How Parliament Changed Its Mind On Revenge Porn

The Italian Parliament has finally adopted the amendment on revenge porn

On Thursday, March 28, the Italian Chamber of Deputies rejected an amendment to the so-called “Codice Rosso bill” which would have introduced the crime of revenge porn, that is the practice of spreading private images and videos without the consent of the person concerned. The amendment had been proposed together by opposing parties, from Forza Italia to the Democratic Party to Liberi e Uguali, but it was rejected by the votes of the League and Five Stars Movement (5SM). Extensive protests erupted soon after, which led the leader of the 5SM Luigi Di Maio to announce a change of line saying that his party could vote for the amendment during chamber discussions the following week. The amendment was rejected by only 14 votes. The “Codice Rosso” bill was aimed at speeding up investigations into cases of violence against women.

However, things changed on April 2, when the Italian Chamber unanimously adopted the amendment, establishing thus the crime of revenge porn. Those who committed this offence could therefore be accused of harassment, violation of privacy and defamation, and even incitement to suicide when the victims take their own lives following the publication of these videos or images. The text currently provides that “anyone who sends, delivers, sells, publishes or disseminates images or videos of sexual organs or sexually explicit content destined to remain private without the consent of the persons represented, is punished with imprisonment from one to six years and with a fine from 5,000 to 15,000 euros. The same penalty applies to those who, having received or in any case acquired the images or videos, send, deliver, sell, publish or disseminate those without the consent of the persons represented in order to bring harm to them.”

Italy’s got a sordid history of revenge porn

Revenge porn is a practice that has existed for many years, and that periodically comes up in the newspapers due to serious cases. One of the best known in Italy is the one that involved Tiziana Cantone, a 31-year-old Neapolitan who committed suicide in 2016 after some of her private sexual videos, released without her approval, had been widely shared online. The law rejected on March 28, which had former president of the Chamber Laura Boldrini as its first signatory, aimed to fill an Italian regulatory gap by introducing a new type of crime and forcing online platforms to remove such videos within 48 hours.

The 5SM tried to justify itself by claiming that there was a need for a more comprehensive law on the subject and that an amendment was not sufficient. Therefore, in the meanwhile, they presented to the Senate a bill on the same subject, which introduced penalties from six months to 3 years for those who publish private photos without the consent of the interested party, which could increase up to 4 years in the case of former partners and up to 10 years if the victim kills themself. This position was also supported by Giulia Sarti, a Five Star Movement MP who had left the party in February following a scandal about the so-called fraudulent returns, having been herself a victim of revenge porn. This change of position was partly due to the heavy pressure from civil society and the opposition. However, it also shows a significant misunderstanding and lack of decisional capacity from the political class, and especially from the current majority.

Even the comedian Lucia Litizzetto asked on live television Sunday evening that Italian politicians take the issue of revenge porn more seriously. The issue is a fully-fledged problem: a recent report of “Le Iene” on a Telegram group where these kinds of pictures are shared, shed some light on the cruel reality. A Wired journalist tried to infiltrate the “Il Canile” group, which has been active since 2016, where more than 2,000 men share photos of their girlfriends, friends, and sisters on a daily basis encouraging other users to make sexual comments and verbal violence against the victims, who are often minors. Screenshots of these conversations would make you shudder. Phrases such as “Females are just meat to fuck and rape, to hit the net point and that’s it” are on the agenda, along with sharing information on how to recover rape drugs and videos of sexual violence.

About the law and cultural problems

What’s more, the text provides for the same penalty to be also applied to “those who, having received the material in question, publish and disseminate it with the aim of causing damage to the person or persons in the photos or videos. It also stipulates that the penalty increases in the event that the dissemination of compromising material takes place at the hands of the spouse, even separated or divorced, or by a person linked or who has been linked to that offense. The same thing applies if the distribution of the material takes place through IT or telematic tools.”

Making this type of crime punishable is certainly an example of a civil society and the only way to protect the real victims. However, it should make us reflect deeper on the reasons that still in Italy determines such blame for sexual activity and the taboo that still characterizes pornography. There are three, quite distinct problems, which should not be confused with each other. First, we have a cultural problem that leads women to be the first targets of this practice. In fact, in the great majority of cases, it is men who share videos and photos of their ex-partners or partners because they have been abandoned or simply are trying to have fun, not the other way around. Many men still see women as property, not very far from a motorcycle or a car; therefore, they are barely punished when they mistreat their property, the women.

The second real problem is that even if such a law could act as a deterrent for this type of behavior, it does not limit the psychological trauma that victims suffer and that they will have to deal with for the rest of their lives. Therefore, this law should be accompanied by the obligation of necessary psychological support to prevent the victims from resorting to suicide, as was the case for Tiziana Cantone.

The topic of revenge porn opens the door to another important question. It is not always the case that those who participated in “consenting” porn really did consent. The porn industry takes advantage of illegal prostitution and the same goes for child pornography. Often, even behind what seems like amateur porn, there is someone who is forcing someone else. For instance, the Hot Girls Wanted case, a Netflix documentary, showed the recruitment of girls by false promises and cheating, and then forcing them into brutal practices and humiliating them without their consent.

However, if the sex industry doesn’t work, eliminating it and demonizing it certainly isn’t a solution. There are those who are working from the inside to make it a better environment for those who are part of it. In this regard, there is an ethical porn industry developing. But what does ethical porn mean? It could be defined as porn made legally, which requires the full consent of the participants, respects their rights, protects their working conditions and offers them fair compensation, as well as showing a more realistic version of sex, representing diversity and not discriminatory. In any case, even the example of ethical porn teaches us something important. The basis of any sexual relationship that is taken up, shared or performed requires the consent of all participants.