Abuse Using Technology

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August 24, 2016

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.