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About Abuse

Abuse Using Technology

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Updated: 
August 24, 2016

How can an abuser use images to harass and harm me?

An abuser could use nude or sexual images of you as a way to gain and keep power and control over you. S/he may do this by:

  • sharing intimate images that you sent during your relationship with other people;
  • taking photos or videos of you without your consent; or
  • threatening to share images as a way to scare/ harass you or as a type of blackmail (to try to get you to do something you don’t want to do, for example).

These actions can be part of a pattern of domestic abuse and/or harassment and there are laws that may protect you from this type of behavior.

What is nonconsensual image sharing (often referred to as “revenge porn” or nonconsensual pornography)?

Nonconsensual image sharing or nonconsensual pornography refers to the sharing or distribution of sexual, intimate, nude, or semi-nude photographs or videos of you without your permission. This is also commonly referred to as “revenge porn,” although that term suggests that a scorned partner has shared an ex-partner’s intimate images as a way to “get back” at the ex-partner, and that is not always the actual motivation. In most instances, the abuser posts or threatens to post the images as a way to gain power and control over his/her partner, to harass the person, or to cause the person distress, humiliation, and shame. Nonconsensual image sharing/pornography can include both images or video that was originally shared with consent in the context of an intimate relationship and those obtained without consent through the use of cell phone cameras, hidden cameras, recording a sexual assault, or hacking of devices.

If someone shares my sexual or personal images, is that a crime? What is the crime commonly called?

In many states, there are laws addressing nonconsensual image sharing/nonconsensual pornography. These laws generally prohibit anyone from taking or distributing intimate photographs or videos without the consent of the person shown in the photo/video, or even threatening to do so. Some state’s nonconsensual image sharing laws also specifically prohibit the stealing of personal content, such as images, from a computer or other technological device (in states where there is not a specific nonconsensual image law, stealing of images or content from a device would fall under another law). The term “sharing” refers to the abuser distributing the content in any way, which could include sending it to others over text message or email, posting it on a website, social networking site, or app, or even printing out the pictures and mailing them to others.

The specific name of this crime and the exact definition varies by state. For example, if a person shares intimate photographs or videos of you, these crimes are often referred to as unlawful dissemination of intimate images or unlawful disclosure of private images. In some states, the threat to share or publish the photos or videos can also be a crime, even if they are never actually shared. If the images are taken without your consent or without your knowledge, these crimes often are called unlawful surveillance or invasion of privacy. If image are stolen from your computer, that behavior may be covered under a data theft or computer crime law in your state. You can look for the actual crimes in your state on our Crimes page by entering your state in the drop-down menu.

Additionally, other laws could apply to the abuser’s behavior, depending on the situation. If the abuser is threatening to share the picture unless you provide him/her with money or property, blackmail or extortion laws may apply. The exact laws that may be able to protect you will be different depending on the language of your state’s laws and the facts of your situation. A lawyer in your state may be able to give you legal advice about which laws in your state apply.

How can I find websites where my image is posted online?

Even if you know that the abuser has posted an intimate image of you online, you may not know where the abuser has posted your image. Or you may know of one website where the image was posted, but it is also possible that the abuser has posted the image in other places that you do not know about. It will be important to find out if there are any other websites where the abuser may have posted the image if you want your image removed from those websites. You can search for other places a specific image may be posted online by using a reverse image search on Google.

If you are on a computer:

  • You can search using an image on these computer browsers: Chrome 5+; Internet Explorer 9+; Safari 5+; Firefox 4+.
  • Find the website where your image appears, right-click on the image and select Copy image URL.
  • On images.google.com or any images results page, click the camera icon in the search bar.
  • Paste the URL into the search box.

If you are on a phone, you can use the Chrome app on an Android phone, iPhone, or iPad:

  • Using the Chrome app, find the website where your image appears.
  • Press and hold the image. In the box that appears, touch Search Google for this image. You might need to touch the image once to enlarge it on certain devices.

If the image exists in other places, you will see a list of those places in the search results. It will be important to document these in case this is needed for reporting it to the police or the courts. You can take a screenshot of the results and then go to each website and take a screenshot of each one. Each website will have its own take-down policy. Most take-down policies can be found in the “terms of service” language on the website. There may even be specific instructions for you to follow on how to make a request to have your image removed from the website. If there aren’t any instructions or a take-down policy, there may be other ways you can get your images removed.

If I send a sexually explicit or intimate image to someone, can that person send it to others?

