No, Revenge Porn Is Absolutely Not “Free Speech”

Photo: MediaPunch/Shutterstock.
On Wednesday, former congresswoman Katie Hill, who at one time represented California's 25th congressional district before resigning in November 2019 in the midst of an ethics investigation, was dealt a blow to her ongoing efforts to hold those who participated in a “revenge porn” scandal accountable. Hill’s lawsuit against The Daily Mail, a British tabloid that ran naked photos of her in 2019, was dismissed by a judge, who argued that the photos were a “matter of public issue or public interest.” 
“I sued The Daily Mail for their publication of my nonconsensual nude images. Today, we lost in court because a judge — not a jury — thinks revenge porn is free speech,” Hill tweeted. “This fight has massive implications for any woman who ever wants to run for office, so quitting isn’t an option.” (Refinery29 reached out to Hill for comment, but did not hear back at the time of publication.) 
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The lawsuit was one of many that Hill filed after reports surfaced that the former congresswoman had engaged in a relationship with one of her campaign staffers and hundreds of nude photos and intimate text messages, provided by her allegedly abusive ex-husband, were published online in the fall of 2019. Hill also filed lawsuits against her ex-husband, Kenny Heslep, Salem Media Group Inc., and RedState deputy managing editor Jennifer Van Laar, among others. In Hill’s resignation letter, she wrote that “having private photos of personal moments weaponized against me has been an appalling invasion of my privacy” before vowing to join the fight to “defeat this type of exploitation that so many women are victims to and which will keep countless women and girls from running for office or entering public light.”
“Dismissing Katie Hill’s case on anti-SLAPP grounds sets a dangerous precedent for victims of nonconsensual pornography everywhere,” Carrie A. Goldberg, Hill’s attorney, tweeted after the case was dismissed. “Anybody who dares enter the public eye should now have legitimate concern that old nude and sexual images can be shared widely and published by any person or media purporting to have journalistic intentions.” 
Comparing revenge porn to free speech toes a dangerous line for victims. An ongoing 2020 study out of the U.K., New Zealand, and Australia found that as many as one in three people have been victims of revenge porn — partners or past partners sharing nude or intimate images and/or videos of them without their consent. That number is up from the reported one in five people who have been victims of revenge porn in 2016, according to the same study. And the commonality of revenge porn is being highlighted on the national stage even now, as current Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) has been accused of sharing nude photos and videos of women he claimed he had sex with, with other members of congress — sometimes on the House floor. 
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This is just one of the many reasons why the judge’s dismissal of Hill’s case against The Daily Mail is so disturbing. Not only did Judge Yolanda Orozco of Los Angeles County Superior Court argue that the photos were protected under the First Amendment, the judge argued that they were well within the rights of the publication to post because “they spoke to [Hill’s] character and qualifications of her position.” 
In 2021, a woman deciding to engage in consensual sexual activity is somehow a mark against her morality, but a man sharing images of women without their consent on the House floor is not grounds for his immediate removal from office or resignation. (Gaetz has denied all allegations and has said he will not resign, and there have been no calls from leading members of the Republican Party for him to resign.) In 2021, a woman agreeing to taking private nude or explicit photos that are then used against her is insight into her character, but a man sharing those images is still invited to speak at a conservative women’s rally as a “fearless leader.” 
The hypocrisy would be laughable if it weren’t horrendously cruel or indicative of the way women’s bodies and their sexuality is weaponized against them while simultaneously used by men as shameless fodder to boost their egos. The argument that revenge porn is protected under “free speech” and necessary in order to decipher the characters of women, is just another painful instance of how sexuality is used against women to boost the public perceptions of men. 
Goldberg shared via Twitter that Hill plans to appeal the ruling, tweeting that her firm believes “an appellate court will disagree.” 
“We're up against a deeply misogynistic system that has to change,” Hill tweeted, “and it won't until we force it to.”

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