Should Revenge Porn Laws Be More Severe? College Students Answer

Each year, Houston defense attorney Matt Sharp sponsors a privately-funded scholarship essay contest based on a trending topic pertaining to criminal offenses and the criminal justice system in the United States. Most recently, the Law Office of Matthew D. Sharp decided to focus on the growing issue of revenge porn laws and penalties.

Revenge porn can be simply defined as the act of distributing sexually explicit images or videos of another person without their consent. Considered a form of psychological and sexual abuse, nonconsensual image sharing is most commonly perpetrated by an intimate partner (with or without the subject’s knowledge) and used to blackmail, exploit, coerce or punish the person depicted—possibly for financial gain.

According to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, 48 states (plus Washington, D.C.) now have revenge porn laws on the books. While these laws vary widely by state, only Massachusetts and South Carolina lack any revenge porn laws whatsoever.  (source)

In light of this pressing issue, we were thrilled to receive dozens of responses from students all over the country. While we had the difficult job of selecting just 1 winner of the $1,000 scholarship, we wanted to share some of our favorite responses from other entries. It’s notable that nearly all of the respondents of our scholarship essay contest agreed that criminal penalties for revenge porn should be more severe in the United States, with a few exceptions.

Continue reading to hear what the student respondents had to say to our prompt question, in their own words.

Essay question: Should the laws against revenge porn be more severe? Why or why not?

Scholarship winner Dominique Roberts Dominique Roberts, Logan University (scholarship winner):

“…with the development of social media, and the increasing inter-connectedness through smart phones, computers, and other wireless media, the spread of revenge pornography is akin to the effects of having a bonfire in a dry forest – the moment it is lit, it is out of the starter’s control, and the fire has spread beyond what can be contained and continues to spread until irreparable damage has occurred…

This damage cannot be undone, but increasing the standards of the laws across the United States as a whole can help ensure some semblance of closure is felt when their cases are heard in a court of law, or better yet – to ensure that the perpetrator doesn’t commit the crime to begin with, that the penalties can serve as a deterrent rather than a reactive force.”

Read the full essay here


Maya P., The New School in New York City 

“A federal law pertaining to NCP (nonconsensual pornography) should be modeled after current Illinois law relating to the matter. Illinois law is specific regarding revenge porn: definitively defining material as revenge porn, specifically including selfies and sexual images regardless of nudity; motives, whether they intend to harm the victim or not are inconsequential; strong punishments, classifying revenge porn as a Class 4 Felony with prison time, fines, and forfeiture of profits from the pornographic material; punishment of downstream distributors, not only the original perpetrator; honoring the first amendment with exceptions for various lawful purposes; and doxxing personal information of the victim (Public Act 098-1138, 2015).

This is an extensive, comprehensive law that provides the highest level of justice along with protective measures for the victim. Furthermore, the law allows for exceptions regarding lawful public purpose, such as reporters, lawful criminal investigations, reporting illegal conduct, and voluntary indecent exposure in public settings.”


Aaliyah J., Southern New Hampshire University 

“To see if our current system is effective enough, we must ask, ‘Will this effectively prevent future cases from happening? Will This teach current offenders that victims are affected by their actions in some way?’ 

There are no federal laws against revenge porn. If there were a federal law to guideline the severity of a revenge porn offense it would be easier to forewarn those against doing the crime.”


Alicia M., Penn College of Technology 

“Personally, I think the laws and punishment for revenge porn should be more severe than they are now. Someone’s life and career could be ruined by a single photograph. Different states define revenge porn in different ways, but the result is always the same. Someone feeling robbed of their privacy, shame, embarrassment, loss of trust in other people, and the violation of their basic human right article 12, their right to privacy.

I have known people that have tried to commit suicide due to the embarrassment and shame of revenge porn.”


Ashia L., The University of Alabama

“It is my belief that legal scholars who call for IBSA (image-based sexual abuse) to not only be charged as a felony, but also considered as a form of sexual abuse and requiring registration as a sex offender are justified in their position. Usually one could argue that increasing the severity of punishment does little to deter prospective offenders from committing the crime, but in the case of IBSA, the inequitable approach to its consequences are actively harmful and imbalanced.”


