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Letters From The Wasteland: The Revenge Porn Bill?

Published Tuesday, March 25, 2014 12:03 am
clientuploads/Wasteland/Khan175.jpg

I've been pestering the editors here to put me on something more serious from day one. I didn't go into hawk and take on more student loans than a journalism career could ever hope to repay, just so that I could tell self-deprecating stories about my own misadventures. I mean that was part of it … a big part perhaps, but still, I've got more to offer. There are real issues out there that could use the sort of deep in the soup, gonzo-journalism I do best. This publication is known for taking on serious matters and I had no doubt that I could contribute. Unleash Ringo, I endlessly implored, but my pleas fell on deaf ears.

 

Last week, they finally listened … sort of.

 

“Khan get in my office,” shouted Local ARTery editor Mike Tokars. “You've been asking to cover something political, here's your chance. Senate Bill 0532, run with it.”

 

I sat down and he looked at me like I was a dog who'd just wet the carpet.

 

“What's the issue,” I asked, sheepishly returning to my feet as nonchalantly as possible.

 

“What are you asking me for?” he shouted. “I thought you wanted to be an investigative journalist. Go investigate!”

 

Excited, yet nervous about the fact that I wasn't quite sure what to do next, I decided it best to leave the small and crowded confines of our office and get out into the field where I do my best thinking. I made the short trek over to Motorworks and ordered a Highland Porter, while opening up my laptop. I was ready to jump into this thing with both feet.

 

First, I went to the Florida Senate site to search the bill.

 

CS/CS/SB 532: Disclosure of Sexually Explicit Images

 

What? I was sure there was a mistake, so I Googled it.

 

Revenge Porn Bill Passes Florida House

 

Certain there had been some sort of misunderstanding, I called Tokars.

 

“Khan, didn't I just give you an assignment?”

 

“That's the thing, you see, it's just that I wrote down Senate Bill 532, but apparently … it's just that ...”

 

“532 Khan – the revenge porn law. Can you handle it or not?”

 

“Right, well it's just that I thought when you said something political, you meant, you know like the charter school funding bill or casino expansion.”

 

He sighed into the receiver.

 

“This is the ARTery Khan, not the Times. We don't cover politics per se, but this is what you might call a crossover subject, the sort of thing our readers might want to know about – that might affect them personally. You wanna prove you can cover something in Tallahassee, here's your chance. Take it or leave it.”

 

“Oh no, I'll take it ...” I stammered. “I just thought perhaps I'd written it wrong ...”

 

“What's all that noise, are you at lunch?”

 

“Yes, I uh stopped in Motorworks for a working lunch so to speak.”

 

“They don't have food there Khan. What the hell is wrong with you?”

 

He hung up the phone with extreme prejudice.

 

************************************************

 

I began reading the bill, clearly an effort to dissuade scorned lovers from disseminating nude pictures of their exes online, which had apparently become a major issue in the advent of better cell-phone cameras and high-speed internet connections and I immediately wondered which legislator's daughter had fallen victim to the ploy. Then I looked down at my 2008 Samsung flip-phone and wondered how long it would take to upload one of the crappy, hard to decipher photos it takes to a website. Perhaps I was not the best suited reporter for a story whose genesis had been high-technology.

 

Revenge porn on the other hand is older than the internet and I had some second-hand experience to draw from. You see, when I was a sophomore in high school, my friend Joey Fiorello broke up with his girlfriend Lori Ann. Actually, she broke up with him, essentially by way of letting him know that she had been asked to prom by this wrestling star, Dominic Grasso, and had not only told him yes, but hooked up with him at a party the same night.

 

Joey was crushed, enraged even, but what could he do to Dominic Grasso without finding himself in a cross-face chicken wing? Lori Ann had been Joey's first girlfriend and she was not only gorgeous, but let's just say that she had developed early and had also been blessed with generous proportions. Anyway, he comes into gym class that Monday and calls about four of five of us over to a secluded corner of the locker room and pulls out a stack of Polaroids.

 

We couldn't believe our eyes! They were pictures of Lori Ann in all sorts of seductive poses, first wearing lingerie, then topless and finally wearing nothing but a smile. We were pleasantly stunned to say the least and stood there mouths agape.

 

He made us promise not to tell anyone, which of course was impossible. By study hall, just two periods later, half the school had found out and were shaking him down for a quick peek at the twin peaks. Lori Ann was livid. She came up and slapped Joey right in the face at his locker moments after the final bell, and if that wasn't bad enough, Dominic found him in the bus line 10 minutes later and administered the sort of beating that you only usually see in action movies.

 

************************************************

 

Oddly enough, that wasn't the only time I would bare witness to such “revenge.” Growing up, we had this Adult Book Store on the edge of town that offered “discreet film development,” as one of its many supplemental services.

