Politics & Government

Texans who commit ‘revenge porn’ could soon land in jail

The Texas Capitol is where state lawmakers worked earlier this year to pass a measure geared to cut down on “revenge porn.”
The Texas Capitol is where state lawmakers worked earlier this year to pass a measure geared to cut down on “revenge porn.” Star-Telegram

She never knew she was being videotaped.

But private moments shared in bed between the Fort Worth woman and her then-boyfriend were secretly captured on his iPad.

There they remained until the two stopped seeing each other.

Then, after she received a series of disturbing text messages, he sent them to dozens of people on her email contact list, including her parents, who showed up at her home early one morning after receiving the sexually explicit video.

“This event in my life has been the most invasive and humiliating circumstance that I have ever experienced,” the woman, who is not being identified by the Star-Telegram because of the nature of the crime, said last week.

But the woman, one of the first known “revenge porn” victims in Tarrant County, said she is glad the Legislature stepped up this year to pass a law that might keep other Texans from finding themselves in her shoes.

“I am so happy that Texas is taking the steps to let people know that this is not OK and hopefully this [law] will prevent others from having to go through what I did or at least be able to get some kind of justice,” she said.

The cases of revenge porn — when someone posts sexually explicit photos and videos of an ex online to get revenge after a breakup — appear to be growing nationwide, as spurned loved ones seek revenge by posting nude or sexually explicit photos or videos of an ex on the Internet or sending them through email.

In the Fort Worth woman’s case, her ex-boyfriend, Philip Welch Ingram, received five years of deferred adjudication probation for sending his ex-girlfriend’s email contacts videos he secretly took of their sexual acts.

He was among those charged under an “improper photography” law, which the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals threw out last year, saying it was too broad and violated First Amendment free-speech rights.

Texas lawmakers worked on a replacement measure this year, the Relationship Privacy Act, to crack down on a growing number of revenge porn cases.

“This will help those who have been victimized by the horrific practice of posting a nude or sexually explicit photo on the Internet without their permission get justice against the cowardly perpetrators,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, who wrote the measure.

Critics say the new law, which takes effect Sept. 1, isn’t the right law to have in Teas.

“We think it is too broad,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

Others believe it could serve as a serious deterrent.

“While this law will not stop all revenge porn in Texas, it will cause perpetrators to think again about posting intimate photos and videos of their former partner and websites from permitting these files to be placed on their website,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

A growing crime

Studies show that 1 in 10 ex-partners has threatened to post risque photos of their exes online; about 60 percent of them followed through, according to the End Revenge Porn website.

Many times, the posters include personal information — such as the person’s name, address, email address, Social Security number or links to their social media sites.

Starting Sept. 1, the new Texas law states that anyone who participates in “revenge porn,” or posts images on “revenge porn websites,” faces a Class A misdemeanor that could draw a jail term of up to one year and a maximum fine of $4,000.

This measure lets civil and criminal penalties be assessed against the person putting the images online — and the website that allows those images to be there.

“The law places Texas in the vanguard among the states in terms of combating the scourge of revenge porn in the country, providing a greater level of protection for victims of revenge porn here in Texas than are available in most other states,” Jones said.

Burke said there are concerns about this law, just as there were about a similar measure in Arizona, where the ACLU sued to protect booksellers who could become criminals for selling or displaying nude images of people who may not have given permission for their photos to be taken.

“We think that the law ought to be much more narrow and target the really bad actors, the people who should be held accountable — those who are engaging in threatening behavior — so that booksellers and others don’t end up being targeted,” Burke said.

Local case

At least three cases of revenge porn have been successfully prosecuted in Tarrant County, said Assistant District Attorney Lori Burks, who won those cases.

“It’s a necessary law,” she said. “It will be interesting to see if it withstands constitutional scrutiny.”

In the Fort Worth case, the woman said she had received disturbing text messages from Ingram after breaking up with him. That’s when he threatened to email out sex videos he made of the two of them, which until that time she didn’t know existed.

One more text message arrived around 2 a.m. while she was asleep. “Have a good morning,” the message read. Hours later, her parents arrived at her home to check on her.

She worries now that the problem of revenge porn — in today’s fast-moving society of constant connectivity and 24-hour news cycles — will continue to grow.

But she’s grateful that the state has taken steps to help Texans.

“At the time, there were no acts in place to protect me,” she said. “I am overcome with emotion knowing that there is protection for others now and have always believed that it is anyone’s right to be able to prosecute for these senseless acts of cruelty that can be done with just the click of a button.”

Ingram’s attorney, Mark G. Daniel, declined to comment for this report.

Burks said she believes that the new law will help Texans.

“This is an area that needs to be addressed,” she said.

Mixed messages

On the federal front, U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., has talked about her proposal to address revenge porn, the Intimate Privacy Protection Act.

And Texas’ new law is also drawing attention.

“Strong criminal laws are one of the few effective means of deterring this conduct before it happens,” said Mary Anne Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami who is the legislative and tech policy director at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative.

“Most perpetrators don’t fear the possibility that they might be sued for invasion of privacy or copyright infringement because they know that such approaches require extensive resources on the part of the victim,” she said. “But nearly everyone is nervous about the possibility of going to jail.

“There's no reason to think that the desire to expose another person’s naked body to the world is so powerful that people can’t keep themselves from doing it,” Franks said. “Laws such as this can deter revenge porn from even happening.”

The issue has drawn attention and focus worldwide.

Even Google recently weighed in on the topic, noting that revenge porn images “are intensely personal and emotionally damaging, and serve only to degrade the victims — predominantly women.”

The search engine company announced that it will soon begin to “honor requests from people to remove nude or sexually explicit images shared without their consent from Google Search results,” according to a blog post.

The company will soon put up a web form that people can use to request that images be removed from Google Search results.

“We know this won’t solve the problem of revenge porn — we aren’t able, of course, to remove these images from the websites themselves — but we hope that honoring people’s requests to remove such imagery from our search results can help,” the statement said.

Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610

Twitter: @annatinsley