Police are going after vengeful ex-lovers who post nude photos and videos of their former love interests after a breakup, a trend that authorities expect will escalate with social media’s increasing popularity.
“You can’t unring a bell. That image is going to be out there forever,” said Brian Sinclair, the assistant Bergen County prosecutor who is chief of the computer crimes unit. “People … have to understand before they click ‘send’: By transmitting images of their former partner, they’re likely committing a crime.”
Before the Internet was so prevalent, spurned exes could send revealing photos by mail. However, hitting the “send” button not only makes it much easier for a raging ex to distribute a nude photo, it also has lifelong implications for the victim if the image is copied by others and proliferates elsewhere on the Internet.
The crime of transmitting images or videos without someone’s consent falls under the state’s invasion of privacy statute created in 2004, and violators can face between three and five years in prison, authorities said. The Passaic County Internet Crimes Task Force has handled 38 cases since the unit was created in 2003, Sheriff Richard Berdnik said. Bergen County has investigated about 12 cases in the past three years.
The statute prohibits the posting of an image of a person engaged in sexual contact or a photo of a person’s private parts without their permission. Consent to a nude image being taken does not imply consent to its distribution, experts say. The sharing of the photo or video with just one person is as much of a crime as posting it to the World Wide Web.
“It’s becoming more and more pronounced as technology increases,” said Detective Capt. Robert Weston, who oversees the Passaic County task force. “I think as more and more people utilize social networking sites to communicate with one another and display photographs of themselves, individuals have subsequently used those sites to engage in illegal behavior.”
It is unclear how many states have invasion of privacy statutes that pertain to posting explicit images online. However, many statutes on the books elsewhere could cover such a crime, including lewdness, disseminating obscene materials and indecent exposure, said Eugene O’Donnell, professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Invasion of privacy cases are likely to become a growing area of concern as the reach of technology expands, O’Donnell said. He believes that both the number of people posting private photos without the subject’s consent and the number of victims willing to report it will increase dramatically.
Women are primarily the victims, but many do not turn to police because they are embarrassed. When victims do seek help, they are mostly interested in getting the images taken down, and the spiteful ex-lovers are often surprised to find that it’s a crime.
Police urge victims to call as soon as they find an image.
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