 

Why someone thought that such a place was any safer than sending them off to the lab at K-Mart I'll never know, but by the time we were in college, I remember several instances of guys from high school showing off their 3x5 trophies of some pretty girlfriend who'd left them behind for a frat boy at the state university who seemed to have a brighter future.

 

To make it worse, when they busted the guy who owned the book store in a drug sting years later, they found shoe boxes full of second prints he'd made of what appeared to be every “discrete development” customer he'd had over nearly two decades, seriously, like thousands of them. I had a friend whose father was one of the state cops on the case and he told us that they had to log every single one into evidence, and that there had been barely a couple in the entire town who hadn't been luridly immortalized on either glossy or matte prints, depending on their preference.

 

Apparently, what had been a somewhat isolated issue – and not one that gathered a lot of sympathy for the girl back then, I might note – had grown into an epidemic during an age where nearly everyone had the equivalent of a high-resolution camera/video recorder on their phone.

 

Perhaps it was the spontaneity that digital phones made possible, or the fact that they didn't produce a physical product to worry about. Also, while there was something creepy about a guy bringing a Polaroid camera or a giant beta video recorder into the bedroom. Cell phones are ever present, though the possibilities they emit usually go unconsidered.

 

I did a quick poll of my close friends, nearly all of whom admitted to sexting provocative images back and forth to current or ex-girlfriend/boyfriends – and sometimes with people that they weren't even in a relationship with. Sending digital images of your junk to a prospective partner had apparently become a sort of modern flirtation and definitely not something that was commonplace in the Polaroid era. I wondered first what planet was I on, and then how I had managed to end up so out of touch.

 

************************************************

 

If this was going to become illegal, it quickly raised a wide array of questions, none of which were answered by the vague language of the bill. I tried to get a hold of the bill's sponsor, but given my miniscule credentials in Tallahassee, the best I could do was a low-level staffer for one the co-sponsors. We'll call her Rachelle.

 

RK: I just have a couple of questions about possible scenarios.

 

Rachelle: Such as?

 

RK: Well, what if the photo is unsolicited? Like let's say some guy is famous, like a baseball player or a musician or something and girls send him photos of themselves naked all of the time, you know, to introduce themselves. Obviously, there can't be much expectation of privacy in that scenario?

 

Rachelle: Well that's not really the bill's intent. It's a response to a rash of incidents in which intimate photos which were meant to be private are later published, like after a break-up or even a divorce, for the sake of embarrassing the other person.

 

RK: Well even in that scenario, what if it's not taken by the scorned lover? I mean, it seems like it's one thing if that person took the picture or video in an intimate situation, maybe even goaded the other person into posing for it, while giving all sorts of assurances that it would never be seen by the eyes of others, but what if the other person took a sexy selfie if you will, and then sent it to them with a bit of suggestive text, you know like to prompt a nooner or something?

 

Rachelle: A nooner?

 

RK: Yeah, like a little afternoon delight – a lunch date, a rendezvous, as they say.

 

Rachelle: I suppose that's a fair question, but I think again it would be whether the intent is to shame or embarrass by making something clearly intended to be private public.

 

RK: What if they haven't met yet?

 

Rachelle: WHAT?

 

RK: One of my friends said that a girl he met online sent him a naked picture of herself. Can he get in trouble for showing it to me, to see what I think in terms of you know, him going out with her?

 

Rachelle: I think that if your friend is dating the sort of girls who send naked pictures to guys they don't know, you should look for some new friends. This is a serious issue. Girls are being slut-shamed, embarrassed. Lives are being ruined!

 

RK: No, I'm not suggesting it's frivolous. I'm just trying to …

 

Rachelle: I don't have time for this. What paper did you say you were with again?

 

RK: Just one more question, what about a statute of limitations? Will this apply to Polaroids that resurface and if so, will it be the person who took said Polaroid, or the person who found it that gets in trouble? And what does it mean by identifiable person? Would a girl's ...

 

Click ….

 

************************************************

 

When I turned in the piece, Tokars laughed, but not in the usual, condescending manner.

 

“Not bad Ringo, not bad.”

 

“Thank you, I hoped you'd like it. I think you can see that I have a flair for political issues. Maybe TBT would wanna use me on the upcoming election, perhaps even the governor's race? I've got connections in Tallahassee now, I think I could really be effective.”

 

He chuckled again, only this time it was the one I was infinitely more familiar with. The cackle mounted to a thunderous belly-laugh as I left his office and crossed the lobby, reverberating through the walls as I hit the parking lot. It didn't get me down though. I had kicked in the front door and was standing on the threshold of journalistic greatness. I could feel it, so I headed down to Motorworks for a celebratory brew.

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