Shawna V., University of Phoenix:

“A child’s innocence and future are worth a lot more than a year in prison and a possible fine of $4,000. Matter of fact I don’t think all the money in the world could sustain such damage to a child’s future. But I believe if these crimes were treated as all other sex crimes and the criminals were treated as a sex offender, I believe that they would think twice before inflicting unnecessary pain on another human being. And maybe just maybe this world would become a safer place to live. Respect would be instilled in our children and all future generations to come.”


Wendy A., Columbia Basin College

“The principal reasons for which the law against revenge porn should be more severe is the cause of the invasion of privacy, harassment, public embarrassment, and trauma for the victims. I personally believe that when a person makes the mistake to record or take images of their intimacy with their partners or with anyone else, they shouldn’t be publicly exposed because of it. This creates personal and psychological damage to the person, causing them to experience severe emotional distress, including and especially to those who have been recorded or taken images of during intimacy without their consent.

Unfortunately, many victims have even gone to the extremity of committing suicide because of these motives.

In my opinion, it would be even more beneficial and justifiable if victims of revenge porn had the right to be compensated by the accoster for inducing psychological and moral damage.”


Madison R., The College of William & Mary

“As a victim of revenge porn, I believe these consequences are strict; however, the specifics of this law make it almost impossible for the victim to get justice.

In April 2016, I had hundreds of messages from random males and females about inappropriate images posted by my ex-boyfriend on PornHub. These images included my name and a direct link to my Facebook where people could send messages to comment, harass, or extort. Not only did I fear for these images leaking to the public, most importantly, I was worried for my own safety. Facebook listed my location, my job, and my school. Anyone could track me down to get these images or do worse harm. After meeting with a detective about my options, it was clear that there were not many.

The detective said I could go to court if I wanted, but it would be difficult to prove malintent. The defendant could easily argue he or she did not intend to “coerce, harass, or intimidate” the victim. Even though I had text messages from my ex-boyfriend admitting to this crime, a judge or lawyer could argue that anyone could have sent those texts from his phone. I did not have enough evidence to make a case. Ultimately, I did not press charges. I deleted all social media and changed my name online in order to protect my identity and safety. I receive medication and therapy for mental anguish while many people run carefree with my intimate images, and my ex-boyfriend lives a happy and normal life.

Revenge porn is a modern sex crime that should be treated as such. The ramifications and the impact on the victims are often just as severe. With the increase in technology and maliciousness, I hope that revenge porn is soon treated as a sex crime at the federal level with fewer loopholes and more clarification across all states.”


Adriana B., College of Southern Maryland

“As someone who has had an ex post these types of pictures, it made me feel worthless, vulnerable, embarrassed, and ashamed. I was in high school when it happened, and it was the worst decision I ever made. This ex threatened to kill themselves if I did not send the pictures they wanted. Being young, dumb, and naïve, I sent them.

Looking back now I wish I had not. These types of images shared between two people should always stay private. It should be illegal to post pictures like revenge porn because of the mental toll it can take on a person. I wanted to quit school, it made me feel so worthless. There should be a punishment for the people who think it is okay to ruin someone else’s self-image and their self-worth.”


Rachel D., Point Loma Nazarene University

“In my small town at the local middle school, we had an experience with revenge porn. One of the students was exposed through a series of texts sent to multiple people at the school. She was embarrassed and ashamed, but most of all she was betrayed by someone who she thought was her friend. The offender was investigated by local police and they were able to delete the images off of every phone that they were sent to. Since the offender wasn’t of age, he was lucky enough to only get an expulsion as punishment, since in California a possible penalty is ‘misdemeanor, up to six months in jail, [or] fine up to $1,000’ (FindLaw). Although he didn’t get sentenced to jail as many states suggest as a possible penalty for revenge porn, he at least had some form of punishment, and it was severe enough to make him and other possible offenders at our middle school think twice before they seek revenge.

All in all, I would love to see a change in the states that don’t have possible penalties for revenge porn, and I hope that all of the victims are equally heard. I am hoping that we can get the number of states that have specific laws outlawing the distribution of revenge porn from 41 all the way to 50.”


