TIME

The new scarlet letter

It’s never been easier to spread nude photos—or harder to keep them private
Kara Jefts, an archivist and art historian in Chicago, had her intimate photos leaked online

For years, Kara Jefts lived with a terrible secret. When she met a guy, she wouldn’t reveal her last name until they had been on four or five dates. When she began a new job, she would immediately befriend the IT expert who could help her block hostile emails. When she spoke with a new boss, she would force an awkward conversation about her romantic history. Her secret was so terrible because it wasn’t a secret at all: for the past five years, nude photos of Jefts have been only one Google search, Facebook post or email away.

Jefts is a thoughtful academic in her mid-30s, an archivist and art historian at a Chicago university who never intended for images of her naked body to circulate on the Internet. But in 2011, soon after Jefts ended her long-distance relationship with a boyfriend who lived in Italy, explicit screenshots from their Skype conversations began to appear online. They were emailed to her family and friends, posted on Facebook with violent threats against her and even appeared on websites devoted to exposing people’s sexually transmitted diseases, with false allegations about her sexual history.

There’s a name for what Jefts has experienced, a digital sex crime that has upended thousands of lives but still mostly eludes law enforcement: nonconsensual porn, better known as revenge porn. The two are not quite the same: revenge porn is often intended to harass the victim, while any image that is circulated without the agreement of the subject is nonconsensual porn. But both can result in public degradation, social isolation and professional humiliation.

Enabled by the technological and cultural upheaval that put a camera in every pocket and created a global audience for every social-media post, nonconsensual porn has become increasingly common. Practically every day brings reports of a new case: A 19-year-old woman in Texas was blackmailed into having sex with three other teens

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