba, if the victim doesn't explicitly give permission for their image to be shared, there are grounds to sue.

While Manitoba now has the first provincial legislation dealing with revenge porn and non-consensual sharing of intimate images, Nova Scotia also tried to address the issue with its Cyber-safety Act, which empowered victims and their families to sue cyberbullies for damages.

The legislation, which was created in response to the death of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons in 2013, was criticized for being overly broad and ultimately struck down in December for infringing on constitutional rights. The judge called it a "colossal failure."

Parsons attempted to commit suicide after she was allegedly sexually assaulted and a photo of the incident was shared at her school. She later died in hospital.

According to C.A. Goldberg, a New York law firm that specializes on internet privacy and abuse, nine US states currently have civil remedies for revenge porn, while a total of 27 states include revenge porn in their criminal codes. 

Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk

Image via Flickr Creative Commons