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Prosecuting High-Tech Perversion

Perpetrators today can easily record nonconsensual pornography without having to conceal their behavior.

ALBANY, N.Y. (February 28, 2017) — Technological advances offer new avenues of expression for everyone, and unfortunately “everyone” includes sexual abusers.

The widespread availability of cameras has made it easier to take covert recordings of an individual’s intimate body parts, and whether sexually explicit images are recorded with or without an individual’s consent, growing access to the Internet has facilitated the nonconsensual dissemination of those images.

Criminal laws, however, have not kept pace with technology in most jurisdictions across the U.S. In a paper that will soon be published in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Cynthia Najdowski, an assistant professor in the School of Criminal Justice (SCJ), examines the extent to which laws across the U.S. adequately address nonconsensual pornography.

Najdowski finds that current statutes are plagued with a variety of caveats that may make prosecution of nonconsensual pornography difficult, typically leaving victims of nonconsensual pornography with no avenue by which to seek justice.

Cynthia Najdowski

Cynthia Najdowski, assistant professor of Criminal Justice.

“For instance,” said Najdowski, “one-third of states’ laws require that recordings be made covertly, without the victim’s knowledge. Yet high-quality recording devices are now standard equipment in mobile technology, such as phones, tablets, and laptop computers, and defense attorneys have argued that recordings are not covert if taken in plain sight.

“Thus, many statutes are incongruent with the fact that perpetrators can easily record nonconsensual pornography without having to conceal their behavior.” Najdowski’s findings indicate that legal reform addressing this problem has been insufficient.

William Alex Pridemore, SCJ dean, said that “Professor Najdowski’s research reveals how difficult it is for the law and the criminal justice system to keep pace with changing technology. She also highlights how some groups remain vulnerable to victimization by this new form of invasive, illegal, and damaging behavior.

“Her work is timely, socially relevant, brings clarity to legal and practical inconsistencies, and hopefully will have a direct impact on public policy.”

Najdowski calls for increased attention to the links between policy and criminal justice management of nonconsensual pornography. In particular, she suggests that policy development could be guided by viewing the problem as a form of violence against women, given that existing evidence suggests that women are more likely than men to be victims.

“I consider how the feminist perspective might highlight the deleterious effects nonconsensual pornography has on women’s human rights and, in turn, help to increase visibility of the problem,” she said, adding that further empirical study is needed to both advance the social science literature related to violence against women and guide policymakers as they navigate this rapidly changing area of law.

Najdowski’s research uses psychological theory to understand criminal justice and legal issues, particularly those concerning vulnerable and victimized populations.

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