Fallon Z., Central New Mexico Community College 

“A wise woman once advised me to never put anything down on paper that I would not want to be printed on the largest billboard on the most traveled street. Many times, I have contemplated the ramifications of some of my thoughts read by a ridiculously large amount of people. As a result, I have been extremely careful what it is I put ink to paper.

So, in determining if the laws regarding revenge porn should be more severe, one would only be able to address the 41 states and the District of Columbia that have laws. Then considering the battle to prosecute as well as weighing a possible violation of the first amendment, perhaps the answer lies more in the practice of ‘preventive medicine.’ Perhaps when signing agreements with social media sites, an explicit understanding regarding postal obligations should be more ethically declared.”


Maria D., St. Elizabeth School of Nursing

“I believe the law should be severe relating to revenge porn because it takes away someone else dignity, respect, and privacy.

I believe that [revenge porn] can be prevented by using the same method as HIPAA used in the medical field.

HIPAA is a way to prevent releasing patients’ information unless the patient allows health professions to do so. We keep them confidential and no one outside the facility knows anything about their medical information. There are penalties that come with violating HIPAA which include: getting fired, criminal charges, and paying fines.

I believe that people who create [revenge porn] should go to jail, get charged with criminal charges, and have a protective order against them… It is hard to tell someone to stop, but if there are consequences involved, then there is a better way to prevent future violations.”


Jessica Z., University of Massachusetts Amherst

“Although 46 states and Washington D.C out of the 50 states in the U.S have passed revenge porn laws, these laws have been slow to emerge, and much more needs to be done to protect victims of revenge porn. Because of this, I am in strong agreement that laws against revenge porn must be more severe.

Due to the lack of governmental laws, being online in cyberspace means that not everything is strictly monitored. Because of this, it is even more crucial that laws and policies need to be put in place so that younger generations become aware of the severity of posting photos of nonconsensual material online.

The after-effects of revenge porn are detrimental for victims since their photos and videos are posted online for millions of users to see. This can potentially destroy a victims’ potential education, career, and future opportunities to come.

In addition to laws becoming more severe, our institutions should teach us how to protect ourselves if we did have our photos or videos shared online without our consent. With the internet being such a commonplace to share non-consensual content, we must learn to protect our privacy.”


Nat G., Temple University

“The laws that surround revenge porn should be more restrictive to protect those who are victims of the practice.

More restrictive laws for revenge porn could include non-discriminatory laws prohibiting the ability of an employer to not hire someone based on internet content. Additionally, laws protecting the restricted access of the individual’s internet accessibility and how the internet can view their unsolicited material could also be implemented to prevent stalkers or web thieves from acquiring the digital material.

Looking forward, revenge porn laws should positively affect those who are victimized by this practice, the majority of which are women. New laws and restrictions could help prevent job loss and promote security among individuals affected by the revenge porn crisis.”


Patricia T., University of Phoenix

“Texas needs to be applauded for being one of the 45 states with a law protecting victims from revenge porn. However, the consequences for a reprehensible and immoral crime should be equal to or greater than the consequences deliberately placed on the victim. Arizona state has made revenge porn a felony, which has a stronger negative impact on the criminal, allowing them to reap a small portion of what they subjected their victim to.”


Angelina  M., University of Wyoming

“The laws against revenge porn should be more severe. More states are passing targeted legislation towards criminalizing the non-consensual distribution of sexually explicit photos and as of this year, 46 states including D.C. have successfully done so but it is not enough. More needs to be done. This problem will continue to happen at an increasing rate unless stricter laws and punishments are put into place.

I have volunteered as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and other interpersonal violence. While doing this I have come across many cases, unfortunately, of revenge porn being used as a tactic to further abuse and victimize the survivor(s) of the perpetrator.

There is also no specific federal law that targets revenge porn but Representative Jackie Speier from the state of California has been attempting to introduce a bill to make it illegal to knowingly distribute sexually explicit photos. Doing these things can make a huge step towards giving victims of this crime more control, feel less violated, and feel more comfortable reporting the crime.

