Ohio’s Revenge Porn Law Carries Criminal and Civil Penalties

With almost everyone now carrying a smartphone that doubles as a camera and video recorder, capturing the moment has never been easier. But if that moment happens to feature sexually explicit images or video between you and a consensual partner, this material can later be used, without your consent, for abuse or extortion—a tactic known as “revenge porn.”

Ohio’s revenge porn law, which has been in effect since March 2019, makes it illegal to disseminate private, sexual images of another person without their consent and allows a victim of revenge porn to take civil legal action against the offender. Offenders can also face criminal penalties. And as of October 1, 2022, 15 U.S.C. 6851—a federal law on nonconsensual distribution of sexual images (i.e., a nationwide revenge porn law)—went into effect, creating a federal cause of action for the disclosure of intimate images.

Revenge porn victims may need to rely on a variety of criminal and civil laws to hold the perpetrator accountable. In nearly all cases, a victim should consider hiring an attorney to help them navigate the legal system, answer questions, and protect their rights.

Criminal Penalties for Revenge Porn

Ohio’s revenge porn law has been on the books since March 2019. According to the law, it is a crime to disseminate sexually-oriented pictures and videos of another person if all of the following apply:

  • The person in the image is 18 years of age or older;
  • The person in the image is clearly identifiable;
  • The person in the image is nude or engaged in a sexual act;
  • The image is disseminated without consent from the person in the image; and
  • The image is disseminated with intent to harm the person in the image.

The penalty for nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images is punishable by:

  • First-time offender: a third-degree misdemeanor (up to 60 days in jail and up to a $500 fine)
  • Second-time offender: second-degree misdemeanor (up to 90 days in jail and up to a $750 fine)
  • Third-time or subsequent offender: first-degree misdemeanor (up to 180 days in jail and up to a $1,000 fine)

Civil Penalties for Revenge Porn

In addition to possible criminal penalties for violating Ohio’s revenge porn law, a victim of revenge porn has the right to file a civil lawsuit against the offender. The victim may bring a lawsuit that results in:

  • An injunction or temporary restraining order prohibiting further dissemination of the photo/video
  • Compensatory and punitive damages for harm resulting from the dissemination of the material

Further, the law states that, “The victim shall be presumed to have suffered harm as a result of the nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images.”

Harm could mean several different things in the context of revenge porn. Research shows that victims, who are disproportionately young and female, often experience emotional distress, effects on their romantic and family relationships, stalking and harassment, and professional and educational impacts.

Difficulties Enforcing The Law

When Ohio’s revenge porn law was passed, advocates expressed concerns that the law isn’t strong enough. Some of those concerns have proven to be true, including the difficulty of the law’s “intent to do harm” language. Someone else’s intent is one of the most difficult things to prove in court.

Police departments may also be unaware of the law, or struggle to apply it properly. The Columbus Dispatch checked state court records and found that, more than a year after the law was enacted, police had only used it to prosecute and convict offenders a handful of times. According to the Dispatch, it can be challenging for police to obtain a copy of the photo or video evidence, because the victim doesn’t always have access to it.

Victims Have Legal Options

In some cases, police categorize and prosecute revenge porn as a different crime: telecommunications harassment.

Ohio law states that it is a crime to post an image or video online with the purpose of harassing, intimidating, or abusing another person. Telecommunications harassment, or “cyberbullying,” is typically punished as a first degree misdemeanor.

“Cyberstalking” can be used to prosecute revenge porn as well under the state’s menacing by stalking law. Menacing by stalking occurs when someone knowingly causes another person to believe they will cause them physical harm or mental distress, including through the use of information shared on the internet or a telecommunications device. Cyberstalking is usually a first-degree misdemeanor, but a number of factors can increase a stalking charge to a fourth-degree felony.

Revenge porn victims may be able to obtain a court order preventing the release of sensitive material, file a lawsuit to obtain monetary damages, and recover attorneys’ fees from the perpetrator.

Extortion could occur in a revenge porn case if the person in possession of an explicit image or video uses it to blackmail the victim. Extortion is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

(Note that an instance of revenge porn can be prosecuted under any of these statutes, in addition to Ohio’s revenge porn law.)

Finally, Ohio civil law offers victims different options for seeking compensation from the perpetrators of revenge porn. The recently-passed revenge porn law is one option. Other options are a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress and a claim for invasion of privacy.

How a Lawyer Can Help a Revenge Porn Victim

While criminal prosecution is the responsibility of the state, an Ohio civil lawyer can help a victim to:

  • Obtain a court order to prevent the release of images or videos
  • File a lawsuit to recover monetary damages from the person who released the images or videos

If you have been the victim of revenge porn in Ohio, or believe that somebody plans to use explicit photos or videos against you, Graham & Graham can explain your legal rights and options during a free consultation. Ohio’s revenge porn law also allows victims to recover attorneys’ fees from the perpetrator.  Call 1-800-621-8585 or Contact Us to speak with a lawyer.

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