Three Gopher basketball players were benched for the rest of the season last week because a video of a sex act, featuring at least one of them, appeared on Twitter.

The details of the video and the motivations of the person who posted it remain unknown. But while that person may face a world of troubles, going to jail probably isn’t one of them.

State Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, thinks that’s all the more argument for his bill criminalizing “revenge porn.” That’s when jilted spouses and lovers express their rage by posting sexual images of their ex-partners on the Internet, accompanied by their full names, contact information and commentary.

It’s a practice that shakes your faith in the basic decency of humans. If you had any faith left.

More than two dozen states have passed laws to stop the practice, most of them in the past three years. Some Minnesota lawmakers feel a special urgency to act, given the law previously used to prosecute this behavior, the criminal defamation statute, was declared unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals last year.

“If you are the victim of revenge porn or any kind of image exploitation, you have virtually no recourse,” said Lesch, a former prosecutor in the St. Paul city attorney’s office. “That violates all sense of decency and fair play to post something like this.”

The bill would create both criminal and civil consequences for “nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images,” as well as “nonconsensual sexual solicitation,” which is defined as using the “personal information of another to invite, encourage, or solicit sexual acts without the individual’s consent” to harass that person.

To be convicted, the perpetrator has to know that the person depicted did not agree to share the image with anyone else, and had reason to believe it would remain private.

The term “revenge porn” in its current meaning didn’t even exist a decade ago. It exploits the relentless self-documentation that so many people mistake for life these days.

For a distressing number of people, no intimate act is complete without a smartphone camera rolling. Even more common are the naked selfies that have replaced love letters as the instruments of long-distance intimacy.

Those files can easily become weapons, when they show up in Google searches by prospective employers.

“We know that one photo can ruin your career,” said Danielle Citron, a law professor at the University of Maryland and author of the book “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace.” Citron believes there’s a need for these revenge porn laws, given the inadequacy of most states’ harassment laws to encompass this behavior.

Still, outlawing the posting of lawful images can quickly run afoul of the First Amendment. Lesch said the Minnesota bill is narrowly written to avoid trampling on people’s right to free expression, but the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is skeptical, not to mention resistant to creating another reason to put somebody in jail.

Revenge porn thrives on the existence of websites that specialize in humiliation. They typically have the word “ex” in their URLs, and the descriptions and comments expressed toward the people, usually women, in the photos are nauseating.

Society has found ways to go after the worst offenders, even without specific laws against revenge porn. Hunter Moore, a Californian once labeled the “most hated man on the Internet,” paid someone to hack into Gmail accounts and steal naked photos, which Moore posted on his website, isanyoneup.com. The website is down, and Moore is serving a federal prison term after pleading guilty last year to identity theft and computer fraud.

Some have invoked copyright to get their images taken off websites, but that can mean turning over your sexts and other private images to the government for registration.

Perhaps some day, there will be so many nudie pics and sex tapes online that they will lose their power to mess up people’s lives. Until then, when the clothes come off, please put away the phone.

 

Contact James Eli Shiffer at james.shiffer@startribune.com or 612-673-4116.