Overall, the victims of the crime should be the focus and right now they are not. If they were there would have been stricter laws already passed regarding this, but right now not even every state has bothered to criminalize revenge porn. It is a very violating thing to have to happen to you and the punishment for this crime needs to reflect that.”


Kaleigh M., Valencia College

“Revenge porn cannot simply be removed or undone. Those images exist forever; you cannot put the cat back into the bag. In light of Covid-19, the revenge porn issue has been magnified. People are stuck at home and sometimes sending photos, videos, and zooming are the only ways to be intimate with people.

The fact that it is so easy to get away with posting nonconsensual photos and videos is frightening. Most states have laws protecting victims, but the punishments are so inconsequential and easily avoided that there is no real risk for the person committing the crime.

Revenge porn will continue to be a growing problem in this country until clearer laws with stricter consequences are put into effect.”


Doreen A., University of Phoenix

“In my experienced opinion publishing explicit images of anyone without consent or knowledge should be treated as sexual harassment, fines should be attached for first-time offenders while repeat offenders should face at least three years of prison time for such an act only because it can cause the victim considerable damage or harm. As a citizen, we expect to be protected from having our character damaged by any spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, or lover who seeks revenge all in the name of feeling jilted by their significant other.”


Charisma H., University of Phoenix

“I live in Michigan where the revenge porn law is a misdemeanor and is punishable by not more than 93 days in jail and or a maximum fine of $500, a second violation would be a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than a year or maximum fine of $1,000. I find Michigan’s law to be lenient compared to other states. I seriously think the first offense should be a felony due to the type of effects that releasing such a hateful act can bring upon the affected party/parties.

As adults, we have to set examples for those who are coming after us to show them the difference between right and wrong and committing crimes such as revenge porn takes a lot of thought and audacity. If a person cannot move on with their lives peacefully and respectfully without feeling the need to hurt someone whether it is in physical or mental form, then they need to suffer the consequences of possibly ruining someone’s life.”


Brittany B., Southern Methodist University

“I believe that fines are a reasonable punishment if you sent the photos intentionally…

Revenge porn is explicit harassment that needs to be stopped and more well known. The more known these laws and consequences are, the more people will avoid sending nudes and avoid vengeful acts. Even if you only consented to one person seeing your photos, always look at the effects that could come.”


Leslie M., University of Phoenix

“Despite having proper statistical research in all 50 states regarding revenge, porn, revision of statutes is essential. Under [Arizona] A.R.S. §13-1425, ‘it is unlawful for a person to intentionally disclose an image of another person who is identifiable from the image itself or the information displayed in connection with the image,’ and a violation of this section is a class 5 felony. However, not all 50 states have acknowledged that this magnitude affects the victims and only recognizes specific actions.”


Kaylee V., Western Michigan University

“To [revenge porn] victims, the consequences are lifelong. Many will experience social isolation, severe mental trauma, as well as online and offline harassment. The perpetrators, however, will experience no consequence of their own in 4 U.S. states as of 2020. In many states, this iniquitous act is classified as a simple misdemeanor.

Based on the mental health issues, real-world implications, and lack of a significant deterrent, laws against revenge porn should be much more severe than they are in order to protect and respect the victims.

Asher Flynn, an associate professor of criminology at Monash University is quoted as saying ‘We need community attitudes to change so that we place the blame and shame on the perpetrator, not on the victim.’ Part of this change involves harsher punishment for these offenders.”


Lauren H., Moraine Valley Community College

“I believe that the laws against nonconsensual pornography should be tougher and in place in all states of America… In Illinois, revenge porn is considered a class four felony and the maximum amount of prison received is three years and a fine of 25,000 dollars. I don’t believe that three years and 25,000 dollars is enough time or money for someone who exposes another person’s body without their consent.

A lack of consent in any situation deserves to be severely penalized and nonconsenual pornography is no different. Victims of revenge porn do not deserve to be silenced under any circumstance…Living life every day as a victim of revenge porn could ruin a person inside and out, so it’s important that they are able to get some sense of justice in such an unfair digital world we now live in.”


