The Ever-Increasing Role of “Revenge Porn” In Divorce

By Andrew Zashin*

As technology continues to progress, access to our everyday lives continues to increase. The more accessible we become, the more potential pitfalls grow. It is unlikely that a clearer example of this trend exists than in the realm of divorce. Our technological footprints follow us everywhere we go, and when a divorce turns contentious, our former spouses and partners may have access to what was left behind, and the malicious intent to use it for their advantage.

Unsurprisingly, a common scenario is the dissemination of intimate content, like photographs, videos, or messages between once intimate partners. Today, every person carries a cell phone, and every cell phone is equipped with a camera. Far too often, images that were meant for the original recipient are malevolently shown to others or published on Social Media.

Law progresses too, and fortunately, there are several areas of Ohio law that help corral this problem. In Ohio, prior to 2019, the dissemination of nude or explicit photos of an adult without their consent was not a crime. Thankfully, House Bill 497 and Ohio Revised Code 2917.211, Dissemination of image of another person, changed all of that. Now, “revenge porn” is illegal regardless of an individual’s age. A conviction for a violation of R.C. 2917.211, a misdemeanor of the third degree on your first offense, could result in a sentence of up to 60 days in jail and up to a $500.00 fine. Subsequent convictions would increase the potential penalties.

R.C. 2717.211 is not the only criminal consequence for such actions. As you can imagine, perpetrators of the original charge seldom send a single explicit photo; rather, it is far more likely that someone so inclined to do this sends a series of messages/Facebook posts/ Instagram posts and direct messages, etc. to harm another person. The individual could very well be charged with a violation of R.C. 2917.21, Telecommunications Harassment. A conviction of this charge is a misdemeanor of the first degree and could result in up to 180 days in jail, and a fine not to exceed $1000. Further, any subsequent charges following your first conviction for Telecommunications Harassment will be charged a felony.

Its important to note that R.C. 2917.21 is not limited to explicit content. For example, calling, texting or messaging a former spouse an inordinate amount of times could result in charges if a prosecutor believes the actions indicate it was only done to harass. The frequency, nature and content of the communications would play a large role in this determination.

To some, these scenarios may seem far-fetched. They are not. Rather, examples of this behavior are sadly growing in frequency. Sending explicit images to your spouse’s new significant other is relatively common. Extreme examples include a scorned individual inundating their former spouse’s place of business with explicit content, ranging from posting nude photographs on the business’s social media accounts to messaging the former spouse’s co-workers explicit content to calling the business several hundred times per day. In this last scenario, the matter was eventually turned over to the FBI by local law enforcement.

Regardless of how contentious a divorce becomes, it is never appropriate nor beneficial to go down the road of disseminating another’s intimate information. What may seem cathartic at the time, could quickly land someone in serious criminal peril.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Columbus Jewish News.