If you send someone intimate pictures of yourself (often referred to as “sexting” if done over texting or a messaging service), it may be unlawful for that person to post or share those pictures without your permission.  The very fact that you sent the pictures to a person does not give that person automatic permission to share the image with anyone or to publish it widely.  However, whether or not it is against the law to share those photos will depend on your state’s specific definition of the crimes related to nonconsensual image sharing as well as the age of the person in the image.  If someone sends (or possesses) an image of a minor in which the minor is “engaging in sexually explicit conduct,” which could mean that the minor is nude or semi-nude, this may violate federal child pornography laws.  You can read more about what types of images may come under federal child pornography laws on the U.S. Department of Justice website.

There may be additional legal protections you can seek if a person shares a sexually explicit or intimate image of you.  For example, depending on the laws in your state, you may be eligible for a restraining order or may have other options in civil court that could help you. You may want to speak with a lawyer in your state for legal advice about your specific situation.

How can I get my images removed if the abuser posted them online?

If you are featured in the photo or video that was posted and you took the photo or video yourself and sent it to the abuser, there may be a legal strategy involving the copyright of your images that you can use to try to get them removed from online. Generally, the person who takes a photo automatically owns the copyright to that image. However, even if the abuser took the photo or video and the copyright belongs to him/her, the person who is featured in the photo or video may also be able to apply to register the copyright to that image under his/her own name. In other words, another way that a person can handle having sexual images of themselves posted without his/her consent is to apply to register the copyright to that image under their own name even before the photo or video is ever posted. Then if the abuser posts the image publicly, you would own the copyright and can file what is called a “takedown notice” (based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998), and request that the relevant Web hosts and search engines remove the image. You can read more about this strategy in an interview with attorney Carrie Goldberg in the New Yorker magazine.

Can I request a restraining order if the abuser has posted an intimate image of me online?

If the abuser made a threat to send intimate pictures of you to another person or to post them online, or if the abuser actually did post intimate pictures, this may be considered a crime. It could come under your state’s harassment crime or there may be a specific crime in your state that prohibits posting intimate images without consent. If this is criminal behavior in your state, you may have the option of reporting that crime to police if you wish to do so.

If there is a crime that covers this behavior in your state, it may also be enough to qualify you for a restraining order. In other states, the legal reasons for getting a restraining order may not cover the threat to reveal sexual images that weren’t yet posted or the posting of images. If you qualify for a restraining order, you may file for one and specifically ask for the order to include a term that states that the abuser cannot post any images of you online and/or that orders the abuser to remove any current images. For information about filing a restraining order in your state and the legal reasons (grounds) for which an order can be granted, please see our Restraining Orders page.

Is it a crime for someone to take or record private or intimate video or images of me without my knowledge or consent?

It depends.  Taking video or photographs of a person committing sexual acts or in a nude or semi-nude state without his/her consent is usually a criminal act if the pictures or videos are taken in a place where you can reasonably expect to have privacy.  For example, if someone places a hidden camera in your bathroom or bedroom and without your knowledge, this is almost always illegal.  However, if you are on a nude beach or in a public park and someone takes a video of you nude or doing sexual acts, it may not be illegal to share these images since you likely cannot expect to have privacy in that public place.  Again, the specific laws in your state will make it clear what is and is not illegal. 

In some states, the same law that prohibits sharing intimate images may also address the act of capturing images without your knowledge or consent.  In many states, crimes that cover both behaviors may be called violation of privacy or invasion of privacy.  However, in other states, the act of capturing your image without your consent may be covered under a different law, often known as voyeurism or unlawful surveillance.  You can look for the actual crimes in your state on our Crimes page by entering your state in the drop-down menu.

Where can I get help if I am the victim of abuse involving sexual or personal images?

A lawyer may be able to give you legal advice and help you determine what laws apply to your situation. You can find legal resources in your state on our Finding a Lawyer page by selecting your state from the drop-down menu. You can also talk to a local domestic or sexual violence program or law enforcement for information on your options and the applicable laws.

Additionally, you may also be able to find help through one of the resources listed on our National Organizations - Posting Nude/Sexual Images Without Consent/”Revenge Porn” page.

How can I prevent the abuser from posting my images on Facebook or Instagram?

Facebook has a project where they provide an emergency option for victims who are fearful that their intimate images may be posted, which you can read more about on the Facebook website. The goal is to prevent an image from being widely shared and to take down images that have already been shared. For this project, Facebook has partnered with non-profit organizations. You can share your image in a safe and secure way to assist Facebook with preventing your image or video from being shared anywhere on Facebook, Messenger, and Instagram. You can read more about how to submit an image on Facebook’s website. For more information on how to use the portal to submit images that you fear someone will post and distribute on Facebook, you can reach out to Facebook’s partnering agency, the Cyber Civil Rights Institute (CCRI) or contact the WomensLaw Email Hotline.