Gabrielle R., Chicago School of Professional Technology

“Ireland has no protections or interventions to help victims of revenge porn. Recently, a young woman named Dara Quigley was hospitalized for a mental health crisis. While being detained, she was naked and videotaped by bystanders. A security guard videotaped the footage himself and shared it online, where it had been viewed 125,000 times. This woman inevitably ended her own life because of this, and nobody faced any criminal repercussions. This lack of protection leaves all kinds of individuals’ lives at risk, including those who are most vulnerable.

The question is rather, should the American law fully and federally recognize violence in these forms of new media? Or should digital media be omitted from the ways in which individuals are allowed to harm one another?”


Jordyyn H., Texas State University

“After doing extensive research on the law regarding revenge porn, Texas Penal Code Section 21.16, in Texas, I believe that the law is perfect the way it is. I do not think it needs to be worsened or loosened at all.

In my opinion, I do not see the need to add anything else to this law. The plaintiff will get justice deserved if the other party is found guilty.”


William M., Mercy General Hospital

“I believe that the intent of a crime is important, that’s why there are different murder charges. But to have a penalty be so low, in relative to the high bar set on the prosecution proving the offender’s intent seems not right. So, in California, I believe two new penal codes should be proposed to replace the old one. A higher level crime, for when malicious intent and emotional distress are caused, and a lower level, for when the images or video posted online by the offender was done either by some sort of accident or miscommunication, but otherwise no malicious intent can be proven.”


Sarah T., University of Phoenix

“There are plenty of offenders who commit revenge porn acts but may not be convicted. I believe the penalties for revenge porn offenders are severe enough. However, I do see the need to have more specific legal proceedings that offenders can be held to… There are offenders whose charges may not be felony or misdemeanor charge worthy, but they still need some type of consequence for their actions. If the offender’s crime does not meet these qualifications then they could be ordered to partake in community service, placed on probation, or attend a class about sex crimes.

Having some type of repercussion for offenders, especially young offenders, is going to help them learn. When offenders do not receive a penalty at all for their actions they are likely to offend again, so covering an array of convictions is extremely important.”


Jayne D., University of Phoenix

“Without a shadow of doubt, the answer is yes, laws should be more severe. In Texas, where I live, revenge porn is a class A Misdemeanor. Depending if it is a repeat offense, then it can become a felony. There is a fine of 4,000 and covering the court costs of the victim. Even up to one year in jail can be the punishment for revenge porn, but it is not enough. This is something that harms not just a person’s social life but their personal lives as well. The emotional trauma that can be caused from this deserves counseling and acknowledgment of the damages that it creates.

As a woman, I have seen close family members devastated just by someone sharing intimate details of them to others. I can only imagine their devastation if their intimate moments were shared online out of anger. No one has the right to embarrass or cause shame to someone in that way. This is a crime that can cause someone to commit suicide or harm themselves. Victims can lose their jobs and become a social pariah because of revenge porn.

A victim must live with the consequences for the rest of their lives, they deserve justice. There is always harmful intent when submitting intimate photos online, there is no grey area. By implementing more severe punishments, I wholeheartedly believe there will be a decline in revenge porn.”


Joy W., Lincoln Memorial University

“You would think, at least, each state would have it listed as a misdemeanor. Revenge porn is one of those things that we are seeing more and more of, but like accusations of rape, it is often accompanied by victim-blaming.

A person can get harsher punishments for fraud and embezzlement than they would for revenge porn in some states. The law, thus the people, will value money over the value of someone’s right to their own body.

I would hope that soon all states would have some sort of punishment for those that commit acts of revenge porn. Furthermore, I hope all states raise the punishment to include the perpetrators become registered sex offenders at the very least.”


Charlotte W., Northern Illinois University College of Law

I do not believe the laws against revenge porn should be more severe. I believe the remedies for revenge porn cases should be modified to a restorative justice model. Restorative justice utilizes a structured meeting between offenders, victims, and the parties’ family and friends. The purpose of this conference is to come together for straightforward problem-solving that demonstrates how citizens can resolve relevant legal issues when provided with a constructive forum to do so.

…the current criminal legal process often leaves victims feeling re-victimized because the sentence imposed does not restore the victim. Offenders and their family units are often fractured and damaged by sentencing.

