5 Questions: Judy Schwank’s Crusade Against “Revenge Porn”

“If somebody drew a caricature, that would be covered, but not this type of incident.”

1234State Sen. Judy Schwank doesn’t like the term “revenge porn” — but she does want to crack down on it. The Berks County Democrat is sponsoring a bill that would impose tough penalties on people — usually men — who capture intimate photos and videos of their partner, then post those salacious images online after the two break up.

“It’s damaging enough and devastating to the victims, but second of all is that now, after even having this done to you, finding that the photos that you took innocently are now being called ‘pornography,’” she said. “You’ve become an unwitting participant in the pornography industry, I think is a second victimization.”

But she acknowledges the “revenge porn” terminology has enough media resonance to have helped drive her bill closer to passage. “If it takes getting this done and getting more closure to the problem, I’ll live with the term that’s being used now,” she said.


Schwank spoke to Philly Mag about the revenge porn phenomenon, and how her bill intends to end it.

Revenge porn seems really gross and extremely violating. How is this not already a crime?

I guess the reason it's not a crime is because certainly if you look at Pennsylvania statutes, they don't necessarily reflect the latest in technology. This is a crime that seems to be enhanced by the use of the Internet and social media. It's interesting, though. [Pennsylvania law] does cover if somebody drew a caricature, that would be covered, but not this type of incident.

Well then take me through your law. What does it do and how does it penalize these kinds of situations?

First of all, here's how it works: If someone takes images engaged in an intimate sexual act or nude photos, images of an individual — even if it's with their consent when they are taking those images — but either shared them or posted them on an Internet site without their consent, that would be where the problem is. And then as far as the penalty goes, if the victim is a minor, then it's five years in prison and $10,000 fine. If the victim is an adult, it's up to two years and a $5,000 fine.

When crafting a bill like this, it seems to me that there are always attorneys waiting to attack it on First Amendment grounds. How are you crafting this bill to protect against those kinds of challenges?

We were very concerned about that. We looked at laws in New Jersey, California, we've talked with legal experts to review our particular legislation and we worked within the state with the District Attorneys Association as well as the ACLU. And what we did was, by putting this in the criminal code under the harassment statute, and the focus on intent, that seemed to at least allay some of the fears of the free speech issue.

Is there much in the way of opposition to this bill?

Well, amazingly, it went through the Judiciary Committee with a unanimous vote, so I think that's certainly a good sign. The ACLU is neutral on this, but they're not fighting it. I think that's important. I certainly got some feedback on it, not so much from my fellow legislators but from individuals who had been victims of this type of behavior and how devastated they were and their lives were ruined by having this happen to them.

Do you sense then that revenge porn is somewhat common?

I think that it is. It's a behavior that someone wouldn't want to admit to even participating in. I talked with a woman today, and she had images, actually photos, that an ex-lover dropped on the steps at her place of work, in an envelope where it would certainly be seen and picked up. Those photos were taken 20 years ago and came back to haunt her in a way that I don't think she could ever have anticipated. And she said to me, "You know, I was young."

A lot of people certainly of my generation say, "Well, why in God's name would you have done this to begin with?" Well, that may be part of a relationship. Young people think they're going to be in love forever and don't anticipate a fallout from anything like this. But we've also found it's been an issue of control where a partner will say, "Well if you love me, you'll do this." Or they have the photos and hold that over their head: "If you don't stay with me or don't do what I want, I am going to share these with your mom and dad or your boss or your teacher, whoever it may be." It's a pretty serious crime.

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  • Legislators Run Amok

    They should jail anyone who disparages a former lover in any way. Call her fat? 3 years in jail. Say her cooter smells unclean? 5 years in prison. She can’t cook? 18 months in the pen.