In participating in a restorative justice format, it is easier to recognize that the offender has caused harm to a victim, their community and even themselves by uploading revenge pornography. Success of utilizing a restorative justice format to address revenge pornography crimes is measured differently. Instead of determining how harshly punishment is inflicted on the perpetrator, success is measured by resolution of the matter and healing of both the victim and perpetrator.”


Brent H., University of Phoenix

“We do not have a lot of control in our daily lives. We cannot control the weather, the traffic, or the decisions made in congress. What we should always be in control of, is privacy. Revenge porn goes beyond a violation of privacy. It goes beyond humiliation and embarrassment. Emotional trauma and psychiatric disorders could easily stem from such an event. The victim might feel as if his/her reputation is forever tarnished. The victim might feel their career might be in jeopardy if the pornography went viral.

Exploiting nude pictures or videos of another human being is a big no-no in my book of morality and I would 100% back the implementation of revenge porn being considered a felony.”


Daylyn B., University of Kentucky

“Distributing sexually explicit images or videos of an individual without their consent is humiliating, embarrassing and something that can never be undone. The person doing such an act should face many consequences. Laws against revenge porn should be more severe than what they are currently.

A severe punishment can prevent and protect victims from experiencing such trauma. Also, those knowing that the repercussions of this crime are severe can prevent others from doing such acts. In today’s society, the majority of women who experience revenge porn never say anything about it or tell anyone because they know that nothing would happen, and the person who did it would just basically get away with it, so they just say nothing at all.

Revenge porn is not a mistake, it is a selfless act that one commits against someone else that can destroy a person, and that is why the laws against it should be more severe.”


Tyrone J., Lane Community College

“A person convicted of violating Texas’ revenge porn law can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. Penalties for the crime include up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. Plus the convicted person will also have a criminal record. It could be charged as a felony offense, however, and you could do years of prison time. Either way, it’s not enough. That’s basically a slap on the wrist for something that destroyed or could destroy someone’s whole life, leave them scarred, and never feeling happy again. It could destroy other relationships and friendships, whether they be current, future, or past relationships. It’s just so incredibly wrong.”


Jacob B., Colorado State University

“The emotional damage these photos bring onto the victim cannot even be put into words. The judgment others have towards the victim, the feeling of isolation and the effect on personal relationships cannot be taken back. Even the press and other news outlets released articles on how the sex crime was a scandal, which dismisses the seriousness of the situation and put the blame on the victim. Thus, while 41 states have improved laws regarding the news topic of revenge porn, I believe there should be a harsher punishment. There will never be a consequence these attackers can endure to make up for the damaging effects they cause. But, a stricter sentence and or a heavier fine would be a good starting point for the states with less serious punishments.


Alexander H., Guilford Technical Community College

“This is a law that does not matter until it happens to you… If someone ruined my reputation through a selfie I took, I would want some creative discipline done to them. I do not think that jail is the answer to everything.

I would have those found guilty go to an accountability camp. There they would have the opportunity to learn how to behave properly in society. You must know that there are consequences for your actions. If a person is not held accountable for their actions, they then [may] repeat them.”


Samuel Saul R., Mississippi College

“The laws against revenge porn should be more severe. Although our criminal sentencing system needs reworked, as technology and society advance, we need to re-evaluate how certain crimes are treated. The main reason that laws against revenge porn should be more severe is to acknowledge how society has changed in how inappropriate photos and videos are now common.

The key to the revenge porn laws should be consent. If everyone featured in the pictures and videos consent, then there is no problem. Consent can be revoked, in which case pictures and videos should be removed. Consent can never be given and therefore these photos and videos should never leave the private possession of the person that receives them.”


Calling all students: compete in our next scholarship essay contest!

A big shout out to all the students who participated in this scholarship essay contest. Though we were only able to choose 1 winner, everyone featured above should be proud of their thoughtful response. We wish you the best in your studies!

Whether you’ve participated in our essay contest before or you’d like to compete for a chance to win our next $1,000 scholarship, we invite you to visit our Scholarship page to see the next essay question and submit your entry (due by August 10, 2021). Students must be actively enrolled at the university with a valid student ID number and currently enrolled in classes in order to be eligible.

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